PFLAG UK - SUPPORT FOR PARENTS OF GAY AND LESBIAN CHILDREN
Why Did My Child Choose To Be Gay?
Parents quite often use the phrase "Why did my child choose this way of life?" It must again be emphasised that a lesbian/gay orientation is not chosen, it is natural to the person. In view of the many difficulties with which lesbians and gays have to cope, and the hostility that they will probably face, even from those who know and love them, it must surely be abundantly clear that most people would not go out of their way to choose a way of life so fraught with possible pressures. People do not choose to be heterosexual. It is simply part of them. It is exactly the same for lesbians and gays.
What Did I Do Wrong?
Similarly, parents often ask, "Where did I go wrong?" This is only an issue if being lesbian or gay is thought to be a "problem". They have not gone wrong. There is nothing that they have done, or failed to do that made their child lesbian/gay.
Is Homosexuality An Illness?
The question is often asked, "Can this condition be cured?" The answer is that homosexuality is not an illness. It is a natural state of affairs for lesbian or gay people. They do not choose to be thus, anymore than anyone else chooses to be heterosexual. Sexual orientation, whether homosexual or heterosexual is not of our making and we are not responsible for the reason or process of creation.
Is Sexual Orientation A Choice?
It cannot be repeated often enough that sexual orientation is not chosen, that instead, it is an emotional pattern present from the beginning which develops as the child grows. As with all children, sexual awareness comes as the body develops. At this point it is very important to make a distinction between a lesbian or gay experience, which many children have, and lesbian or gay orientation.
The first is sexual play, a purely physical experiment without any emotional involvement; the second is a complete way of relating and involves very deep emotional experiences.
It is however at this early stage of sexual awareness that the lesbian or gay child first feels different, and first feels attracted emotionally and sexually to the same sex. In the present climate of hostility, discrimination and prejudice and perhaps in fear and confusion, a son or daughter will often deny their sexual orientation, even to themselves.
Stress and Identification
The conflict and lack of identity, the feeling of isolation and guilt they have been taught to have, often results in great distress. Regretfully, current society still focuses on the assumption that only heterosexuality is the accepted norm, although progress to equality continues to be made.
As their sexual development speeds up, it becomes clear that this difference is a sexual one. Fear and loneliness often overtake these children. They do not necessarily identify with the lesbian and gay people portrayed on television, even though this image has improved in recent years, and attempts are now made by producers and playwrights to depict more accurate lifestyle characters and programmes for the quite sizeable lesbian and gay audiences.
Rejection and Ridicule
Gay and lesbian young people fear rejection by their parents and possibly by anyone else they might normally turn to for guidance. They fear scorn, or even aggression, from their friends or classmates, some of whom may be repeating the sort of "queer" jokes that abound in school playgrounds and regretfully, amongst some older people. They fear they might give themselves away with a look, a glance, or even an untimely remark. They experience great difficulty in meeting other lesbian/gay people and, in isolated circumstances, can feel "they are the only lesbian/gay person in the world" to quote a phrase we have often encountered. In short, lesbian and gay young people feel exactly the same sense of shock and fear that parents encounter when faced with this knowledge of their daughter's or son's orientation. They face it alone. It is not uncommon for a young lesbian/gay person to spend three or four years summoning up enough courage to talk to their parents.
For parents totally unprepared for this development in their child the general reaction is one of shock, bewilderment and fear. Some blame themselves, some reject the child, some want to help but do not know how to cope. Many, in spite of themselves, feel alienated from their own child. Even where love maintains the bond, this does not lessen the shock and the confusion parents feel.
If we examine the reasons for these varying reactions, a fairly consistent pattern emerges.
Parents, in common with the rest of society, have absorbed all the myths and misunderstandings which exist about homosexuality. Little information exists for the parents of a lesbian/gay child. Very rarely, if at all, does the subject of homosexuality get talked about in the home or socially other than in a "media sensational" sense, and then usually in a very biased way based upon limited knowledge or distorted by the media. The image which you then have, may be very little different from that which you first learned in the playground, in an atmosphere of prejudice, fear and ridicule towards homosexuality. Even parents who consider themselves to be very understanding on this matter do not expect it in their own family. Do not feel guilty. These prejudices, these misunderstandings and misconceptions are prevalent in our society. They are not ideas that you as parent, family or friend of a lesbian/gay, decide to have. As you gain more information and the shock lessens, you will find, slowly, that they will pass, as you realise how distorted and prejudiced these images are, and how much discrimination against homosexuals they are responsible for.
Religious Prejudice and Intolerance
If parents hold certain religious beliefs, one of the difficulties they may experience is in reconciling these doctrines with the lesbian/gay orientation of their daughter or son.
Try to accept the fact that you have had a shock for which few parents are prepared. Your child, gradually over a period of years, has had the same shock. Now put some faith in the strength that family relationships can have in a time of crisis. Recognise that there is no "right" or correct way for parents to react in this situation. As in all family situations, however you would have reacted until now, your child will need a signal that you still love him or her, no matter what. Whether this is done in words or deeds, it is the start of getting things right.
Emotions Are Alright
Do not smother your emotions with reason. Some parents will say they have come to terms and that they accept this is the way their child is, even while feeling deeply upset inside. Do not deny your emotions. It is better to tell your child that this was a shock you were totally unprepared for, that you still love him or her and nothing has changed that, but you still need time to let the shock run its course and to get advice. Meanwhile get in touch with a Parents' organisation with the aim of not only getting advice and support, but of expressing your feelings. Parents feel shock, hurt and guilt as much as anyone else. Expressing these feelings to someone outside the family, who none the less understands, will greatly reduce the burden you feel, and lessen the risk of confrontation in the family.
Some Parents Speak First
Just occasionally, parents will recognise their child is lesbian/gay before their child has the courage to approach them. What lesbian/gay children generally say is that, for them, the easiest way for the subject to be brought up would be if their mother or father were to say something like the following: "I've felt for a while you might be lesbian/gay. If you are, I want you to know that it makes no difference to the love I feel for you. I will need to find out more about the subject so that I can know how best to help you lead a happy life. Whether you are lesbian/gay or not, I love you, and, if it helps, let's talk about things."
These thoughts, however phrased, and in some families they might be better written than spoken, can provide a bridge to the child who may he anxious to talk, but is unable to find the words. Even young people who clearly know they are lesbian/gay can have difficulty in accepting this side of themselves. Thus, it can be better to gradually and gently re-state, over a period of time, your love for your child and the strength of that bond, so creating an atmosphere in which it is easier for your son or daughter to talk.
Adapted from "Manchester Parents Group" www.manpg.co.uk/someone_gay.htm