Advice For Parents And Friends
I’ve had a lot of letters over the years from the friends and family of gay loved ones, asking how they can best help and support them. Perhaps a parent who’s not sure how to deal with their child’s recent coming out, or perhaps someone who’s worried about a gay friend who’s having problems adjusting to the idea of being gay.
Here’s some tips to help you to help them:
Don’t do anything!
Try not to see a gay person as having a disability and needing special treatment. A lot of gay people are perfectly happy and comfortable with themselves and simply want you to carry on as normal and not make a fuss! I know a lot of parents and friends worry that they’re not doing enough, but often the gay person in question needs you to simply do nothing. There’s even a danger you can make things harder for your loved one by making them feel like a ‘special case’ and marked out as some kind of problem to deal with. Being gay is not a problem in itself but people can turn it into one, even if their intentions are good.
‘My gay friend/son/daughter’
Remember, your friend is not defined by their sexuality any more than you are. He’s not your gay friend – he’s your friend. Sometimes sexuality is the key feature people focus on, like a sticker they put on somebody, but it’s only part of what makes a person who they are. Don’t fall into the trap of categorising your gay loved one in this way. A gay person wants to be treated equally and valued as an individual. They don’t want to be treated as a novelty, accessory or party trick.
You don’t need special skills to be a good friend or parent to a gay person. Valuable skills like the ability to listen, providing a hug when someone is hurting, or being able to offer good advice, are as important whether a loved one is gay or straight. If someone you cared about was having problems, you’d do your best to help them with the skills, resources and knowledge you have. It’s no different here.
It might be the case that you’ve never met a gay person before and have questions about homosexuality. Perhaps the only reference you have is flamboyant characters on TV. Educate yourself a bit by reading the content on this website. But don’t forget that gay people aren’t a weird subspecies. They need and want the same things you do in order to be happy: love, sex, friendship, a good job, somewhere nice to live etc. Simply put, we’re all human beings but some of us are attracted to the same sex. There’s no big mystery to be unravelled.
Don’t be too helpful
When I came out friends were very keen to set me up on a date with the only other gay person they knew. I got the feeling they assumed we’d fall madly in love simply because we were two gay people with a lack of other gay people on our Christmas card lists. We didn’t get on particularly well, were very different kinds of people, and chose not to meet up again. I’d have had much more fun being introduced to someone – gay or straight – on the grounds that we had interests in common, not just sexuality and gender. Don’t assume anything about someone because of their sexuality. They’re still an individual with their own interests and unique personality. Clichés about gay people leaping out of the closet, donning hair glitter and dragging their straight friends off to the nearest gay club aren’t helpful. Let your friend set the pace. They know whether they’re ready to explore their sexuality and in what ways. Just like you, they know if they want to find a partner or seek sexual experiences at the moment.
If your loved one is having problems coming to terms with their sexuality, you can help greatly by showing them that you don’t think being gay is a negative thing and that your feelings toward them haven’t changed. Feeling better about being gay involves breaking down the negative associations a person might have with the label, and the things they think they’re missing out on by not being straight. This part of the frequently asked questions will help. Encourage them to visit the website.
Adjusting your expectations of your son or daughter after they come out
Traditionally we tend to equate having a happy, healthy and fulfilling life with being in a heterosexual relationship, getting married and having children. You might have had hopes of arranging a wedding for your child some day, and thoughts of grandchildren. There’s nothing wrong with being excited about those things. You want your child to be happy and to find love. When a child comes out it’s a time of adjustment. Suddenly imagining your child in a same-sex relationship and your dream plans for them going out the window can be a real shock. It’s vital to understand that although things are different from how you imagined, the one central hope you had can still be realised: your child’s happiness.
Things are different, but they’re no worse or better. Your child can find the same love and fulfilment through a same-sex relationship as they might have had in a heterosexual one, and there’s no reason why you can’t be an important part of that. Of course your son or daughter will likely not have any children of their own. But don’t forget that they may have chosen not to have kids if they’d be heterosexual. It’s wrong to force our hopes onto our children. They have to discover what happiness and fulfilment mean to them, with your support and acceptance. It’s a time of adjusting the plans you might have held about your child’s future, but it can also be a time of embracing a more open and honest relationship with your child.
- Traditionally we think of a man and woman raising children, but healthy, happy families come in many different flavours in our modern world: single parent families, same-sex parents, people who foster and adopt, children living with other family members etc. It’s love and a positive and supportive home environment that count, not who provides them. Work on accepting the family he or she creates.
- Your child didn’t choose to be gay. Help them to make the most of who they are.
- Your child’s homosexuality is not a rejection of your values or lifestyle.
- Much as you might have cherished ideas about weddings and grandchildren, you mustn’t try to force these things onto your child. You didn’t have a child purely so they would have their own children. Your child isn’t making a decision to sabotage your dreams, so it’s not fair to resent him or her or make them feel pressured or guilty.
- Don’t assume that because your child is young that they don’t know themselves or their sexuality. While many people have same-sex experiences but go on to form heterosexual relationships, many also report knowing from a very young age that they were gay (I knew when I was 13). Try to take their coming out seriously.
- You don’t want your son or daughter sneaking around and not telling you about their lives. Talk to them and encourage openness.
- Be kind to yourself. It can be a big surprise to discover that your child is gay. It’s okay to hurt, to worry and to feel helpless. This is a time of change for you too.
- Indulging stereotypes such as gay relationships being abuse-prone, gay people all adhering to a promiscuous lifestyle, and AIDS being the inevitable fate for all gay men, will only make you to feel worse. Throw stereotypes out the window. Your child can be happy as a gay person, and you can help. See myths and stereotypes where common misconceptions about homosexual people are discussed.
- Remember that your child has not changed. There’s no secret society they’ve just joined or big gay uniform they’re going to wear. They are the same child you’ve raised and loved. The only difference is that they’ve been more honest with you than they’ve probably ever been, and told you something deeply personal, potentially at great risk to themselves. Your child may be scared of losing your love and support.
- You haven’t failed as a parent because your child is gay, nor did you make your child gay somehow. Nothing you did or didn’t do during the life of your child has made them gay, just like nothing a parent does makes their child heterosexual. There was no switch you flicked on by mistake in your child’s mind. So whether you’re a single parent, dual parents or part of a large and close extended family – it’s not your fault.
This article was reposted from BGIOK.
Originally posted 2013-05-25 13:27:33.