Graphic by Carmen Ngo
Coming out to yourself is one thing; coming out to the world is another. There is a fear that preludes coming out, where one feels that everyone in their lives will look at them differently, as if they are revealed to be aliens underneath the same skin. But coming out is not a metamorphosis of mind; it is a realignment of reality with internal feelings and thoughts. The fear of a negative backlash from outsiders is often associated with parents. Generally some of the most important figures in young people’s lives, our parents can completely alter how we feel about ourselves. Popular media and American societal norms perpetuate an idea that parents will react negatively. While there is certainly potential for backlash, there is also potential for positive narratives. For example, mine and my mom’s. The alacrity that she exuded in every other facet of our lives also applied to my coming out.
My mom and I have been close all my life. As a single mom of two daughters, she was responsible for tending to the seeds of happiness within us; otherwise, our harvests would spoil. She gave me and my sister the space to flourish within our own rights, without fear of our leaves being trampled. She never limited my germination nor cut off my roots. She watered my ambitions and tended to my growing garden. As I built my life, she was right alongside me, holding my hand.
When I recognized that I needed to come out to my mother (it was not a process that I initially realized was necessary), I had apprehension, but I knew that she would not yank up my roots or cease cultivating my soil. I told her on a random weekday after school, while I was sitting at the computer desk and she was watching television. I pivoted around in my swivel chair, and told her that I was bisexual. Evidently, this was a surprise to her, despite how close we were, but she did not make me feel wilted under her gaze.
She began by telling me how much she loves me and how nothing has changed for her. She continued by asking questions: how long have I known for, what made me truly realize it, etc. After answering these questions, she then asked me what she could do to support me. I was, admittedly, shocked. I was surprised that she was taking such initiative to involve herself in my life. I asked her to do her research, to provide me with answers when I had questions, and to have the information to defend me in times of strife. She didn’t treat me like an unknown, bizarre crop that she could not maintain; she simply saw a new petal on me that she needed to cultivate with care. Her sunlight didn’t redirect its rays; it readjusted its potency. After I came out, we had continuous productive and loving conversations so that my mom could continuously learn about me and my feelings.
My advice to parents on how to handle your children coming out to you is to follow my mother’s lead: do not treat them differently, as they are the same people they have always been, except now they are more free and transparent with their emotions. Ask your child what they need and what you can do for them. It is your job to provide them with the resources they need in order to improve their wellbeing and daily lives. Make them aware that you are there for them if they need anything at all. It can be awkward at times to talk about uncomfortable subjects, but those are conversations that they need to know you are open to having a dialogue about. Finally, stand up for them. It can be easy to let offensive comments slip away without addressing them. Instead, be an ally to your children, even when they aren’t around. Make sure that the world knows where you stand and that you won’t let your children or your children’s community be insulted.
Take the pressure off of your children long before they come out. Regardless of whether you suspect your child is LGBTQ+, you should raise your children to make them feel comfortable expressing themselves as they choose. Transform your mindset before there is something to discuss.
Having the space to be open with my mother allowed me to look out upon the rest of the world with anticipation and excitement rather than fear and apprehension. When my mother and I created that dialogue, we fortified our already strong bond. I have been able to blossom because of it. Thank you Mom, for letting me grow as I wish. I hope other parents will do the same.