Your Parent Just Came Out. Now What?
“At 3 years-old I didn’t think anything was out of the ordinary,” said Grant Gwaltney. “When I would leave my mom’s house to go stay at my dad’s there was always another guy there, he told me it was just a friend.”
When Gwaltney was 6 years old his dad asked him if he would buy him and his boyfriend a shiny new house when Gwaltney became a superstar one day. And in that moment Gwaltney felt like his family was not like the rest.
For a long time young Gwaltney felt alone; there were no other kids out there like him. It wasn’t until 14 that he found others, and it made him feel like he was normal again, just a part of a unique family.
Gwaltney’s dad left to live with his boyfriend and he didn’t see him very much, but this may have been avoidable had they addressed the elephant that was always standing in the room.
Parents who had children before coming out were likely to be older when they first disclosed being gay to another person or child. Their delayed decisions are based on fear of losing custody and how it will affect their children’s lives, according to the book Sexual Orientation and Gender Expression in Social Work Practice.
Life can be full of predicaments, when you are faced with a situation where risks and outcomes are unknown. You must face making decisions on the “least worst” of the options available, stated by Loren Olson, author of “Finally Out”. So here are a few tips to help you adjust to the new relationship you two will build after they make their decision to come out.
Take a Step Back
Even though the announcement is shocking news to you, it can be just as troubling to them to anticipate your reaction. Take a few days to think about it before jumping into the conversation. Try talking to other people that have had this happen to and ask how they handled it.
Elizabeth Collins, blogger and standup comedian in Los Angeles, dealt with her father coming out at a young age by making a career of it. Collins works with a national support group called COLAGE, which bring together children of parents who are out, and allows them to talk to one another about their experiences.
“Our relationship was good when I was growing up, but once he moved closer to me our relationship grew closer too,” said Collins. “He helps watch my babies and calls himself the Grandmanny. I swear our relationship sometimes is more like sisters than it is father daughter. “
Find The Right Time To Talk About It
Coming out can lead to a stronger relationship, but it can also result in feeling damage and loss, according to Sexual Orientation and Gender Expression.
After taking time to think things over, it is vital that you two have this talk. It might be more challenging for some than others, like Olson discusses in his book. “The conversation itself was difficult, with lots of tears for both of us,” he writes. “No matter how we justify it, it feels like a failure in one of life’s fundamental domains.”
Indiana University, along with other universities across the nation, offers free counseling to students who are a part of the LGBTQ community. IU’s LGBTQ Culture Center Office Graduate Assistant, Danielle Hernandez says that their center began a new kind of counseling last year called Ally Training. This service provides group meetings, one-on-one counseling and a support group across campus for students of recently out parents.
“About two years ago we had a talk and it was emotional,” said Gwaltney. “He was never really there for me, except for birthdays or holidays, because we never really had that talk. It is the one thing that he wishes he could go back and change, because ultimately our relationship suffered from it.”
Remember the Good Times
Think about the memories you shared before the news; trips to Disney World or funny stories shared at the dinner table. They won’t change just because of your parent’s sexual identity, because let’s face it, why would they?
At times there will be feelings of resentment or that they weren’t being honest with you, but try putting yourself in their shoes said middle class dad blogger, Jeff Campbell, in his article “Growing Up With a Gay Father-Confessions from a Straight Son.”
“Looking back now, all that feeling of resentment did was prevent me from not being as close as I could have been,” Campbell said. “It’s not that he was lying, but more so he was scared of rejection or anger or hatred.”
Remember that it has taken then this long to come out for a reason. Now that they feel strong enough to do so, they deserve recognition.
Writer and reporter Karen Tucker evaluated the box office hit, “The Birdcage” in her article, “Celebrating The Birdcage, 20 Years Later,” by looking at how the media helped portray the LGBTQ community in a different light.
“Yes, I wear foundation yes, I live with a man yes, I’m a middle-aged fag, but I know who I am.” –Armand Goldman, main character in the Birdcage.
“This scene did a lot to say that these people are out there and it is great to acknowledge that they exist,” Tucker said. “Not to mention it is one of the most powerful scenes in the movie to me.”
So Dad Just Came Out…
Coming out is tough for anyone, so make it easier by taking time to let it sink in, having access to resources and most importantly, remembering that your relationship isn’t defined by the sexual orientation of you or your parent.
“I am the same person I always was; you just know more about me than you did before,” said Olson. “I love you in the same ways I always did.”
ContributorAnna Cannon is a senior at Indiana University studying Broadcast Journalism. She loves to spend her free time working at the university television network IUSTV and competing in pageants and catching up on any new reality television show. Anna's goals are to one day become a reporter for E! News.