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Dealing with Extra Anxiety as You Send a Student to College This FallMarybeth Bock, MPH
You are not alone. There is an army of strong parents waiting in the wings to embrace you, support you, and understand your cascade of emotions.
Perhaps your daughter dated the opposite sex throughout college and then one day she announced that she will be transitioning to a man. Gender and sexuality can be complicated and sometimes fluid, concepts those of us over 40 had no idea about in our formative years. You may have grown up thinking that gay people fit into a certain definitive mold, and your child acted “straight” through the years, only to seemingly suddenly reveal their same sex attraction. It’s OK to feel confused and take time to process this big news.
Perhaps your son, like mine, didn’t fit the “boys will be boys” stereotype. Perhaps your daughter, who everyone always pegged “just a tomboy,” was really expressing herself and sending a different message. Maybe it was just a mother’s intuition.
Even though you may have had a sense for a while, the moment your child “comes out,” and positively affirms that they are indeed LGBTQIA+ is often a time full of a range of emotions for everyone involved.
Your child may use terms you’re unfamiliar with. Ask them about it. Most of us have heard of the LGBT words: Lesbian, Gay Bisexual and Transgender. The “Q” can be all encompassing for any of these orientations and also for ones that aren’t specified, such as pansexual. The “I” is for Intersex and the “A” for asexual and the “+” for anyone else who feels part of the community. For me, a “+” can also include a Mom, a Dad or an Ally.
Some kids come out loud and proud while using a social media reveal. I’ve seen numerous Coming Out TikToks, while my own son chose to come out with a lengthy and heartfelt Instagram post. Other kids are more private with their coming out process. Some teens confide their sexuality within their tight inner circle of friends, and their family is last to know. Others entrust only their parents with their secret until the timing is right to tell others.
You may feel happy, relieved, sad, scared, angry, confused or all of the above when you find out your child is gay. There is no one right way to feel. The best thing you can do for yourself and your child is to continue to love them and support them through this journey of self-exploration and growth.
Depending on how “out” your child has chosen to be, ask them if it is okay to share this news with others. As a parent of a gay child, you may be surprised how many people react with love and understanding. Besides supportive family and friends, you can find others through online and local support groups that can lift you up in love.
I was lucky in that my friends were understanding, but I also felt that I would benefit from support from people who could relate firsthand. I reached out to my local PFLAG: a nationwide group that holds regular meetings for parents of gay children (no matter the age). I attended my first meeting and cried. It’s not that I didn’t fully support my son, because I do. It’s just that I was in a truly safe space to mourn the original vision I had for my son. It was also the place where I could begin to start the journey to fully appreciate the new future for all of us. It's also where I learned about Truvada, a daily pill aimed at combating HIV within high risk groups (gay men for example). It was a wonderful experience to meet all these other family members and hear their stories and learn from them.
Being a parent to a gay child can often add an extra layer of worry and fear.
Discrimination is real in many places and there is more work to be done. But the good news is that gay rights have come a long way since we were young. I am so grateful that my son will be able to get married and we can still have that mother-son dance I’ve always dreamed of.
June is Pride month, this year a time where the Covid-19 pandemic has all but shut down the glitz and glamour of the Pride parades. Pride will be a little quieter this year, but I will change my profile picture in solidarity, donate to an LGBTQ cause and reflect on the queer community and my place within it.
The way I look at it is simple: Love is Love. Whether you are gay, straight, bi, pan, asexual and everything in between.
As parents, it continues to be our job to love and protect and support our children. You got this.