Hey there Dad. Let's talk again. What you say to a child that was brave enough to come out as lesbian, gay, bi, trans, or queer/questioning (LGBTQ) will have a lasting impact. Your children, and their friends, look up to you and will only tell you personal things because they trust you. This trust makes it especially important for you to know what to say and what not to say.
Fortunately, I have some expert advice for you. AFFIRM, a network of therapists with LGBTQ relatives, has compiled a list of statements that LGBTQ people have heard while coming out. They were nice enough to share that list with me, knowing that I would share it with the Dads (and others) out there.
The list is extensive, so I will be releasing it in several blog posts. It contains some truly amazing reactions, alongside some absolutely horrifying responses. (If you want to stay up to date, "like" A Father's Pride on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.) As I looked through the list of comments, three of them stood out and capture the essence of what you need to do for a child's coming out to be positive and affirming.
1. Start with "I will always love you." Look, Dad, I know we're not supposed to talk about love or any other feelings. Even sensitive modern guys tend to shy away from this feeling stuff. Look, your child just took a huge risk and this is one of the best things you can say. Trust me, they will breathe easier knowing that you will always love them.
2. Next, be inquisitive. Say something like, "Tell me more, I want to understand." This is a great second step, but it's important that you tell your child you love them before asking for more information. You don't want your child wondering if their answer to your question has to be the "right one." Issues of sexual orientation and gender identity are complicated, and sometimes it takes more than a few words to really appreciate what your child is telling you. Make sure that you leave the question open ended, and that you respect the intimate details of your child's life. Sometimes you can push too far and make an already uncomfortable conversation even more uncomfortable.
3. Finish strong by saying, "I'm so glad you told me!" At this point, Dad, you've been let into the circle of trust. Each and every time a young person comes out, they are taking a risk, and this youth decided you were worth the risk. Your reaction could be condemnation or rejection, verbal or even physical abuse -- and they risked that to tell you the truth about who they are. By closing strong, you set yourself up as an ally. When the next adult reacts poorly, this young person can come back to you for guidance and support.
As society (once again) comes to grips with the fact that gay people exist, youth are coming out earlier and earlier. Your chances of having or knowing a LGBTQ child is pretty high. Keep these three points in mind, Dad, and you'll ace this conversation.
Feel free to share your tips in the comments.
Today's advice comes from Tim D.
Being LGBT is a part of who you are, but it does not define who you are and what you must think, believe, and hope for. There is as strong a current of conformity within the LGBT community as exists in most other communities, and their is a strong temptation for people who have spent the early part of their lives feeling misplaced to immerse themselves entirely in that current. That's fine, actually, but remember to come up for air. Remember that there really is no one correct way to be LGBT, and more than there is one correct way to be a man, or a woman, or a citizen. Remember that even though it is comforting to surround yourself with people who think and believe the way you do that a dissenting voice is often an invaluable treasure.
Tim D is a student, artist, Progressive Catholic, and radical moderate.
Today's submission comes from Jim F. of Seattle. Jim says
I think the best decision I ever made was to come out of the closet. I didn't do it until I was 34 years old. I realize that the adage "be true to oneself" is powerful. It took me a long time to figure out that most of my fears about showing up as my authentic self were imagined. As part of the process, I surrounded myself with other healthy adults who served as guides.
My blog (A Father's Pride) is usually about providing practical advice to gay youth, but sometimes we dads need a little advice too. So, my fellow dads with gay sons, let's talk about a few things you can do for your boys this year.
1. Commit to connecting with your son. It's a story I've heard again and again, a boy comes out as gay and his dad suddenly steps out of the picture. This leaves a young man without his dad's guidance, and it can make life harder on your son than it needs to be.
Connecting with any teenager can be a challenge. We listen to different music, enjoy different hobbies, have different friends, and are at different stages in life. When your son's path through life looks different from the one you expected him to be on, it makes that connection even harder. That means you'll have to work harder, dad. You're up to that challenge, and if you need a little help, the National Fatherhood Initiative has plenty of free resources, including a free guide, for building the dad-son connection.
I put this one first because it's the hardest, and most important. Remember, dad, your son is still the little guy you held as a baby, took care of when he was sick, and took to the park to throw a ball around. He may be bigger (all three of my sons are taller than me), but he's still the same little person you took such good care of when he was growing up.
2. Have "the talk" with your son. I've had different versions of "the talk" with all three of my sons (two of whom are gay) at different times and at different ages. Each and every time it was both necessary and uncomfortable.
The talk should cover all aspects of a healthy sex life, including what to look for in a relationship, avoiding abusive partners, and safer sex practices that include both personal and sexual safety. In the next few weeks I'll write a longer post about "the talk," so be sure to like A Father's Pride on Facebook or follow me on Twitter so you don't miss it!
