Now What Do I Do?
Maybe you’ve just been told by someone you love or someone you know that they are LGBTQ (for simplicity, we use the term LGBT here to include gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and "questioning" individuals). You may be feeling quite an assortment of feelings and emotions right now if you are, please don’t think your feelings are not normal or not valid. Whatever you are feeling is normal, and many people who’ve "found out", as you just have, have also felt the same things. Let’s start off by briefly exploring some of the feelings you may experiencing. Hopefully, you’ll quickly see that your feelings are similar to what others sometimes experience. Some people go through distinct stages of emotions (one distinct feeling/emotion followed by another followed by another), while others experience several of these emotions at the same time. Some people may experience one or two of these and never experience any of the others. Every individual is different and it is almost impossible to correctly predict how someone is going to react when told. These feelings and emotions may include: Shock You may feel somewhat in a state of shock after hearing that your loved one is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) because you may not have suspected it or even thought about the possibility before you were told. This revelation may feel somewhat overpowering initially. You may even feel like your whole world has been turned upside down and that nothing makes sense right now. This is a normal reaction of many people, even for those who have had suspicions in the past. Suspecting or thinking about the possibility from time-to-time is one thing, confirmation can be a whole different ball game. Confirmation of our suspicions is something we are not always prepared to confront. As shock about anything always does, it will begin to fade once a little time has passed. And your world will turn right side up again very soon. Sure, you have to do a little work (i.e., educating yourself) too, but before you know it, things will be easier. Fear You may experience uneasy feelings of fear, either for your LGBT loved one or for yourself. For your child, you may fear that harm will come their way from friends, teachers, strangers or even from other family members. For yourself, you may fear how your other immediate or extended family members and close friends will react if they are told or find out. There’s not much we can say that will alleviate your feelings of fear. Only time will help those feelings to subside. Yes, there are people in the world who would harm an individual simply because they are perceived to be LGBT. As for your family and friends finding out, some may react wonderfully and others may suddenly distance themselves from either you or your young person. We can’t predict how people will react. Just as you have to be patient with your child during this education process, so must you be patient with others around you. It isn’t always easy, but it’s the only way to succeed. Guilt One of the first things parents will say (or at least think) is "what did I do to ‘cause’ this?" Relax, you didn’t do anything to ‘cause’ it. As far as a ‘cause’ goes, we don’t really know the origins of ANY human sexuality are (heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual). So, don’t think as a mother, aunt or grandmother, you were too over-bearing or smothering to your child. If you are a father, uncle or grandfather, don’t think that you were too distant or didn’t engage your child in the right activities. There are many stereotypes as to what families did to ‘cause’ their child to be LGBT. But they are all stereotypes. Your child is most likely LGBT for the same reasons that some children are left-handed or brown-eyed or shy or outgoing. It’s just one other characteristic of nature, and it’s not limited to just the human species either. Guilt feelings are a very common reaction that is usually our way of trying to make sense of this situation which just doesn’t make sense to you yet. However, as you educate yourself more about this topic, you will discover that things will begin to make sense and that there simply is no need for guilt of any sort. Grief Many parents experience varying degrees of grief after they’ve learned that their child is LGBT. This is primarily due to a feeling that an end to the life of your child--as you pictured it--has occurred. And one has. Many families develop a set of dreams for how a child’s life will evolve. There will be high school, proms, maybe college, a serious boyfriend or girlfriend or two and then one day, they will marry, settle down and start a family meaning, of course, grandchildren! -- and will live out a happy life. Suddenly, when the parents learn that their child is LGBT, those dreams are ripped from them just like when a sudden death occurs. What most families eventually have to come to realize is that those dreams can still be fulfilled only there may be a few alterations along the way. What parents want most for their children is that they be fulfilled and live happy lives. With the teen’s revelation that he/she is LGBT, the young person is beginning his/her journey to achieving exactly that for themselves. There can still be high school, proms, maybe college, a serious boyfriend or girlfriend or two and a lifetime commitment to someone they love. They can have children if they so choose. Yes, it’s not the