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.
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.