Your child tells you that they want to talk about something very personal to them. It could be anything, but sometimes it’s about their sexuality or gender. Maybe you’ve had a suspicion that your child was never straight or cisgendered (that they identify with the gender they were assigned at birth, i.e. your child was born with a penis, and so they were assigned male at birth), or maybe it will come as a complete shock. Regardless, coming out is an extremely difficult thing for a child or teen to do in most cases, and they may well be worried about your reactions. It’s horrifying to think that over 20% of homeless youth are queer, the majority of whom were kicked out and rejected by the people who claimed to love them unconditionally. In this article, in honour of Pride month, I’m going to give you some advice on what to do if your child comes out to you– the advice can work for friends, other relatives, and even siblings, but please take it to heart.
1. Be calm and understanding
Coming out is often very traumatic, so be mindful of your reactions. Your child sharing this information about their sexuality or gender identity is extremely personal, and they probably took a long time to decide when and how to tell you. As a parent, it’s your job to love your child no matter what, and if you don’t love them because they identify as queer, then you have to ask yourself if you are being a good parent at all. It can be difficult to accept that your child is gay or trans or bisexual, but you are allowed to take time to process these new facts. Do not try to convince your child that they are not what they say they are, and do not use violence. Stop thinking about “correcting” them; if you are religious, try to accept that God will not hate them.
2. Let your child choose what to tell you
It can be tempting to bombard them with questions, but don’t. You don’t need to know how many people they’ve dated, if they’ve had sex with the opposite sex or the same sex, if they’ve been dressing different and presenting as a different gender when not at home.. if they want you to know these things, they’ll tell you in their own time.
3. Don’t make assumptions
If your child hasn’t come out to you yet, don’t overtly claim to know that they’re hiding something. Maybe you’re right, and they are queer, but maybe they’re not and are just comfortable breaking gender norms. Even if your child has come out to you, don’t attribute everything they do to be a sign of their sexuality or gender. If your child is moody, or dyes their hair, or gets a haircut, that’s not necessarily an expression of their gender identity or sexuality, but an expression of themselves as a person.
4. Respect them, and insist that others do the same.
If your child is trans, make an effort to respect their pronouns and use their new name. If you gave birth to Vanessa, who is now out as a transman called James, call him James. If your child is comfortable informing the rest of the family, have those family members use their pronouns and new name as well. Do not allow other family members to make fun of your child because of their sexuality or gender identity, because it is your job to protect and defend them.