Supporting a young person when they come out
Kate shares what happened when her son came out as gay, and what she learnt about how to support him.
I don’t think that our eldest son had planned on coming out when he did.
We were having an argument about putting the ‘Find my iPhone’ app on his phone so we could track him down in case of an emergency. Soon the row escalated into a heated debate about his human rights, and the next thing he blurted out:
"I’ve got something to tell you. I am gay."
As a parent, however prepared you might be for an announcement of this kind, you can never be totally sure how you are going to react.
Instinctively, I threw my arms around him, told him how proud I was of him and said that we didn’t care who he loved as we would always love him. I felt a huge swathe of emotions, but what really broke my heart was the knowledge that he’d known for a while and hadn’t been able to share his feelings with anyone. The idea that he had been going through his ‘journey’ alone was heartbreaking to hear.
He then told his Dad, who reacted exactly as I had hoped and, after more hugs and encouraging words, our son brought the conversation to a close with a ‘By the way, what’s for dinner?’
This date/time/place will be forever etched in our son’s memory and form part of his ‘coming out story.’ I am so pleased that it will be remembered in a positive way and feel very proud of how we, as parents, reacted and supported him. However, as he closed the door that day and went back to his life, he left us with many unanswered questions and mixed emotions. We felt confused, ill-informed, sad and anxious for him; a lot of thoughts were whirring around in our heads.
- How will his younger sibling feel about having a gay brother?
- His children will never have a mother.
- Will life be harder for him now?
- What if he is a victim of homophobia?
- What will his grandparents say?
- What about sex?
Looking back now four years on, these questions seem so trivial and silly. His brother already knew when we told him (!) and his grandparents, like us, love him unconditionally so don’t care if he has a girlfriend or a boyfriend as long as he is happy. His children may never have a mother but that doesn't mean they won't know the love of a whole range of different people and the world in which we live now is so much more accepting of diversity that hopefully he will live a safe and secure life regardless of sexual preference.
A few days after our son came out, the subject became a bit like the elephant in the room. Dad and I didn't want to bring up the subject again in case he didn’t want to talk about it, yet we didn't want him to think it was so trivial to us that we didn’t care.
Being a perceptive young man, he picked up on our discomfort and said that he’d done some research on parents with gay children. He then seemed to take on the parent role, reassuring us that it was perfectly normal to feel confused and uncertain, we were after all ‘grieving for the life we thought our child would have’ and anxious for the tougher path he would have to travel.
As parents we are thrown lots of challenges during the lives of our children. Unfortunately we aren’t given a rule book on parenting when a child is born and most of the time we make it up as we go along! Despite our son’s research, we didn’t have a preconceived idea of what our child would be like or the young man he would grow into. We just wanted children that were happy, healthy, kind to others and knew that they were loved. Sexual preference makes no difference to this.
This was an incredibly important time in the life of our family and we are loving watching our son grow into the man he is becoming.
Having a child come out can be a challenging time for a parent but there are a few things we learnt along the way:
- Remember that it takes a lot of courage and bravery for a child to tell their parents they are gay, so try to show them the respect, support and love that they deserve.
- Make sure that you find support for yourselves at parents if needed, via an organised group or simply by talking to friends or family.
- Talk openly, as this helps everyone understand some of the issues and concerns of parents and children alike.
- Do your research. If you don’t understand anything, look it up!
- Above all else, envelop them with love and let them know that you are there for them.
Where to get support
If you are worried about the mental health of a young person, have a look at our section for parents.