Would you be accepting of your children if they came out as LGBT?
If you’re reading this, chances are good that you would be.
After all, you love your kids unconditionally, and you’d never want them to experience the fear, pain, and alienation that goes along with being rejected by their own parents for things they cannot control.
But did you know that it’s important to start showing that kind of acceptance way before your child asks to have that important “coming out” talk? Even as very small kids?
Even though our kids may not come out until they’re teens or even older, they probably have an understanding of their sexuality or gender identity much younger, and will pick up cues about how their identity will be received by their family very early on.
That’s why we can’t sit idly by and assume our kids are going to be straight or cisgender (the gender they were assigned at birth). We need to start right away in creating homes where our children will know, before they even have to ask, that they are welcome.
What’s even better, creating a welcoming home from the very beginning is also great for kids who will grow up to be straight or cisgender. Showing compassion and acceptance will show your kids that these values are of the utmost importance to your family, and help create more people willing to stand up for what’s right.
Reverend Ann Kansfield, minister at Greenpoint Reformed Church and the first openly gay FDNY chaplain, told me that when she was a kid, people assumed she liked “girl stuff,” simply by default. “I can’t tell you how bummed I was as a kid whenever someone, usually well meaning, would buy me a doll. Often with the idea that if they just got me the right one, I would want to play with it.”
Because Ann is my cousin, I can attest to the fact that no doll was ever going to turn Ann into a Barbie-loving girlie girl. She was who she was, even from a very young age. And that’s a great thing.
Grownup Ann, who is raising two adorable kids along with her wife, explains that trying to enforce standard gendered preferences can tell children that we don’t accept them for exactly who they are.
“Kids will naturally pick up on any embarrassment or shame that a parent might have,” says Ann, “so the best thing that parents can do is to give up your expectations of who your kid is, and to not be ashamed of them and their choices.”
Antoinette D’Orazio, a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Hartsdale, NY, agrees. “Parents that can present a non-judgmental atmosphere, that can talk about marriage, jobs, and life in general without attaching gender identities create an accepting environment that welcomes everyone.”
Jonathon Reed, who grew up gender non-conforming, explains that “46 percent of transgender and gender non-conforming young adults have attempted suicide,” ten times the national average in the U.S. But “when trans youth are supported by their parents, the percentage who consider suicide drops by 57 percent,” he says.
That’s a staggering thing to think about — that if you support your gender non-conforming child, they are statistically half as likely to attempt suicide. But it makes sense. Acceptance and support are, in essence, the greatest gifts we can give to our kids.
Justin Cascio, a writer who is transgender, looks back at his childhood and thinks about how much more energy he could’ve devoted to figuring out what kind of guy he was, rather than just bumping up against all of the rigid gender roles forced on him. Little things could’ve made a big difference, like shopping in the boys’ section for clothes or if he’d been allowed to have a boy’s hair cut. Sometimes, when he sees parents today doing it right, it makes him weep.
“It’s a good thing that the world is getting better,” Justin told me. “I described it to my therapist once as being like the guy on crutches watching the line of kids get their polio shots. Am I glad the next generation won’t have to suffer? Of course. But it’s bittersweet.”
Ultimately, Justin thinks it’s healing to see that “this sickness, transphobia, doesn’t have to be transmitted to the next generation in its entirety.”
Another great way for parents to show their support is by advocating for the LGBT people in our own lives.
An awesome real-life example of this is Michael Rowe and his family. The Canadian novelist and essayist has written extensively about the relationship he and his husband of 31 years have with their godchildren Kate, 13, and Michael, 11. “They’ve always known us as a couple,” he says. “To Kate and Michael we are not really different than any of their other aunts and uncles, except for the obvious fact that we’re in a same-sex relationship. We have always been Uncle Michael and Uncle Brian.”
Rowe, who began identifying as queer some years ago after decades of identifying as gay, credits Kate and Michael’s parents with laying the groundwork for this relationship.
“I have no sign that my godchildren are anything but cisgender and straight,” Michael explains, “but I also know that if they weren’t, their parents have created an emotional landscape for them where they would feel safe and nurtured and loved, if it ever came up.”
Reading books and consuming media (age-appropriate, of course) that show diverse families and gender identities as part of your normal routine can also show your kids very early forms of acceptance. Simple changes to language can help, too. For instance, instead of referring to “mommies and daddies,” we can simply say “parents.” Instead of saying, “Someday, when you have a husband,” we might say, “Someday, when you have a partner.”
These changes are easy, and well worth the effort. Even if your kids grow up to be straight and cisgender, they’ll benefit from seeing that to you, all gender identities and sexualities are equally valid and important. Even if that doesn’t change your own child’s life, teaching inclusiveness can only help make the world a better place.
Book suggestions from Antoinette D’Orazio:
- ABC: A Family Alphabet Book and 123: A Family Counting Book, both by Bobby Combs, are great for ages 2-5 and feature multicultural gay- and lesbian-parented families.
- Uncle Bobby’s Wedding by Sarah S. Brannen is good for ages 4-7 and is about a guinea pig who is afraid she will lose her favorite uncle when he gets married, but instead finds she gets another uncle when he does.
- Molly’s Family by Nancy Garden is great for ages 4-7 and is about a kindergartner who finds support from her teacher and parents to display a picture she draws of herself and her two moms.
- King and King by Linda de Haan is good for ages 4-8 and is about a queen who is about to retire and wants her son to get married and take over ruling the realm. He does, but the wedding is not what she expected.
The San Francisco Public Library website also has a great list of diverse children’s books that includes these and many more.