Coming out: A parent’s view
Coming out is a major decision in every LGBTQI+’s (LG) life. It is a crucial choice usually preceded by struggles within that reach a summit that can no longer be contained. It is a validation of one’s very person, a form of being true to oneself.
Prior to coming out, most people would have wrestled with themselves, maybe starting from blame before finally accepting one’s true identity. So when LGs do come out, chances are they’re now sure of who they really are.
Unfortunately, even at this point in our modern world, the bias against choosing a gender identity different from one’s outward sex characteristics is still frowned upon. Thus, on the part of LGs, there is still anxiety and distress when deciding to come out.
They may not be the first to hear it, but parents are on top of the list of people that LGs need “to come out to.” William Blatz’s theory on security and attachment links parental intimacy to a person’s confidence. Having solid support from parents bolsters an LG’s stance. To live their lives to the fullest, LGs know that their parents have to know. But why are parents often the last to be told, and why is it always assumed that parents would not understand?
Like all major announcements, a child’s coming out may seem like a “bolt out of the blue” to most parents. It may tilt the parent-child relationship in both ways. Personalizing families tend to be more accepting than positional ones (Valentine, et al., 2003). It can change parental relationships for the worst (Willis, et al., 2021).
Coming out is not a declaration of war with parents. On the contrary, it is a proud moment when one stands up for who she or he is. And parents cannot be prouder. Such acceptance assures LGs that there is no reason to leave home. There is no reason to throw all caution to the wind, burn bridges, or turn one’s back to family and friends. Parents generally love their children no matter what path they may have chosen.
While the initial reaction may be shocking, studies show that parents are more likely to accept their child in the long run. Ghoul (2020) discusses the forms and degrees of acceptance—from resentful denial to resigned acceptance, liberal acceptance, acceptance through silent gestures, and complete acceptance. Whatever kind, form, or degree it takes, we just have to agree that “parental acceptance is a process.” A lot of factors shaped an LG’s decision to come out. That is certainly the same way too with parental acceptance.
It is hard to be judged and not be accepted according to your life choices. But know that it is equally hard for parents to often be assumed as the antagonists. Silence does not always mean that parents are angry. Likewise, calling out and using pronouns in a certain way does not mean parents are rejecting the choice their child may have made.
The truth is fear grips every parent with an outed child. They fear that their child will be bullied, mocked, or discriminated against despite living a decent life. Because, really, parents will do everything and anything in their power to protect and shield their child from harm or hurt. Parents are dead scared because gender politics is relatively new territory, and they feel vulnerable and at a loss on navigating and making it safer for their children.
The social pressure is secondary. Understand that parents face peer pressure too, and experienced and seasoned as they are, they too crack when pushed and pounded too hard.
Are parents angry with their child’s choice of different gender identity? I dare say no.
Parents just want to be loved, as they love their children. They just want acceptance, as they have accepted their children. Give them that moment, and then reach out.
LGs must hold their parents’ hand. In truth, no matter how unyielding they may seem, parents will never reject their children. LG or not, children will always be loved.
LGs must talk to their parents, because understanding will come when communication is kept open, honest, and sincere. Talk about anything and everything. Laugh together. Cry together. Parents need to release their emotions as much as outed LGs. Parents have as many questions as their outed children which only these children can answer.
By all means, LGs should come out and reveal and celebrate their choice because it is only in being true to oneself that one can really flourish, thrive, and help others. But it would do both LGs and their parents good if the premise that parents cannot accept LGs is banished. In truth, parents will always support, cheer, and fight for their children.
LGs, make your parents part of your lives. Believe me, you’ve made them proud by standing up for your beliefs.
Ruth Fernandez-Yap is a mother and teacher.