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Q: How Do I Support My Daughter?
I’m straight but have been a big supporter of all walks my whole life, but I do not have much experience in the personal struggles of LGBTQ community.
I have a close relationship with my child, who is a pre-teen, and we live in Texas.
This month, she confided that she is a lesbian. I immediately validated her and told her I would love and support her always in any choice.
She told me she never wants to tell anyone because a boy she knows lost all of his friends coming out. I gave her the natural response “they must not be real friends” and told her she didn’t have to tell anyone until she was ready.
I also warned her to only tell people she trusts because there are a lot of confused people around here that might be mean.
She also told me she’s in love with her best friend (who is very into boys).
I don’t want to scare her or advise her in a way that could cause emotional blocks later.
Please help me prepare to support her moving forward. What are your suggestions?
A: First, reader, let me thank you for having the courage to ask what’s best in this case. There are so many parents out there who mean well (mine included) that sometimes miss the mark, which can be its own frustration. That being said, simply the fact that you want to be supportive of your daughter is very important and she will be able to see that.
She’s very right about the dangers of coming out to her peers. Even though it’s becoming “more accepted” to come out of the closet, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t closed-minded people out there, even in middle school and high school (but they’re nothing compared to the adults that aren’t accepting).
You are also exactly right that the people who would alienate her for coming out are not true friends, but at that age it’s a very difficult process to understand. In our school years, we often feel that our “success” is dependent on our popularity. It’s only as adults that most of us realize this isn’t really the case. This is the reason why many choose not to come out until they’re out of high school – but that can be lonely as well. (Not that high school is the time you should be focusing on relationships, but it can be difficult to see others around you in happy relationships and you’re not.)
During high school, I actually dated a few boys. I was honest with most of them in regards to my true feelings (that is, that I wasn’t attracted to boys), but to others I left it simply as “I like girls [too]”. The “too”, of course, was implied, but untrue. I wouldn’t say that I would recommend this, as it ultimately causes further confusion, all for the sake of fitting in.
My mother actually saw through one of my “cover relationships” before I came out to her. I distinctly remember her telling me, “That boy is in love with you and you feel nothing for him. Do you really think that’s fair to him?”
Of course, 16-year-old me thought I knew everything – after all, I had told him from the beginning that I didn’t really like boys, but I didn’t want to admit yet that I liked girls publicly. I felt that if I couldn’t be out to everyone, I shouldn’t pursue my true interests. After all, if I wasn’t confident enough that I was gay to risk the alienation – was I really?
In a way, I think I can sense a little bit of this in what you’ve told me about your daughter. She’s not ready to risk the alienation because she still has some doubts. Despite what society may tell us, there’s nothing wrong with doubting yourself – in fact, it’s how you grow and learn. Encourage your daughter to be herself, rather than finding a label that fits. There is plenty of time for that later.
You’re absolutely right about only telling people she trusts – in some ways. It may be easier for her to come out to strangers, actually. Personally, I was “out” on the internet long before I came out to my family and friends. It’s not the only way to do things, but every time a person comes out, they are allowing themselves a bit more freedom – and these “minor” freedoms can eventually build up to the courage to come out to those closest to them.
These strangers and acquaintances may have harsh reactions to what she has to say – but she will also have a comfortable distance from them, such that their words may not affect her as much as, say, the friend you mentioned she loved. No matter how trusting she is of that friend, that particular confession will be a difficult one.
You should also remind her that you love her, no matter what. Certainly in some cases where a person comes out very early in life, they will doubt whether it’s true, and possibly even experiment later with ideas of “What if I was wrong?” – I did. You need to be able to reassure her (as well as yourself) that it doesn’t matter if it takes her awhile to truly understand herself. Even as an adult, I’m sure you would agree that you don’t know everything about yourself – right?
It’s also important that you don’t make it seem as if you expect her to question herself. I know, this can be a tough spot to be in. Once, after hearing that I went out for pancakes with a male friend, my dad responded with “So you’re over the gay thing?” – Wrong. You should never assume that you know your child better than they know themselves. Sometimes you may very well be right, but especially in the preteen and teenage years, your child doesn’t want to hear this even if you’re right. And especially if you’re wrong!
There are, realistically, very few “bad” ways to be supportive. Here are the ones I have personally encountered, from well-meaning family members and friends:
- Never make assumptions about “why” she is gay. I have a family member who, for some time, explained to people that “you would be gay too if you had been raped”. I understand that his intention was to support me, but it actually came across as minimizing my true feelings (because I was gay before I was sexually assaulted) and putting on public display an aspect of my life that I was not ready to have made public. If you make an assumption as to “why” she is gay, you are subliminally telling her that she is gay because there’s something wrong with her – even if that is not your intention.
- Never come out for her (unless she specifically asks you to). In the example above, I was already fully “out”, but facing opposition from acquaintances. If you come out on your daughter’s behalf, you are taking one of the chances she has to earn her own freedom and turning it into a point of gossip. Another family member of mine, with the intention of keeping some man from hitting on me, took it upon himself to tell the guy “You’re not her type – she prefers women.” He was right, and his intentions were good, but the result is that he made my “first impression” for me, and made it to where that would be the focus of any friendship I could have with that person.
- Never pick out dates for her. This isn’t a lesbian thing strictly, but I don’t think many parents realize how creepy it is when their parents try to play matchmaker for them. I’m 25 years old and my mother still picks out women that she thinks I’d look cute with – which have no bearing on my actual attraction. It’s not unsupportive, but most likely, your daughter knows the types of girls she’s interested in. She doesn’t need your help picking them out.
- Never reference her sexuality when talking about things to be proud of her for. To you, it may sound like you’re being extra supportive, but from the other side it definitely comes across as minimizing. You can be proud of the courage she had to come out – but don’t be proud of her for being a lesbian.
- Never make assumptions based on how she will live her life. In this day and age, being gay doesn’t automatically mean anything. I remember when I first came out to my mother, one of the first things she said was, “Oh good! No more grandchildren!” (I’m the youngest of four kids.) However, I do want children – just not yet. While being a lesbian may make it to where there are no accidental grandbabies coming from me, my mother’s expression of “no more grandchildren” made it sound like she didn’t want me to have kids – and that hurt a little bit.
Of course, there are a million other tips I could shell out here, but the most important thing is that you talk to your daughter and don’t make any assumptions or interjections. After all, she doesn’t need a fan club, she needs a mom. She needs to know that you’re going to be there for her, no matter what, and that you’ll help her through whatever problems she needs help with – when she’s ready to ask.