“Is this a choice?”
“What will people think?”
“Is this my fault?”
While your child has to navigate the coming-out process, you, too, will be faced with decisions about sharing this information with people in your life. There are many factors to consider—among them, your own comfort level and your child’s readiness to share this part of themselves with others. You may worry about whom to tell, or how to tell them, and the responses that you will receive from people close to you. Your child is not the only person who will have to come out to others; you will also have to make decisions about coming out as a parent of a gay child.
We all share information differently. There is no obligation for you to tell every person who crosses your path that you have a gay child, but you certainly can! Remember that the decision to tell others is personal and specific to you and your kid.
Q: When should I tell people?
A: Telling others—whether it be family, friends, coworkers, or acquaintances—is something that happens at different times, depending on when you or your child are ready for that information to be shared. Since there are many permutations when it comes to telling others, we have created a chart to help guide you.
1. You and your child both want others to know, and your child would prefer to be the one to tell others.
Well, fantastic! This means your child is taking ownership of the experience, and since they are communicating something that is very personal to them, they’d like it to be done in their own words. The best thing you can do in this scenario is allow them the time and the space to tell others as they see fit, and let them know you are there for them if they ever want to talk about any of those experiences. Also, feel free to ask your child to keep you in the loop as things progress. If you think that certain individuals might have a harder time than others, you can absolutely have that discussion with your child beforehand. People will often surprise you and respond differently than you anticipate, but it is okay to tell your child that Aunt Becky might direct them to certain Bible passages or express less-than-positive religious views. This will give your kid a heads up, and may also inspire them to come out to that particular family member in a different way, or with more materials at the ready.
2. You and your child both want others to know, and your child wants you to be the one to tell them.
This also makes a lot of sense. Your child is comfortable with who they are, but they are not yet experienced in having these conversations with relatives or family friends. They are looking to you because they need your help in tackling the task at hand. The best thing you can do in this scenario is talk to your child about what they would like you to communicate, specifically. It may be that they just need you to have that very first exchange in which all you say is, “Uncle Don, Lisa came out to us as a lesbian.” You can field questions in the initial back and forth, but your child will likely be much more confident answering follow-up questions once the proverbial cat is out of the bag. There may be specific words they would like you to use, and you might need more clarity on what certain things mean, so just make sure they are clear with you so that you can be clear with others! Also, look at the “What will people think?” question in this chapter, which goes over specifics on actually having the my-kid-is-gay talk with others.
3. Your child wants everyone to know, but you are not yet ready to tell others.
You may still be dealing with your kid’s coming-out moment yourself and need time to process that before sharing the news with others. That is a completely valid, totally understandable response. Your child has spent considerable time coming to understand themselves, but this is brand new for you and, as such, you may need some time to explore your feelings. Ultimately, this is your child’s decision to make—but asking for some time to ready yourself for those conversations is understandable. Explain to your child that you just need a little time to talk more with them and to understand things a bit better. It may be helpful to give them an idea of a timeline, so that you both are aware of when you can revisit the discussion. For example, you can say, “I absolutely respect that you would like others in our family circle to know about this, and I am happy that you are feeling comfortable and ready to have that conversation. Since this is brand-new information for me, I would love if you could give me some time to digest it and also ask some more questions. I would love to be feeling a little more confident as well when family and friends talk to me about everything. How about we sit down and talk about this again three weeks from today, and go from there? Does that sound reasonable?” If this is agreeable to them, do make sure that this is only a short, transitional phase. Keeping your kid closeted for any substantial amount of time can be extremely detrimental to their well-being, as it creates an environment in which they feel they have to lie about themselves to people close to them.
4. You would like others to know, but your child doesn’t feel ready.
In this scenario, your child doesn’t yet feel comfortable with other people knowing about their sexuality, and they have come to you first with the information. Coming out is a huge step for a child (or anyone), and being able to have some control over who knows, and how they find out, is very important. If your child isn’t ready for others to know just yet, you should respect those wishes. This is a journey for you both, but at this moment it is your child’s process that should be put first. Allow them some time to navigate how it feels to be out to themselves and out to you before push¬ing them to tell others, or telling others on your terms. Revisit the discussion in a month or two, and check in to see how they are feeling at that point.
5. You and your child are both hesitant about telling others.
Given this combination, it is important to remember that you should not feel obligated to tell people. It is not the responsibility of anyone in the LGBTQ community to be vocal about their identity—this is a personal choice and it can vary. Right now, this is between you and your child, and that relationship is most important. Support your child and try to talk about the things that are making you both feel hesitant. The more comfortable you become talking to your child, the more comfortable you’ll both be with the idea of telling others, should that be something that you’d like to do down the line.
Excerpted from This is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids by Dannielle Owens-Reid and Kristin Russo (Chronicle Books).