“My daughter is 15 and just came out on social media last week. I learned about it from the mother of one of her friends. I’ve had a pretty good idea for over 6 months now, but wanted her to have the opportunity to tell me when she was ready. Now that she has come out on social media should I continue to ‘pretend not to know,’ to let her tell me when she is ready or talk to her about it? We have a close relationship and she knows that I support LBGTQ rights/people. Thanks.”
Question Submitted Anonymously
Answered by Julie Tarney
Your question is so full of love and respect for your daughter that I want to reach through my computer screen and hug you. I can imagine how proud and happy you must be that your daughter knows herself and what’s in her heart when it comes to love and attraction. At the same time, you’ve been thrown a conversational curve ball, and I understand your quandary of “to tell or not to tell,” as Shakespeare might put it.
But here’s the thing. The coming out process still belongs to your daughter. And even though another mother has inserted herself into your lives doesn’t mean you can’t still allow your daughter to take the lead on sharing her own news.
You wanted her to have the chance to tell you when she was ready, and I applaud you for giving her that space. The fact that she feels safe and secure enough to come out on social media is huge. Of course it’s not exactly private to come out on social media, but teenagers are teenagers. If you continue to respect your daughter’s coming out process, my guess is the close relationship you referenced will grow even stronger. I tend to think it’s your daughter’s telling you—in her own way and on her own time—that really matters.
As you’ve weighed this decision, though, I’m sure your mind has run through some possible conversation-starters. And you’ve probably thought, too, about how such a talk with your daughter might unfold. Putting myself in your shoes, I’ve done the same exercise. Here’s the filter question I often use when contemplating a potentially awkward conversation: Based on what I’m about to say, how is the other person likely to feel? And honestly, I can’t think of anything that wouldn’t in some way dim the bright light that is shining on your daughter’s current celebration of self.
That said, there is a chance she was hopeful you would find out as a result of her posting, because coming out on social media is a very public thing to do. If you feel comfortable, perhaps you could make an extra effort to bring up LGBTQ topics that might make it easier for her to segue into telling you. I remember that right before my son came out to me at the same age as your daughter, we’d been talking about his love of high heels from the age of three.
The possibility also exists that the mother of her friend who told you about the social media posting also has a close relationship with her daughter and might mention to her that she told you. If that were the case, your daughter could be expecting you to initiate the conversation. Again, considering your comfort broaching the subject, you could be the one to begin the conversation with, “Honey, there’s something I want you to know. So-and-so’s mom told me you’d come out to your friends on social, and I’m just bursting with love and pride for you.”
Given the close relationship you two have and your openness to the rich diversity of human life experience, you sound like the kind of cool mom who can handle any unpredictability. So however you choose to have your eventual conversation play out, whenever she comes out to you, you’ll get to respond to her in the way that you know will make her feel loved, supported, and utterly fabulous.
And if you don’t already own a copy of This Is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids: A Question & Answer Guide to Everyday Life, you might want to add it to your library. Written by the founders of My Kid Is Gay and Everyone Is Gay, the book covers every question parents might wrestle with after their child comes out to them, from telling other family members to gender to sleepovers. It’s the kind of book you can keep coming back to over and over as new questions arise.
Julie Tarney is an advocate for LGBTQIA youth, speaker and author. Her award-winning memoir, My Son Wears Heels: One Mom’s Journey from Clueless to Kickass (University of Wisconsin Press 2016) and blog of the same name are about her experiences raising a gender nonconforming child in the Midwest in the 1990s and what she learned from him along the way about gender identity, gender expression and self-acceptance. Julie is a board member for the It Gets Better Project, blogs for HuffPost Queer Voices and is an active member of PFLAG NYC’s Safe Schools program. Her book won Bronze in the 2016 INDIES Book of the Year Awards. A longtime resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Julie now lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she can often be found cheering in the audience at her creative director and sometimes-drag-artist son Harry’s performances.