exact dream you had for them. But then, it was never their purpose in life to fulfill YOUR dreams. Many parents who’ve traveled this journey and reached acceptance have said that their new dreams for their children weren’t much different than their old dreams. It just takes time to discover this for yourself. Denial Ah, good old denial. With denial, you sometimes don’t have to experience the "trauma" of these other emotions because, of course, they don’t apply to you. Your teen is simply "mistaken", "confused" or, "going through some kind of phase that will eventually pass." The first and best thing you can do for yourself is to listen to your child. They know what they are feeling. Yes, they may still have some confusion about certain elements of their sexual orientation or gender identity, but they know who they are attracted to. They know how they feel on the inside. If you can only listen and say to yourself, "hey, what if this IS true, how do I best support my child while learning more about this?", you will have done yourself a world of good. Anger You may suddenly find yourself very angry at the person who told you that they are LGBT. This anger could be caused by a variety of things. You may be angry at them because you don’t understand why they suddenly told you or even felt the need to tell you. You may feel that they are doing this simply to "get to you" for some reason. You may simply be angry because this is a new issue that you don’t want to have to deal with. after You may be angry because you weren’t told before now or because you feel that you should have been told before others were told. The possible reasons are endless. But, odds are the reason you were told is because the person who told you truly cares for you deeply. LGBT people don’t make a habit of telling just anybody. They seek out those who are closest to them, people they care for and people they trust. You may not feel it today, but hopefully one day soon you will realize the importance for your teen in choosing to tell you. If you can get past the anger, try to think of what they must face, and what they might be dealing with. They likely need your support. Shame You may have feelings of shame or embarrassment initially. This is perfectly normal. The first thing most people think of when the subject "gay" comes up is s-e-x. And, in the American society especially, s-e-x is an embarrassing, often taboo topic to discuss. But, as you become more familiar with LGBT people and their daily lives, you’ll quickly see that the s-e-x thing is only a minor part of their lives, no more significant than in heterosexual relationships. You may also feel shame or embarrassment because you now question whether your son, brother, nephew is manly enough or if your daughter, sister, cousin is too "butch." You may suddenly feel like you don’t want to be seen with them in public. If so, this is probably because you are fearful that others will judge you based on what you think the public sees or perceives when they see your loved one. Our advice: Try to relax and let others judge as they will. If you don’t judge someone’s parent because you see a questionable characteristic or behavior of their child (e.g., an overactive child), then why would you thinks others would judge you based on something they might see in your child? Odds are, the young person in your life doesn't look any different today than before they told you. Comfort For some, finding out is like finding the last piece of the puzzle that has been missing for a long time. It provides comfort because suddenly, all the things that haven’t made sense (e.g., the distance that your loved one kept (both emotionally and physically), the avoidance of family and friends, the disinterest in dating and social activities, the depression) suddenly do. Now that you know, it can be discussed openly and honestly for the very first time. This is often a period of rediscovering someone you already know well, even better. And, much to the surprise of many who are told, their biggest "discovery" is that there really is no new discovery to make. Their young person really isn’t any different. They have the same personality, they dress the same way, they still laugh at the same jokes, they still go to school or work, etc. About the only thing that is different is they are finally a little more relaxed around others, including you. And, what a welcome change that is. As we discussed before, everyone goes through their own personal journey at their own pace. We can’t tell you how long it will take you to reach a level of acceptance or what specific emotions you will or won’t experience along the way. What we can tell you is that talking about it openly and reading books on this subject will help the process go much faster. Talking about it with staff at All Under One Roof or with others at PFLAG meetings who have already gone through this process or who are going through it at the same time as you is often the best and easiest way to make personal progress. So, other than talking and reading, what are your options? Well, where you go from here, whether it’s to crawl under a rock and attempt to shut out the world (or at least your loved one), or whether it’s to take the plunge to begin educating yourself about a topic you may have thought would never directly impact you, is totally and completely up to you. We hope you’ll go for the second option. Keep exploring ours and many other website!