When a loved one comes out, reactions vary, from “Now that I know, what can I do to support my child?” to “How will I ever handle this?” For some people, it’s a combination of these two reactions…and more. There is no doubt that people have different and potentially complex responses and feelings to a loved one coming out…and this is absolutely normal. Here, then, are some tips from PFLAG on how to support your child or loved one, while making sure that you also get the support you need.
Tips for Supporting Your LGBTQ Child or Loved One:
Lead with love. For some, this will be the natural response. For others, long-held beliefs may get in the way of being able to respond positively and supportively. As best as you can, however, remember this: No matter how easy or difficult learning about your child’s sexual orientation or gender identity is for you, it probably was difficult for them to come out to you. And, while saying “I love you” is one obvious way to express your love for your child, if you find yourself at a loss for words, as many of us do sometimes, a hug can speak volumes.
Listen with intention. Give your child ample opportunity to open up and share their thoughts and feelings. Whether they want to talk about their hopes for the future, or a situation that happened in school or at work that day, the prospect for open discussion is endless. If you have a sense that your loved one might want to talk, but isn’t doing so on their own, a gentle open-ended question, such as, “How did things go at school/work/church” today, can open the door to dialogue.
Show subtle support. If overt support is a stretch at first, remember that subtle support can also make a difference. Whether it’s speaking positively about an LGBTQ person you know, or a character from a movie or television show; reflecting out loud about gender or sexuality issues surfacing in the news; or openly reading and sharing new learning about gender or sexual diversity, these small hints let kids know that you are supportive and understanding.
Learn the terms. What is sexual orientation? What does it mean to be “bisexual”? Learning the language is a great way to start having important and sometimes challenging conversations. Of course, like every other human on the planet, you will likely make a few mistakes along the way–and that’s okay! Own it, apologize, move on, and work to do better next time. Visit pflag.org/glossary to get started.
Tips for self-support:
Remember that you’re not alone. According to the Williams Institute, there are more than eight million self-identified LGB people in the U.S., and approximately 1.4 million people who identify as transgender. Other research shows that eight in ten people in the U.S. personally know someone who is LGB, and one in three people know someone who is transgender. In other words, although it may not appear so, there are LGBTQ people everywhere, and there are supportive families and allies everywhere, too. You are not alone in this process.
Remember that your feelings are valid. There is no one way to react to learning that your child or a loved one is LGBTQ. Some feel happy that their child opened up to them, relief that they know more about their child and can support them, or joy that their child is confident in their self-awareness. Others may have more difficult or complex emotions, such as fear, guilt, sadness, or even anger. These are all normal feelings…and you may experience some or all of them simultaneously.
Remember that this is a journey. While you want to express your love for your child as quickly as you can (see Tip 1 at the top!), remember that you are in a process; addressing your reaction and moving forward will take time. It is okay to be okay immediately, or okay not to be okay overnight. Take the time you need to explore these feelings.
Remember that you’re important. Self-care is crucial, which means that even as you are learning how best to support your child or loved one, you must also find support for YOU. Whether you feel isolated or nervous—or interested and excited to connect with other families—it’s important not only to find and talk to people who have gone through what you’re going through, but to have information and resources at your fingertips right when you need them. Visit pflag.org to find a local meeting and helpful resources.