3. Attend at least three PFLAG meetings. PFLAG is an organization for family members and allies of people who are LGBTQ. Showing up at a meeting tells your son that you are working to understand him. It will also introduce you to other parents with gay kids. Showing up three times makes you more likely to find another dad you click with.
4. Be an ally to other gay youth. If you're reading this blog, I assume that you're a dad who cares about his gay son. Unfortunately, not all dads are as caring and supportive as you are. Over 40% of homeless youth are GLBT, and many are kicked out of their homes by their parents. Chances are your gay son knows a few other GLBT youth who could use some extra support. Let your son know that you are available to help his friends.
5. Support your son's other interests. Your son's sexual orientation is only one part of his personality. As you know, he has several other interests, most likely including one or two that you can also enjoy. Usually, this means setting aside time to show up. If he's in athletics - go to the matches. If he's in the band, choir, or drama - go to performances. If he likes video games - find one you can play together. There are over 10,000 minutes each week, spending 90 of them supporting your son is a sacrifice you can afford to make.
So, dad, look through the list. Chances are good you're already doing one or two of these things. If so, 2016 can be the year you step up your game and do one or two more -- your son will thank you!
No matter what's on your list of New Year's resolutions, share your 2016 plans in the comments section. You could be inspiring another dad struggling to connect with his gay son.
Today is the Transgender Day of Remembrance. Today we remember those people who have been killed or otherwise harmed because their outside doesn't match their inside.
Inside our community, there is a different kind of violence against trans people. A recent petition urged the gay, lesbian, and bi part of the community to reject the trans part of our community. They did this because they think including trans rights with gay rights hurts gay, lesbian, and bi people. They also feel like trans members of our community interact in a way that is not helpful to the cause. We should reject this kind of thinking outright and recognize that it is driven by the same misguided fear that causes some to reject gay men.
Here are three things gay men have in common with trans people. This list is off the top of my head, and I'm sure there are hundreds of other things that could be added.
1. It's about our insides matching our outsides. I'm not transgender, and I don't pretend to know what it's like to be a trans person. But I do know what it's like to have my outside not match my inside -- and it is a horrible way to live. Once I could start being fully expressed as a gay man, I lived a happy life. Gay men should be the first to embrace people who come out as trans.
2. Some people are both trans and gay. We all know that our genitals do not determine our attractions. This simple fact is true for all people, including trans people. Rejecting trans people also rejects the part of them that is straight, bi, gay, or otherwise queer.
3. We have a common enemy. The same people who want to deny civil rights to gay men are using the trans community to deny us our rights.
Instead of fighting our trans friends, we should take the following steps:
1. Educate yourself. I don't know as much about trans issues as I should, but I do my best to learn. Fortunately, my trans friends are patient with my ignorance.
2. Find our common ground. The three points above cover some areas of common ground. By focusing on where we agree with one another, and spending less time on our differences, we are better prepared to act like a community.
3. Convert our allies. Chances are good that your coming out has changed the hearts and minds of people in your life when it comes to gay issues. Use their open-mindedness about you to change their hearts and minds about trans folk. When one of my co-workers said something ignorant about Caitlyn Jenner, I was able to leverage our relationship to open her mind about trans issues. You can do the same.
4. Fight our common enemy. It is the height of cowardice to leave a fallen comrade on the battlefield. Instead of jettisoning our trans friends, we should have their backs. We should join to fight our common enemy together.
Today is a day to remember trans people who are victims of violence. Today is a day to not only remember, today is a day to act.
The winter holidays may be the most wonderful time of the year for some people, but many LGBT youth find it's a season they would rather skip right past. Not only is it cold and dark outside, but LGBT youth are often forced to spend time with family members who are less than supportive. There’s also something about the religious origins of Thanksgiving and Christmas that seem to make "Crazy Uncle Bob" double down on the anti-gay rhetoric.
Young LGBT people don't have the same power as Crazy Uncle Bob in these situations, making it important to come up with alternatives for surviving traditions like Thanksgiving Dinner. I've gathered these five tips to help LGBT youth cope with the Crazy Uncle Bob in their life.
1. Remember, nobody wins a dinner fight. I have a strong personality, and have reduced two of my sisters-in-law to tears in the past 20 years. After I “won” those fights my relatives told me that I was right, and I was a jerk. I’ve learned that sometimes I have to choose between being right and being happy. If I had it to do over again, I would choose being happy each and every time. Take the high road and be happy – there will be plenty of time to be right later. You don't want to become the bad guy; let Crazy Uncle Bob keep that title.
