"Mom, Dad, I'm gay" -- What goes through a parent's mind when they hear those words?

by Emily Rizzo
March 1996

A fair amount has been written about what parents go through when a child comes out as gay, lesbian or bisexual. The process has been likened to grief because there are recognizable stages of shock, denial and guilt.

I'll try to convey some of the jumble of emotions that I've heard uttered by parents and the typical responses they would hear at a PFLAG meeting. Not all of it is pleasant but it may help you to understand what may be going on in your own parent's head.

Shock: This can't be happening to me! Just when I'm settled in life and think I know how everything is going to turn out! Perhaps I'm worried about other things (elderly parent, college tuition payments, marriage problems) -- I don't need this! How can my child do this to me?

Response: Your child didn't do this to you, your child is simply being honest and revealing a part of her or himself which was previously kept hidden. Your child is still the same person he or she was before. Telling you was an act of love and a desire to strengthen the bond between parent and child, not weaken it. Instead of concentrating on your own (parental) feelings, think about what your child has suffered all these years by not feeling able to share this part of him or herself with you.

Denial: Not my son! No, he's far too straight-looking. Remember when he was a lifeguard and all the girls used to hang around him? And what about that nice boy who took my daughter to the senior prom? No, she couldn't possibly be one of them!

Response: Your child is still the same person he or she was before, nothing has changed except your knowledge of him or her. If there is a contradiction between what you think about gay people and what you know of your child, then think again about your perceptions of gay people. Who are you going to believe, your own child or the homophobic lies and myths we've all been raised on?

Guilt: What did I do wrong? Was I too overbearing as a mother? Was his father too absent? Should I have made my daughter wear dresses? Perhaps if I'd played more ball with my son?

Response: First, of all, sexual orientation is generally believed to be established either before birth or in the first few years of life. While there have been a few studies done, no one really knows for sure why some people are gay. Second of all, if there is nothing wrong with being gay, then what does it really matter? In other words, why ask why?

Worry: My child can't possibly lead a happy life; everyone knows homosexual people are lonely and miserable. And what about his career? He was headed to law school and now he'll have to find something else, perhaps he should be a hairdresser. And of course I'll never have grandchildren!

Response: Go out and meet some gay and lesbian people today. Many of them live happy, productive lives with partners. Also, more and more people are coming out at work every day which is why so many companies are adding domestic partnership benefits. In New York City, we have organizations for gay lawyers, doctors, teachers, police, and firefighters to name a few. As for grandchildren, more gay and lesbian people than ever before are having children either through adoption, artificial insemination, or surrogate parenthood, and more and more courts are recognizing such arrangements. There's still a long way to go, but it's never been easier to live openly as a gay person.

Some parents go into such a state of shock that they are simply unable to deal with the news or they may be so wrapped up in their own need for emotional support that they cannot begin to think of yours. In time, however, most parents do go through a process of acceptance and move beyond their initial reactions.

Emily Rizzo will answer your questions in The Parent's Corner each month. Responses will appear in the next monthly issue of Oasis. The confidentiality of respondents is guaranteed, and questions can be anonymous or identified by a first name, age and/or location. Emily can be reached at oasis-emily@oasismag.com.
General information: Jeff Walsh
Design and HTML: Jase Pittman-Wells
©1996 Oasis. All Rights Reserved.