Emily Rizzo

November 1998

Too Young to Know My Own Mind?

Q. I'm 16, fully out at school, but when I try to bring up the subject with my mom she doesn't want to hear about it. She keeps treating me like a child and telling me I'm too young to know my own mind. What can I do to make her understand I'm really a lesbian?

A. Frankly, no parent, no matter how liberal they are, wants to hear that their child is gay or lesbian. Even if they aren't upset at your being gay, they are going to be genuinely concerned for your health, happiness and safety. Sadly, gay people are the target of both discrimination and gay-bashing, and AIDS is still a very real threat. Eventually, some of us parents, especially those who get involved in PFLAG, come to realize that having a gay child is truly a gift, that our lives have been made richer by having children who are "different."

So it sounds as if your mom has decided not to hear your "bad news" which is really a form of denial on her part. If she doesn't hear it, or won't let you say it, then it can't really be true. She can go on at some level pretending that her daughter will some day find Mr. Right, waltz down that aisle in a long white dress, have 2.3 children, a house in the suburbs (don't forget the minivan!) and live happily ever after. Of course on some level she does hear you but she's simply not dealing with it.

So how to get her to really listen? You can try by getting together some pamphlets from your local PFLAG chapter (see www.pflag.org for a complete listing including e-mail contacts and phone numbers) or, if you can afford it, buy one of the many books written expressly for parents. Also make sure you have the information on your local PFLAG chapter including the time and place of the next meeting and a phone number she can call if she wants to talk to someone right away. Then find a quiet time when you can really sit down and talk to her; perhaps even make an appointment with her for a particular time so you'll be sure to have her undivided attention.

Once you've got her listening to you, explain to her that you are a lesbian and also tell her your own coming out story. How long have you known you were lesbian? When did you first come to realize that you were attracted to women? Were there early signs in your childhood that you can now see were hints of your sexual orientation? Make sure your mother knows that you didn't just "decide to become a lesbian last week" but that this has been an ongoing process of discovery and that now you are ready to share this with your mother.

Explain to your mother why you are coming out to her. Perhaps you feel that your pretending to be something you are not and hiding a true side of yourself has put up a barrier of distance between the two of you and that troubles you. Perhaps you are planning to come out to other family members and would like her support.

If she continues to insist that you are "too young to know your own mind" (and I've heard those words from the mother of a 35 year old) then it is your job to convince her that you are in fact mature enough. The only way I know to do this is by in fact acting mature: don't engage in "juvenile" behavior such as fighting with her or recriminations. If she tries to engage you at that level, then back off and explain that this is a serious matter and you can only talk about when she's prepared to do so calmly.

It might help if there's a sympathetic family member whom you can come out to first who can be your ally with your mother. Ideally, it would be someone your mom might naturally turn to for advice and support herself, such as one of her sisters or brothers.

But do try to keep bringing up the subject, eventually you will get through because no one can live forever in denial, it simply takes too much work.

Send questions to emily.rizzzo@nyu.edu. All e-mails are answered confidentially.

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