Our children come out to us in various ways. Some of them declare their LGBTQ identity the same way they tell you what they ate for breakfast. It’s just a fact. This is how my oldest daughter announced she was bisexual. Some children, however, come out to us in more subtle and cautious ways. My transgender son came out to me in a note that he left on my pillow. He didn’t say he was transgender per se, he (she then) merely asked to start taking testosterone. That note launched my husband and me into a few months of denial before we finally sat down with our child to address the topic head-on.
There is no one path that our children take before they come out, and no one “right” thing to do after they come out. This list is what some parents of LGBTQ youth have found helpful.
The reality is that most of us parents grew up in a very binary, heterosexual culture, and most of us were handed a baby that was either wrapped in a pink or blue blanket and we automatically assumed they would one day marry someone of the opposite sex. It is a shock for many of us to have our child tell us something different from what we assumed from the day we first held them in our arms. The best thing you can do for yourself in that state of shock is to take a bit of time and create some space between what you’ve been told and your next step. When my son came out, I was full of fear for his future and doubt that I could trust an eleven-year-old to know who they truly were. Fear and doubt can cause decisions and reactions we might regret, it’s much safer to take some time to clear our heads. Which leads to the next step.
Google will soon become your best friend. Of course, be wary of the sources from which you gather your information. There are a lot of new terms and labels to familiarize yourself with like pansexual and gender fluid in addition to the standard Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender terms. There are also questions about legal issues like name changes, and medical issues like sexually transmitted infections and hormone replacements. There are statistics you will want to know about such as the number of homeless youth who identify as LGBTQ and the staggering number of suicide attempts among transgender teens. I know these statistics can cause us more stress, but they are an important part of the whole picture to keep our kids safe. Which leads to the next step.
Be compassionate with your child and be compassionate with yourself. It took a monumental amount of bravery for your child to come out to you and be their authentic self. How many of us can say that about ourselves as adults? Even though it seemed easy for my bisexual daughter to tell us who she was, it is not easy for her to have people say she’s just confused or saying it for attention. Our kids have a world of judgment to face and being their safe place to land is a genuine gift for them. And, this is not easy on you as a parent! I know. I live it. There is a steep learning curve and there are so many opportunities to mess up. I’ve used the wrong pronouns. I’ve dismissed something that I thought was minor that turned out to be a big deal to my kid. I’ve had to go through a bonafide grieving process for the daughter I gave birth to, and that’s okay. I am compassionate with myself, but most importantly, I don’t dump my feelings on my child. Which leads to the next step.
Your kid needs you, and you need adult support. Some of your existing friends will be amazing and will listen and empathize, and some will be a source of more stress and non-stop almost voyeuristic questions—choose who you confide in wisely. There may come a time where you need to speak to a counselor just to help you past the most stressful parts and there are excellent psychologists who can help you and support you so that you can be an advocate for your child. I found major benefits in meeting other parents of LGBTQ children and there are many organizations that offer this support such as PFLAG, Calgary Sexual Health, Skipping Stone Foundation and our very own Airdrie Pride Society.
This blog was first published on the Airdrie Pride Blog.
They say death is the great equalizer because regardless of your income, nationality, gender or age every human being still has that one thing in common: we all die. But illness is not an equalizer, neither is the dignity we show to the ill or to their exhausted and overextended caregivers and families.
I once lived in a community where there was a boy with a very rare and debilitating disease who fought for his life. Both he and his mother were often covered by the local news highlighting his condition and their determination to beat the odds. It was a feel-good story. Fundraisers happened on a regular basis, the local radio celebrities and sports teams got involved, networking events and small businesses all pitched in to help fund experimental treatments far from home. He passed away at the age of 17 this past month and it was all over the local news and in the newspaper and all over social media, celebrating his heroic battle with an outpouring of love for a mother who never left his side.
In that same community, one of my closest friends was a foster mom to a boy with a rare and debilitating disease who fought for his life the whole 16 years that she got to raise and care for him. They were not in the news because of confidentiality issues. There was no news coverage, no community uproar, no sports teams getting their pictures taken with him. There was a rally by a local network of small businesses to get a very necessary wheelchair accessible minivan. That’s it. This amazing boy made it to the age of 18, he walked across the stage to a high school diploma, celebrating every precious milestone. His passing devasted my close friend who had to learn to live again outside of the caregiver role. There were no news articles about his passing, no citywide call for support for a grieving mom.
