by Sherry Kircus
I remember when my son told me he was gay. He was 18, and I was almost speechless. I’d had no idea he wasn’t romantically interested in the girls who phoned him so frequently. My first words were the same ones spoken by many mothers in the uninformed 1980s. I said, “Honey, are you sure?” And of course he was sure. Nobody comes out to his parents if he, or she, isn’t very, very sure. My second reaction was fear—I was so afraid of all the scary things that would be out there lurking, ready to attack my child. And I couldn’t protect him! So yes, I know a little bit about what you’ve been going through. But there’s a really big bright silver lining for this cloud. Let me tell you about it, because you too have a gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgender child, and you have a whole new world to learn about.
The first good thing I did was to tell Ted that I loved him, and that I always would. I recommend that. We’ve loved our kids from the time we first saw them, or even before, and new information about them can’t turn off the love. I had loved him when he was still dragging a blue blanket and sucking a pacifier at five, and when his fingers weren’t ready for writing in first grade, and I loved him when the first five of his teachers told me he was slow but sweet, and I should love him and not push him. I kept right on loving him when testing showed that he was academically gifted and learning disabled. What a kid— a double whammy! I loved him when he did no better in gym classes than I’d done. He’s my kid, and I love him.
The second good thing I did was to call PFLAG. We lived between Santa Fe and Taos in New Mexico, and I found a phone number for PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) in Albuquerque. When I called, I got to talk with a wonderful woman who told me two really important things. She said, “In the first place, you didn’t cause it. You’re not that powerful. And in the second place, nothing’s wrong. Homosexuality is just another way of loving.” What a relief—it wasn’t my fault, and nothing was wrong. She told me about her own son, who was the director of a large Albuquerque hospital. Nothing was wrong at all. He and his partner were happy and prosperous, pillars of the community. I remember feeling my breathing normalize as I talked with her. All was well.
So let me give those messages to you now. You didn’t cause your child to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender, and nothing is wrong. All is right with the world, my friend.
Over time I’ve realized, as I’ve been the PFLAG mom on the other end of many, many of these phone calls, that there is much to be thankful for when your child comes out to you. First are the self-congratulations you are due because your child trusts you enough to share this information. You’ve received a profound compliment. You are trusted, and your child wants you to be an intimate part of his or her life.
Second, you are now a member of your child’s inner circle. You’ll get to hear about romances, about life plans, about all the real joys and disappointments. Consider the alternative—if your child were not out to you, your deepest conversations would be about your doings and about how dinner had turned out. You’d hear, “Glad you had a good vacation, Mom and Dad. And Mom, the pie is really good. Thanks for making my favorite.” Your other children, if you have others, would tell you about romances and plans that included those romantic partners, but with your gay—or lesbian, bisexual, transgender—child, you’d be shut out. (You’re beginning to see why we shorten this naming litany to initials, aren’t you? We usually just say GLBT rather than Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender.)
Third, you can now be a part of a PFLAG group, one of those parents that every GLBT kid wishes he or she had. Welcome aboard. Walking or riding in Pride Parades is really gratifying, and everybody loves you! You’re a parent, so yours is the face that nobody can hate. As this lovable parent, you can have a big role in making things better for your own child and a lot of other people’s children, too. You can talk to politicians as a GLBT rights advocate. You can sing “We Are a Gentle Angry People” and “We Shall Overcome” in parades and protests. Jump aboard quickly, because things are getting better so fast that if you’re not quick, you might miss out on all this fun and excitement. And you can jubilate with your child and your child’s friends when legislation in our favor passes. You’ll be counting along with the rest of us as same-sex marriage becomes legal in one state after another. There are 32 states and the District of Columbia right now—and we’re all cheering and waiting for the next triumph.
Fourth, you can become a safe sex expert and advocate if that’s a concern of yours. Find the nearest HIV/AIDS outreach clinic and ask to be educated on sexual safety so that you can educate others. It’s not really all that hard, and it feels good to be useful.
Fifth, you can keep the closeness you and your child have always had, or you can even deepen it now that s/he knows just how strong the ties between you are. You are a super parent, and a member of The Family. That’s what gays, lesbians, and transgender people have called themselves for years, and they let us in when we’re supportive. It’s heart-warming to be introduced as “a member of The Family.” Enjoy, enjoy.
Finally, you may well have grandchildren one day who are the children of this child you’re so worried about. That would be great fun, too. Or you may not—that could be the case with any of your children. Some of us reproduce and some don’t. If that’s something you need to grieve one day, give yourself permission to grieve. As a matter of fact, if you’re really sad right this minute about having a gay child when you’d thought you had a straight one, do the grieving that this requires. But remember that grieving goes through its stages of denial, anger, bargaining, and sorrow, and it loops back and forth around through them, and then the sun comes out again as you reach acceptance. This really is the child you’ve always loved, and you love her or him still. You just know one more fact now, and you’re going to deal with it because this is the child you love.
Don’t forget to thank your child for the honor s/he did you in telling you this one more fact. Not all children tell their parents. Not all parents can handle the information. Be very glad you are the person you are and your child loves you and trusts you. And welcome to The Family!
Sherry Kircus has 46 years of experience in the mothering business and 27 years experience as a PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) mom. In addition, she’s worked as a teacher, a nurse, and a counselor. She’s so happy with counseling that she’s currently working toward a Ph.D. in Marriage and Family Therapy. She credits PFLAG with inspiring all this counseling effort, and she’s delighted that the PFLAG questions are growing less desperate with time – fewer people are horrified now when their children come out to them as LGBT or Q. The sun is shining much more brightly on our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning children, and that’s a Hallelujah occurrence!
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