10 Things Not to Say When Your Child Comes Out to You
10 Things Not to Say When
Your Child Comes Out to You
by Asha French
1. “Pass the peas, please.” If you’re taken off guard, your first instinct may be to pretend you didn’t hear anything. For your child, however, this may feel like what it is—an avoidance of something that for them is life-changing.
2. “Don’t you know what the [insert holy book] says?” There are infinite interpretations of any text; the nature of a sign is that there is no fixed meaning. Literal interpretations of these books would damn most of us, regardless of our sexualities. There is plenty of theological scholarship about LGBT issues for parents who are nervous about hellfire, brimstone, and other imagined afterlives. But there is also a compass called your heart. It may be whispering something to you like, “How does this information change the surge of emotion I felt when I first counted this child’s fingers and toes?” Hint: it doesn’t.
3. “So can you help me with my makeup/ fix our plumbing?” Categories help us feel less overwhelmed when our senses are confronted with something that seems confusing. But kids are not laundry. They may smell funny, get dirty almost as soon as they get clean, and sprawl themselves out on the family sofa, but chances are they won’t fit into neat categories. Your queer son won’t automatically know your spring colors and your queer daughter won’t immediately know how to fix a transmission. Let them keep growing until they settle on being who they want to be, and know that we are always growing and changing.
4. “This is just a phase.” What if it is? Only time or a really expensive psychic will tell. But when your child was going through other phases, like teething or tantrums or obsessions with Ninja Turtles, did the knowledge that this was “just a phase” soothe their longing, pain, or determination to live by their own values? Imagine squatting to a toddler’s level while she screams and kicks because water is wet. Now imagine saying, “Honey, this is just a phase.” The sentence only helps those who are hoping for its truth. You may not be ready to another possibility (that it may not be a phase at all), but wishing out loud won’t make it so.
5. “Please just don’t tell anyone else.” Well this is silly, parent. Your shame, discomfort, and embarrassment are all yours. Your child will have enough to carry on their own and without telling anyone, they’ll have fewer resources to help with the weight. Can you put your issues aside and help?
6. “What did I do wrong?” A lot of things. And you did a lot of things right, too. But even if any of the actions in the entire history of your parenting did shape your child’s desire (which they probably didn’t), knowing which action it was won’t help you through this moment. In fact, it will probably just freak you out (Imagine: “Mom, remember when I walked in and you were changing clothes? I decided right then that I would never be attracted to women.”).
7. “Now you’ll have to tell your grandparents.” …because all of those people have a real interest in the gender(s) of the people to whom your children find themselves drawn? Because they can’t enjoy their retirement until they know the sexual orientation of all of their grandchildren? Because they’re on a fixed income and they’ll have to start putting money aside for a rainbow car? Because they were hoping to arrange your marriage to a family friend and now they’ll have to ask that friend if he has a sister? Unless you announced your heterosexuality to your own grandparents, this might not be a good time to start the tradition.
8. “Just don’t be like those gays.” Here’s what you sound like: don’t wear your loving orientation on your sleeves and for god’s sake don’t get one of those “I am gay” forehead tattoos that all the kids are wearing these days. Just be quiet about this. Don’t ever wear more than three colors in one outfit, lest someone mistake your palette for a rainbow. Don’t be like those people who walk the streets screaming “I’m a muff diver. Deal with it!”
9. “I’ve known it all along.” See number three. Unless knowing “it” all along means that you’ve read your children’s diaries for years and repeatedly ran across sentences like, “Today my friend and I went to the store and I am gay,” you haven’t known much. Who knows any truth about anyone other than themselves? What you are saying is that you’ve been seeing signs that your child fits any or all of the stereotypes associated with their particular gender and/or orientation. And those signs, without agency on your child’s part, mean nothing.
10. Anything other than “I love you.” Sadly, for some, “coming out” to parents can feel like announcing a fatal diagnosis. You tell because you are anticipating separation and you need to know that your family will fight tooth and nail for your well-being. Heterosexual children never “confess” their sexuality to their parents because they were never taught (inside or outside of the house) that it was deviant. Your child is coming to you with an expectation of rejection. Surprise them as much as they (may have) surprised you.
Asha French is a writer living in Atlanta, GA. She has a weekly column on Ebony.com and her work has also appeared in PLUCK!: the Journal of Affrilachian Arts & Culture, Warpland, Mutha Magazine, and PoetryMemoirStory. She is currently at work on a memoir.