How many people are there that suffer horrible diseases and die without fanfare? How many mothers have buried their children this month without a citywide outpouring of love? I can’t help but see the inequity. I don’t think that it’s fair that a child who dies from cancer somehow matters more than a child who dies from Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis. Every time I see a fundraiser for a particular individual or their family I can’t help but see how unfair it is that one gets what everyone needs and deserves.
I know the media has its own agenda for showing us sensational stories that move us. I know they can’t show us every human being that is fighting a disease on the news every day. But as a society, maybe we each need to go up to someone who is suffering and tell them that we see their battle, we hear their cries of pain, and their time on this earth, no matter how long or short, matters. Maybe instead of sending $25 to a GoFund Me campaign we can adopt a family with a critically ill member and sit with them as they battle every day for dignity.
I know one thing for sure, we all want to be seen, heard, and know that we matter. All of us. So how can we as a society make sure that every single one of us feels that? How can we make love the great equalizer?
I dedicate this to my friend, Kim. I see your grieving, I hear your pain, you matter.
Have you ever been enthralled by a leader’s energy and completely wrapped up in their brilliance that you ultimately start to lose a little bit of yourself? There seems to be a safety in being in service to someone else’s vision that can blind us to what we are missing out in our own lives.
This Could Be You
I’m going to tell you the story of one friend whose name I have changed. Know that I have seen this happen to many other women. Too many. In fact, I think we’ve all taken on this role to some degree at some point in our lives.
Sally is new on her entrepreneurial journey. Her kids are in school full-time now and she is ready to redefine her career with the freedom of working from home. One day, she takes a workshop with a modern-day guru—a female Tony Robbins, Gabriel Bernstein, Brene Brown, Susan Evans, Martha Beck type person. She is completely in alignment with their mission to change the world and the way they go about it, so she signs up to be a certified teacher of their program. Invests money in their training and immerses herself in their system. This is all well and good. These people have amazing insights and methodology to share and there’s a lot of benefit to the world to practice what they preach. She’s found her calling.
The Handmaid Trap
Problems start to arise when Sally doesn’t take what she’s learned and make it her own. She doesn’t become the star in her own life. Instead, she is the servant to the star, teaching for the star, using the star’s name on all her handouts, following the star’s rules of conduct, living within the limits of the branding. And, inevitably, resentment starts to slowly seep into Sally’s heart. But the resentment makes her feel guilty because she owes so much to this guru who taught her everything and exposed her to so many opportunities, to say anything about the limitations of servitude would be biting the hand that feeds her.
Without even realizing it, sometimes the guru sets the handmaid up for failure by having her so dependent that the handmaid can never leave. But, if and when she does leave, it is not a smooth goodbye. There is an incestuous network around the star and Sally knows she has to unplug from that whole entourage as well if she is going to make it on her own.
I know some servants who stay in the handmaid role forever, I know some who leave one guru and move on to another, but Sally managed to break free and rebrand and make a name for herself. She went within and did a lot of soul searching and work on herself and eventually became a thought leader in her own right. Shining like a brilliant star, weary of employing handmaids.
Writing as a Handmaid
As a writing coach the handmaid energy comes up most often when I see someone who has written several chapters in several anthologies but has not yet dared to write her own book. I also sometimes have clients come to me for help with their stand-alone book, finally ready to break free, but waver and choose to pull out of our engagement because they decided instead to invest in a trip to serve alongside their guru at a retreat or a conference. But mostly, I have clients who just need a little extra help when writing their book to realize that they have original and important messages of their own and they don’t need to be quoting today’s other gurus. It can be difficult at times to find a balance because as women we thrive in collaboration and community, but community should never be at the expense of being your true self.
Becoming the Star
Part of my life’s mission of giving women a voice involves holding up a mirror to the handmaid and asking her to see the star inside of her. I want all women to know that we are all born with a unique gift for this world and to put it to use. Sometimes our life’s purpose is to end a cycle of abuse as we raise our kids, sometimes we are here to offer amazing services or products in a career or as an entrepreneur, and sometimes we are here to lead by example and impact people we will never even meet in a way that might change their life.
And so, I offer to you now, check-in with yourself and see when you might be living in the handmaid energy with some relationships and explore how you can make a change. Be true to your calling and rise up!