2. Assume good intent. Our family members, including Crazy Uncle Bob, are generally good people who want the best for us. These are the people who watched us when we were little, changed our diapers, and kissed our boo-boos. They worry about our future, and they want us to have happy lives. When I get stressed about Crazy Uncle Bob’s anti-gay rants (and yes, even though I'm 40-something, I have a Crazy Uncle Bob), I take a deep breath and remind myself that he thinks he’s helping. While it doesn’t make what he’s saying right, it helps me to listen to what’s behind the words – a desire for me to have a happy and successful life.
3. Become a master of redirection. While Crazy Uncle Bob just can’t help but argue about sex, politics, and religion, most people will roll their eyes and wish that something else was on the agenda. Come ready to talk about a few other topics, like what color your next iPhone should be, a silly cat video, or how horrible it is to drive in the snow. Last year, Slate columnist John Dickerson came up with a long list of alternatives to fighting over politics. Check it out for some additional inspiration. When Crazy Uncle Bob starts talking about how Starbucks is destroying Christmas, you’ll be doing the whole family a favor when you say, “I don’t know about the cup; I’ve been too busy with class. Maybe you have some ideas about the symbolism used in King Lear.”
4. Remember your friends. Michael M. from San Francisco suggests “bookmarking the experience with a trusted ally.” This means talking to a good friend before you spend time with family members who are less than supportive. Then, after dinner, you can call your friend for an emotional detox. He also suggests that you keep a small gift from your friend in your pocket. Get something small like a rock or a coin. Then, when things get tense, you can squeeze that item and remember your supportive friend. This way when Crazy Uncle Bob speaks up – and you know he will – you know somebody has your back.
5. If all else fails, walk away. Sometimes Crazy Uncle Bob can’t take a hint, and the rest of the family lets him get away with anti-gay nonsense. Rather than get pulled into an ugly fight (remember rule #1), make up a reason to step away from the table. I’ve seen people hold their stomachs and excuse themselves for the restroom, or grab their phones and apologize because their friend is having a crisis and needs help. The rest of the family will understand why you’re stepping away, and Crazy Uncle Bob becomes the jerk. If you need to confront Crazy Uncle Bob and set the rules for your relationship, you can do it later, and with a smaller audience.
Thanksgiving dinner is stressful for just about everybody, and when rich food and strong drinks are served, things can get a little tense. Taking some time to emotionally prepare for a turbulent dinner with Crazy Uncle Bob can make all the difference.
There are a lot of reasons to go to school, including the joy of learning, personal development, and future employment. Unfortunately, I frequently meet people who picked courses of study that are fun without considering what happens after they graduate.
Time Magazine just released an article showing which jobs lead people to move back in with their parents. Take a look through this information, and consider the impact your major will have on your quality of life after school.
A field like history (which has the highest percentage of grads living at home at age 29) may be your passion, and you may want to dedicate your life to the study of some past event or ancient culture. If that's the case, it may be worth living in your dad's basement for several years after graduation.
If, however, living with your parents (or in an apartment with six roommates) is not a pleasant option for you, consider a minor in the area you're passionate about and choose a major that's more likely to give you the lifestyle you really want after you graduate.
Speaking in public is a terrifying and rewarding experience that becomes less terrifying and more rewarding each time you do it. As a young person, opportunities to speak might include class presentations, accepting awards, running for school or club offices, or speaking to administrators about your needs and views.
There are countless websites and groups, like Toastmasters, dedicated to teaching you how to speak in public, so I won't go into detail here. Instead, I will encourage you to look at public speaking opportunities as a gift that you should take, and not a chore to avoid.
We can't control people's words or actions, but we can control our responses.
If you think about it, you have probably encountered hundreds of offensive things in your life. Some people are jerks, some people don't think about what they say, some people are ignorant and just don't understand the impact of what they say or what they do.
And, I'm willing to be that your reactions to offensive things is not consistent. If you're in a great mood, an offensive statement probably didn't bring you down. If you're in a foul mood, something that doesn't usually bother you might really get under your skin. This inconsistency tells us that how we react is a choice!
Just like most things in life, the more we practice choosing our reactions, the better we get at it. So, next time you're offended by something, stop and take a deep breath. When you let that breath out, choose how you'll react. Sometimes you'll choose to be offended (which, can be kind of fun). Other time, you'll choose to let it roll off you. Either way -- you're the one making the choice -- and that gives YOU the power in any situation.
Between school, jobs, and spending time with friends and family, we are all really busy people. It can be hard to find time do anything more than work and study. Sometimes we're so busy we don't get enough sleep, let alone get to spend quality time with the people who are important to us.
Nevertheless, there is a lot to be gained from spending time on a cause that's bigger than you. Not only will you make a difference in the world, but you will pick up important job skills, and meet new people.
I'm a gay father with gay sons. My mission is to work with the community to prepare them -- and other young gay men -- for a happy and successful life.