Ask Dr. Jay

by Dr. Jay Nagdimon
April 1996

Dear Dr. Jay,

I am a 17-year-old lesbian, and I have recently come out to my parents. I have been coming out to my friends at my new school. My problem is that both of my parents said cool and that it was okay, but my father says that a person's sexuality matures as they get older and that I can't be old enough to really know that I am a lesbian. My step-mom says that just because I say I am doesn't actually make me homosexual. I have yet to tell my real mother and my step-dad. I remember my mother saying that she is doesn't mind homosexuals, she is just glad that all her kids are straight.

Signed, Upset and Confused

Dear Upset and Confused,

It sounds like your father and step-mom are saying two different things at once: we accept you and we don't believe you. What parents often fail to realize is how meaningful the act of coming out is to a gay son or daughter. I'm sure you were hoping that they would reassure you of their love and acceptance and it must be very disappointing not to receive it without them second guessing you.

Let's first start with your feelings. I find that it is always helpful to understand yourself before you go ahead and try to figure out other people. If we boil down your father's and stepmother's responses, it would sound something like "you are too young to really know your sexual orientation." This is probably why you are upset. In a sense it is a put-down. Their reaction devalues all of the time you have spent coming to terms with your same-sex feelings. If they had gone through the coming out process themselves, they wouldn't be so quick to dismiss what you have said. Since they haven't gone through the coming out process, we have to accept the fact that they are starting with some limitations. They are limited by their heterosexuality. They are limited by their knowledge of sexual orientation and they may be limited by their own prejudices and stereotypes.

Let's cut to the chase. You father and step-mother appear to hope that you aren't really a lesbian. If you want to really convince them, you need three things.

  1. You need patience. You have to allow them time to let the idea sink in. You have to allow them time to do their own coming-to-terms. And you also have to allow them time to realize that you aren't going to change your mind in six months.

  2. You need information. You need to be able to answer their questions in a factual manner. You need to understand what parents tend to do and think when their child says he or she is gay. You also need to provide them with resources. They will need to have an opportunity to look for answers to their questions, concerns and doubts on their own. You can get a lot of the information you need from the organization Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (P-FLAG). Write to P-FLAG at 1101 - 14th Street, NW, Suite 1030, Washington DC 20005 or call (202) 638-4200. Ask for an order form for pamphlets. Also ask for a P-FLAG chapter near you. Try going to a meeting. You may find the parents at the meeting very helpful.

  3. Lastly, try to be flexible. If you respond with "I am right and you are wrong" they will be more likely to disbelieve you. You might try saying that you are willing to wait it out and consider all of your feelings. You might add that you have serious doubts about being heterosexual because it goes against feelings you've had for years, but you will try to keep an open mind. The more flexible you are, the more likely they will consider you thoughtful, reasonable....and mature.

Of course you know reality. The trick is to help them accept reality. As for your mom and step-father, if you decide to come out to them, do so when you are getting along well with them. Give them a book to read after you have told them and always remember that parents have their own coming out process too.

Best Wishes,

Dr. Jay

Jay Nagdimon, Ph.D. was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. His early involvements included six years of volunteering at the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center's Youth Department. Jay worked on the Gay and Lesbian Youth Talkline, both as a volunteer and later as a trainer of new volunteers. He also was very involved in the Center's Pen Pal Program and youth newsletter.

You can e-mail Dr. Jay at DrJay@oasismag.com. He will try his best to respond to everyone, depending upon the volume of mail received.

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