10 Things Not To Say When Your LGBTQ Child Comes Home From College for Winter Break


10 Things Not To Say When Your LGBTQ Child Comes Home From College for Winter Break

by Cornelia Prior

1) “Is your phase over yet?”

This is one of the many things that people insist on saying with a certitude that I find utterly baffling. First, I’m not quite sure what it achieves. Telling children that their interest in Beyblades is “just a phase”does nothing to stop them from being incredibly messy, infuriating, but endlessly fascinating and exciting objects to small children. Trust me, I used to look after three of them and desperately hoped for this to be true. But “It’s just a phase”isn’t some magical Einstein–Rosen bridge to a point in time when children no longer play with spinning tops and your child is no longer gay. Secondly, the courage, trust, and vulnerability often required of someone to come out signifies that they are certain. It signifies that they are comfortable. And it is an important reminder that their conviction in their sexuality is more important than your conviction that this is “just a phase.”

2) “You're only LGBTQ+ because you've been hanging around with the gays at that ART SCHOOL of yours”

To paraphrase Aristotle, “art school does not a gay child make.”No art school, university or college is capable of making your child gay. The great thing about college is that it can be a catalyst for a new self-awareness and, yes, transformation, but that is not to say that it transformed your kid into a gaybie.

3) “This is our daughter…sorry…I mean CHILD. She, I mean THEY, hahaha, are confused about gender LOL.”

I know that sometimes the concept of gender identity seems a bit confusing to cisgender people, but this is not the answer. Passing off your own confusion and discomfort as theirs is like a hard fist between the ribs. It’s harder still to hear from family. Give respect as well as gifts this holiday. Show your child that you respect them by respecting their gender identity, sexuality, and pronouns inside AND outside the comfort of your own home.

4) “Just don’t be gay around [insert name here]”/ ”Just dress like [insert gender assigned at birth] around [insert name here]” 

I know that the holidays can be as stressful as untangling fairy lights in a power outage, but being queer or trans* is not a light switch that you can turn off when the illumination becomes too bright for you. Your shame about your child’s sexuality or gender identity is definitely not their responsibility. LGBTQ+ youth already carry the weight of a world that considers anything other than men in three-piece-suits married to women in twin-sets aberrant, so please don’t contribute to that weight by asking them to be anything other than their beautiful self.

5) “We can go gift shopping together as long as you don’t go out in public dressed like one of the gays.”

Can I please make a Public Service Announcement on the behalf of probably every LGBTQ+ person the world over: We are not a homogenous group of people that can be summed up under the category of “the gays”or “them,” said with scornful reproach between sips of hot morning coffee. And we definitely do NOT have a uniform.

6) “This is [Insert your child’s name]’s FRIEND, she’s staying with us for the holidays because they’re FRIENDS.”

This has happened to me a few times. My partner has been introduced as “Cornelia’s friend »as if I would willingly impose my wonderful but indisputably complicated mess of a family AND each member’s respective partners on a friend. Of course I wouldn’t. No one would. No one who actually likes their friends would do that. 

If your child refers to their partner as “my partner/girlfriend/boyfriend,”then you should, too. Referring to your kid’s partner as “special friend,”“particular friend,” or “best friend”is disrespectful because it minimizes their relationship to abate your uneasiness with the situation. Plus, please someone tell me exactly how “particular friend”sounds anything other than totally unambiguous?

7) “Here’s a present I bought you that I know you’ll hate but your sexuality/gender identity makes me uncomfortable and you USED TO LIKE THESE.”

Just like art school isn’t some despotic gay sovereign state capable of reconfiguring your child’s identity, neither is your football gift capable of reconfiguring your genderqueer child’s love for ballet, however hard you pull at the wishbone. There are two rules about the holidays in my family: 1) Do not buy gifts that you want someone else to want. This means no pink dresses for your tomboy teen and no footballs for your genderqueer kid who loves ballet. 2) Do not buy a gift that someone needs—buy them something that they want. Like really cool socks or Ikea scented candles. Everyone likes scented candles.

8) “I bought you the boxset of The L-word and Robert Aldrich’s Gay Life Stories, Wanda Sykes’I’ma Be Me and everything that Judith Butler has ever written.”

The counterpoint to No. 7. I think this is often a way of expressing support—which, do not get me wrong, is a lovely sentiment, but it’s also super important to remember that your kid is MORE than their sexuality. If they liked drawing, make-up, sci-fi novels, poetry, chemistry, soccer, or Sea-Monkeys before they came out, then chances are they still do. 

9) “I’d like you to meet Jimbob—he’s SINGLE.”

Dear well-meaning family members, do not do this. Do not introduce your child to anyone with the intention of setting them up unless they have explicitly asked you to. This has happened to me on two occasions, each time with noble intentions and mortifying outcomes.

When I finally, after five years of trying, managed to convince people that my sexuality was in fact neither a political stance nor a phase, people started setting me up with prospective husbands! I wished goodbye to my partner and travelled all the way from London to Oklahoma to have a little relaxation and all of a sudden, with absolutely no prompting, close friends started setting me up with local bachelors and one of them was a COWBOY PAINTER whose art was like an awful hybrid of George Stubbs and Jackson Pollock. The second time, someone tried to set me up with the librarian because she “is gay and also likes books.”And while my love of books is widely known, it nonetheless has no effect on the fact that I was in a LONG-TERM RELATIONSHIP and that I do not want to go and live on a bucolic ranch with a strange drunk cowboy I have known for all of half an hour.

10) Ask questions about sex

No amount of holiday alcohol consumption is an excuse for subjecting your child to your misguided theories about how people who are not straight have sex, and no gift can atone for this most heinous sin. You have been warned.

Cornelia Prior is a Writer and Communications assistant by day and Cultural and Critical Studies student by night. I currently work at the Whitechapel Gallery creating content for the website, blog and social media. I was Culture Editor of The Leopard Newspaper from September 2014-July 2015, where I commissioned, edited, and wrote pieces that delved into local culture, from fine art to food and from book reviews to restaurant reviews. I have written about art for The Flaneur and Best for Film and about LGBTQ issues for My Kid Is Gay. When I'm not busy being 25 years late to the Judith Butler party or frequenting art galleries, the theatre, the cinema and other things that classify as either “Critical,” “Cultural,” or both, I can be found reading, swimming or admiring lighthouses.