“My daughter came out to me TWO DAYS before leaving for her first year of college, so not only am I worried about my baby girl leaving home, I have no idea what to do or say with this information. I don’t care if she’s gay, but she’s growing up so much so quickly. I hope she’s thinking it all through and not just trying to fit in at college. What should I do?”
Question Submitted Anonymously
Answered by Polly Kim
From talking to parents at PFLAG meetings, I can tell you this is not uncommon: kids often come out to their parents right before they go to college, or during a vacation right before they go back. Even though it was sudden to you, think about it from your daughter’s perspective: she’d probably been working up the courage to tell you for weeks. She may have set going off to college as the end limit, the day she felt she should absolutely tell you by. She may have wanted to start this new stage of her more adult life as her authentic self, and wanted to make sure you knew this truth about her before she left you.
Back to you though; I can understand how shocked you were and how you felt, adding this surprise and worry to the whole empty nest (or at least less full nest) issues we all go through when our children go off to college, and the uncertainty about changes in family relationships that occur when our babies grow up and become more independent. My daughter came out to my husband and me the night before the fall activities fair at her high school. She wanted to join the GSA (Gay Straight Alliance), and she didn’t want to tell people she was gay when she signed up without having already told us. She had been looking for the right opportunity all summer, and the deadline kept looming and there was never the right moment to tell us, so she wrote us a note the night before the fair. I was definitely surprised and wondered, “If she’s gay, why didn’t I already know?” Even though I too didn’t care if she was gay, I doubted myself as a parent for not having seen this coming.
Saying, “Are you sure?” is one of the most common responses parents have when their child comes out to them. The other is, “I already knew.” Both stem from our feeling that we know our child even better than they know themselves. It’s tough to find out we didn’t know something about this person we raised. Be happy that your daughter trusts you enough to share this part of herself with you. In return, trust that she is telling you the truth. She’s probably been going through this journey of self-discovery for months or years, and she probably wouldn’t have told you she’s gay if she was unsure. It’s really hard for a child to come out to a parent—they’re risking rejection from the person they care most about—so it’s unlikely a child would go through the huge step of telling a parent if they were just trying out being gay to “fit in”. Your daughter could have acted gay in front of her new friends without involving you if that’s what was going on.
As far as what to say or do, all you have to say is that you love her. It’s OK to ask questions about her feelings, and to ask her how you can help nurture your mother-daughter relationship. What you can also do is join PFLAG for support meetings and help finding resources and ways to join in advocacy for the LGBTQ+ community. It’s comforting to talk to veteran parents who’ve been through this, and to share this experience with other parents who are just starting the journey like yourself. Go to PFLAG.org to find your nearest chapter. It’s also great that you are already finding your own resources, like this website!
For the college student’s perspective, I asked my 21(?!)-year-old daughter Shelby for her advice to you. Her words were so great I wanted to just share them all instead of stealing her ideas:
(First off she asked, “Is this person going to Smith?” which is her college, because that’s about the only school where being gay could help you fit in more than not.)
I hear that you’re feeling rushed and worried that your daughter is leaving home and growing up and changing so quickly, and that you’re feeling overwhelmed and not knowing what to do. For many people who want to come out to their family, it never feels like the “right” moment, and so often it will happen at a transition time or last day of a holiday visit, which can feel last minute or overwhelming.
College is a great time to get to know who you are and what kind of people you want to be around and be in relationships with. It feels like you have a fresh start, leaving behind the old you and coming in with no assumptions. It seems like your daughter wants you to be a part of that fresh start, and it was important for her to come out to you before going off and being out at college.
It hurts when people assume you are identifying a certain way to fit a trend or for attention. Never assume that someone is inauthentic when they make themselves vulnerable to come out to you. Coming out, even if it seems rushed, takes an incredible amount of effort and likely years of “thinking it all through”.
With perhaps the exception of a few schools, college campuses are still heteronormative* spaces, and the majority of people are cisgender** and straight. LGBTQ+ students across the country still face pressure and discrimination. Being openly gay is not commonly a way to “fit in”.
So, what to do?
• Keep giving encouragement for all aspects of her life and showing that you love her.
• Do your own research on LGBTQIA rights, history, and achievements. Read LGBTQIA fiction, too!
• Thank her for telling you and acknowledge that it might have been difficult for her to do so.
• Try to think of how she has been this way all along. This is not a way she’s changing, she’s just telling you how she has always been. Don’t feel like you have to “do” or say anything with this information!
Good luck to you and your daughter during this time of transition!
*Heteronormative – a worldview that promotes heterosexuality as the normal or preferred sexual orientation.
**Cisgender – one’s assigned sex at birth matches one’s gender identity.
Polly Kim is the mother of 21-year-old twins, including a daughter who came out at age 15. Polly joined PFLAG Los Angeles soon after and is now a board member. She has been a science teacher for over 25 years, teaching high school biology, elementary school science, and high school science research.