This post was published on Huffington Post in December, 2015. One day we’ll live in a world where supporting all of our children is a no-brainer. For now, many LGBTQ+ people have to deal with parents and caregivers who aren’t so supportive. If this is your situation, my heart goes out to you. You deserve better. You deserve to be loved unconditionally for who you are.
Many young LGBTQ+ people I’ve met want to understand what their parents are going through, even when their parents have said and done hurtful things. Their desire to understand and build bridges inspired me to write this post.
Maybe you came out to your parents and they didn’t take it so well. Maybe you’re thinking of coming out, and are afraid they will react badly. Maybe you’ve lost contact with them and want to come to terms with hard feelings. If, for whatever reason, you want to understand your parents or caregivers, this post is for you.
First, know that it’s not your job to change your parents. Just remember that many parents go through a process of their own when they have LGBTQ+ children. Understanding this might make it easier for you to get through the process. Not all parents are the same, but here are 10 things that might be true for yours.
1. Their ways of thinking aren’t set in stone. If your parents reacted badly when you first came out, this can change over time. Some parents have bigger barriers to overcome, and many are stuck in their ways. Sometimes their love for you is just the thing they need to help them get unstuck. I’ve seen this happen in many families.
2. They are people too. They screw up. No one is ever completely prepared for all the ups and downs of raising children in this world. Parents learn as they go and make thousands of mistakes along the way. Sometimes it may look like they have all the answers, but they are human just like you.
3. They have a lot to relearn. We have all been poisoned to some degree by living in a homophobic, transphobic culture. Your parents probably picked up tons of misinformation about LGBTQ+ people. Supporting you may mean unlearning many stereotypes and myths that have been handed down for generations through their family, church, and community and learning about LGBTQ+ people.
4. They may be confused and scared. They may be terrified that bad things will happen to you because you are LGBTQ+. They can be more supportive if they understand that accepting you for who you are is the best way to help you have a good life.
5. They may need time. Did it take you a while to understand and feel comfortable with who you are? Maybe you are still getting there. Your parents might be going through a process of their own. They may be pretty torn up inside and may need time to calm down and sort things out.
6. They may be trying to fix the wrong problem. Your parents may truly believe that there is something terribly wrong with you and think that it’s their job to change you. They may think that you chose to be LGBTQ+. Don’t believe them. You are beautiful just the way you are. The problem is prejudice and ignorance (see #3), not you. To make things better, they need to unlearn their own prejudices, rather than trying to fix or change you.
7. They may be questioning their own self-worth. Parents usually get the credit when their kids are doing well and the blame when their kids do things that aren’t considered acceptable. They are conditioned to think that children are a reflection of them. They may think that having an LGBTQ+ child means they are bad parents, or that their faith isn’t strong enough. Your parents may need to rethink their values and what’s important to them to feel good about themselves.
8. They may be afraid that their hopes and dreams will fall apart. Your parents may be attached to a certain vision for your future. They may be afraid that their expectations can’t be realized if you are LGBTQ+. Maybe they made sacrifices and worked hard so you could have things they never had. They might need to let go, create new dreams, and support you in yours.
9. Parents come out too. Parents are often conditioned to think that having an LGBTQ+ child is something to be ashamed of (see #3). Supporting LGBTQ+ children sometimes means losing friends, or separation from family members and church communities. Regardless of these potential losses, many parents overcome their fears and find the strength to stand with their LGBTQ+ children. Coming out in support of their children can even be empowering for them, especially when they realize that they aren’t alone.
10. Parenting you can make their lives better. They may start out confused and scared, but over time having you around may open their minds and touch their hearts in ways they never imagined. They may become braver and clearer about what really matters to them. They may become closer to you. When parents learn new ways of thinking and being, families and communities become safer for everyone. There are many families working to make this happen.
I hope that reading this post will make it easier for you to understand and relate to your parents. Remember, you deserve to be loved, cherished, and safe, regardless of what they say and do. Understanding them doesn’t make it okay for them to mistreat you in any way. All situations are different, so use your best judgment when thinking about if and how to communicate with them. There is support to help both you and your parents through this process. You are not alone.
Thanks to Danny Moreno and Belia Mayeno Saavedra for their feedback on this post.
Watch for my children’s book, inspired by Danny’s Halloween, due out in 2016.
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