Somewhere in my late teens, I discovered my little corner on the queer spectrum. After a monster googling session, I also discovered a Narnia of queer subculture – everything from social organisation, to political history, to bars and shows and inside jokes. But Narnia lies behind closet doors.
‘The Closet’ exists because, for many, there’s no other protection from a violently disciplinarian society. But it isn’t necessarily a place of relief. When we’re in the closet, our best friends are anxiety and self-doubt. Who wouldn’t want out? But there’s a catch – we don’t know what’s waiting for us outside. A lot of coming out anxiety is because kids are unsure how their parents are going to react.
Son: “Mom, Dad.. I’m gay”
Mom: *staring at dad
Dad: …*clenches fists
Dad: *sweats profusely
Dad: HI GAY, IM DAD
— Guy Dangerous (@Lerky) October 24, 2015
We wish annoying Dad Jokes were the most we had to deal with, but often there are very real threats to our security. Kids have faced physical and emotional abuse for being different, or forced into conversion therapy. Others are disowned. In fact, between 20 to 40 percent of homeless in America identify as queer.
Now, not all parents are going to respond with vitriol and ultimatums. When I came out, I got a few cautiously worded questions, before the business-as-usual reminders of “walk the dog” and “water the plants”. Not quite the embittered showdown you’d expect, which by the way is disappointingly common. But even when the threat of violence is zilch, some kids stay in the closet because of the feeling that their parents won’t ‘get it’, or that they have no idea how to react to the news.
Well, parents, we think we might be able to help out. Here are some handy tips to remember in the event that your child (or even a friend’s child) comes out to you:
This is sort of stage-zero, but don’t skip forward, because it’s important. Think of it as your foundation course.
Us kids are already doing a bunch of reading of our own, trying to figure out who we are, and if there are other people who feel the same. Join us in this process. The internet offers a host of resources like Everyday Feminism and It Gets Better, where you can learn about queer identities, as well as power structures that marginalise us.
We often associate ‘coming out’ with ‘being gay’, but you want to be ready in case your kid comes out as trans, non-binary (not exclusively male or female), bisexual, pansexual, asexual, polysexual, skoliosexual or anything else on the queer spectrum.
It also helps to look up the laws that affect queer people and find local or online support groups that you can approach with questions or concerns.
Kids aren’t looking for an elaborate ‘queer-warming’ party with confetti cannons and rainbow cakes and banners made of ugly Facebook photos. As fun as that would be (please don’t get any ideas) a simple gesture of acceptance – a nod, a hug, a can of soda – is a huge deal. But it can’t stop there.
Acceptance means altering some of your behaviours, such as addressing us with the correct pronouns and not bringing up our dead-names (even if you were the one who picked it out). It also means understanding that we are not “confused”, “going through a phase”, “greedy”, “promiscuous” or all those other shaming, dismissive remarks people throw at us.
Acceptance is about making hormone therapy accessible for us, if we ask for it, and if you have the means. It’s also about taking the time to sensitise relatives, educators, and friends who are in close contact with us.
Accepting our orientation allows us to create our personhood for ourselves. This is a great confidence booster in itself, but so is the fact that you trust us to know who we are.
When you open up a safe space for dialogue, we’ll make use of it. Especially if our gender or sexual orientation is very, very different from yours. You give us our first lessons in everything, but sometimes, we can also bring something to the table. Even if you’ve trawled the internet for information, our unique experiences can be huge learning opportunities for you. We want you to recognise that life happens to us in ways that may not happen to you. These differences are important in developing your understanding of our identity, as well as queer issues in a broader sense. Don’t write off our experiences as insignificant whinings. Listen.
A lot of the dialogue between you and your kid is going to involve questions. Remember, it’s fine to ask questions, as long as we’re approaching them from a place of respect, and a willingness to understand.
You’re gonna have to have ‘The Talk’ with your kid eventually. But most sex education modules are geared towards people who are ‘cishet’, or cisgender (identifying with the sex assigned at birth) and heterosexual (sexually attracted to the opposite sex). This is where your reading will have its practical uses. You can challenge assumptions like “gay people don’t need protection”, or that sex is central to human life (trust me, your asexual children will need to hear this a LOT). We see parents as the final word on a lot of things, including sex, and you’ll be playing a huge role in imparting healthy attitudes towards sex, and sexual health. The choices we make about our bodies will ultimately be ours to make, but we look to you to teach us how to make good and safe ones.
Queer people often become reduced to their corresponding acronym in ‘LGBTQIAP+’. This kind of takes our humanity away from us. We’re not vagina-seeking-vaginas, or whatever else. Recognise that our sexuality or romantic or gender orientation is only one part of our vast personality. Your kid may be gay, or non-binary, or ace, or pansexual, but they’re also a star athlete or scrabble wizard or cellist or kitten rescuer or any number of other things that make them unique. The world tends to see us as unidimensional, but we hope that you won’t.
Just because your kid is queer, doesn’t mean they’re keyed in on all things queer. As a parent, you will play a vital role in broadening our horizons by teaching us to think more inclusively about queer and straight identities. Truth is, we’re your kids, and sometimes we’re brats and cannot see beyond ourselves. We still need you to steer us in the right direction, like you do with so many other things, when it looks like we’re reproducing some of the exclusionary politics of the cisheteropatriarchy.
According to a recent survey, only 48% of kids between the ages of 13 and 20 identify as exclusively heterosexual. With odds like that, every parent really should anticipate a ‘coming out situation’, and respond appropriately. Keeping in mind these few tips can go a long way in creating a caring and compassionate home environment for LGBT+ children. As parents, your authority, knowledge, and involvement is the thin line that separates our greatest anxieties from our greatest allies. I cannot stress enough the importance of queer-friendly parenting. For those who have it, it does wonders. And for those who don’t, we hope this piece is persuasive enough to get you to change that scenario.