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What Parents Should Do When Their Child Comes Out To Them (Instead Of Freaking Out)

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By Shambhavi Saxena for Cake:

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.

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:

Read Up

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.

Acceptance

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.

Listen To Us When We Talk Of Difference

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.

Forget Birds And Bees, Let’s Talk Comprehensive Sex Education

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.

“My Daughter, The Lesbian” – More Than Our Orientations

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.

Inclusivity

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.

This article was originally published here on Cake.

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  1. Truth

    Homosexuality, incest, paedophilia and other perversions are wrong regardless of how perverts feel.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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