I can remember the look of pure disgust that came across my uncle's face each time the subject of homosexuality entered a conversation. I remember hearing my cousins tell derogatory jokes about homosexuals at my grandparents' lakeside cabin, and I remember the short story one of the kids at my school wrote about how the world would be a much better place if all the gays were shipped off to a desert island and left for dead.
It was moments like these that informed my decision not to share my homosexual struggle with my parents or friends—at least not for a very long time. I was in fourth grade when I realized that my feelings for other males were abnormal, yet I didn't share my struggle with any family members until my sophomore year of high school. Each time the subject of homosexuality had been broached in conversation, I could sense their disapproval, so I feared their rejection if my struggle was made known.
"Mom, Dad, I am gay," may be the five most painful and confusing words a parent could ever hear. These words are typically followed by a litany of emotions on both ends of the conversation. While the child has likely spent years coming to terms with this information on his own, the parents have the entire weight of this news placed on them in a single moment. This can be overwhelming—here are five ways to prepare for the conversation:
1. Have respectful and thoughtful conversations about sexuality.
Parents often ask me what they should say when their child comes out to them. However, as I illustrated above, by the time a child shares this information with family, many important conversations have already taken place—conversations parents likely thought were only philosophical in nature.
Children who struggle with their sexual identity have a keen ear to their parents' attitudes about homosexuality. They are listening very carefully to the things you say when you talk, and are noticing the attitudes you have, the words that you use, and the expressions on your face when the subject of homosexuality comes up. They want to know if you are someone who's safe to talk to about this issue.
If you've been gentle and compassionate when discussing the issue prior to having knowledge of your son or daughter's struggle, there will be less anxiety on her part when she shares it with you. Many people who struggle with their sexual orientation are scared to death they'll be rejected by their friends and family if they disclose this struggle. I know I was. Therefore, if you've been calloused or disgusted when discussing the subject, your child may wait until they are much older to confide in you about his sexuality, if he chooses to at all.