My child is gay. Now what?

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

gaymomThe phone call was a surprise. It took a few seconds to register the area code, and even then I wasn’t sure who it was. But I immediately recognized the voice on the other end.

“Wow, it’s been a long time,” I said. “What took you so long?”

It was Gwen,* a woman I worked with over 20 years ago – my office buddy and social conspirator. We always laughed at the same kind of jokes, complained about the same kind of corporate red tape, and agreed on almost every social issue. Except for one.

“I don’t hate the sinner,” she’d say. “I just hate the sin.”

Of course she was talking about homosexuality, and she was sure that being gay was a choice – a baffling one – that went against every tenet of her religion, everything she felt to be “right.” Our debates were always heated, usually ending with clenched jaws and a few days of silence. But that was so long ago.

“I need to talk to you,” she said. “Do you have some time?”

Once we both left our jobs, it didn’t take long to lose touch. But then, as is now a standard, we reconnected on Facebook. We regularly exchanged seasonal private messages, and peppered comments on each other’s posts with funny comebacks or thoughtful reflections. I periodically loitered among her digital photo albums, studying her wedding photos … and then her two children, who grew up over the years in snapshots and abbreviated sentences.

“I think Sarah is a lesbian,” she said. “Now what?”

She was talking about her 14-year-old daughter. And this is why I knew one day she would call me. Because I suspected as much.

Sarah is beautiful. Although to this day I’ve never met her, I know that she loves skateboarding, riding horses and climbing trees. I’ve seen the pictures of her learning to water ski, cuddling with a new puppy, and baking cookies with her younger brother.

She is almost always pictured in oversized gym shorts and graphic t-shirts, hair in a simple, unkempt pony tail … frequently standing out among her fashion-obsessed counterparts posing for selfies. None of these things point to sexuality by themselves, but there was just something about those pictures and the way she appeared that made me wonder.

“You’ve always been an advocate,” she said. “And I’ve always been so judgmental. I guess the joke’s on me.”

No parent wants to see their child go through a difficult time, or struggle any more than what an average childhood guarantees. But the truth is this: Gwen was scared. Not only because of this new revelation, but because she was staring smack-dab in the face at her own belief system – at her lifelong perspective on an entire group of people she had emphatically rejected.

But Gwen is not alone, and I’m so happy about it. Why? Because as marriage equality steadily becomes a reality, and the subject of sexual orientation loses its shock value, more and more of our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered (GLBT) youth are coming out of that dark, nasty closet. Which means more parents are dealing with this issue openly. Which means it’s not as isolating as it used to be. For anyone. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

So I listened carefully. I didn’t lecture Gwen, as she probably assumed I would. I didn’t chide her, or preach about politics or religion. I assured her that everything was going to be okay. I encouraged her to just love Sarah, support her, and to know that the two of them would get through it together.

And then I couldn’t resist relaying some hard, cold facts. According to The Trevor Project, LGBT youth are four times more likely (and questioning youth are three times more likely) to attempt suicide as their straight peers. In addition:

  • Suicide attempts by LGBT youth and questioning youth are 4-6 times more likely to result in injury, poisoning, or overdose that requires treatment from a doctor or physician, compared to straight peers.
  • LGBT youth who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide as LGBT peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection.
  • Each episode of LGBT victimization, such as physical or verbal harassment or abuse, increases the likelihood of self-harming behavior by 2.5 times on average.

I also doled out a little tough love. I told Gwen she was going to have to put on her big-girl panties, educate herself, and be her child’s advocate in every way possible. And once we concluded our very long conversation, I emailed her the following list of resources and advice:

  • Find your closest PFLAG chapter and surround yourself with other parents who understand you.
  • Distance yourself from anyone who even remotely suggests that there is something wrong with your gay child. That includes friends, family, colleagues and organizations.
  • If your church tries to “reform” or reject your daughter (or your family), search for another church. Almost every denomination or religion has gay-friendly communities – even if only online.
  • Don’t be ashamed. There’s nothing wrong with you or your child. You just have to be open, research and learn, acknowledge your feelings, work through them, and love your child. The rest will take care of itself.

*Subject names have been changed by request for privacy protection

©2014 Michelle Freed

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Five Top Tips for Dealing with Other People

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Ever have one of those days that starts out perfectly? You know what I mean … when the sun is shining, the air is crisp and filled with so much … potential?

smilesYou might end up at work, focusing on a brilliant idea and immersed in your latest project. Or maybe you’re at the grocery story, minding your own business and looking for the perfect avocado.

Then some person has to come along and ruin everything.

“Hey, you’re needed in a meeting,” they might say.

“Would you just look at these apples? Come and see these apples …” another could suggest.

And your lovely, harmonious day gets shot to hell. Continue reading

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

What’s in a name? Everything

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Enough of the Washington Redskins debate, already. It’s time for a change.

AP Poll Redskins NameThe first time I was called a cunt was in college.

My sophomore year I reluctantly took a grunt-work job at a collection agency, and my only task was to call strangers from a list of debtors and ask them to pay their bills. I hated every minute of it. My boss was an arrogant white man with bad teeth and a greasy comb over who routinely ordered me in his office to “see how things are going,” always closing the door and making awkward small talk.

On more than one occasion he crouched down next to me under the guise of correcting my phone etiquette – so close I could feel his stale cigarette breath on my ear and his eyes on my breasts. One day he cornered me in the break room and asked if I had a boyfriend. Continue reading

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Hey, Stupid! I’m Talking to You

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Why did Janay Palmer marry ex-Raven Ray Rice, even after the elevator incident? Dude, let’s talk.

 

Ray Rice with Janay Palmer

Ray Rice with Janay Palmer

Excuse me? I don’t think I heard you correctly.

Because it sounded like you just said, “Well, I don’t get why she married him! How stupid …”

While you’re nodding your head, let’s just sit down for a quick spell while I explain something to you, and yes, you’re going to listen.

While all the sports announcers and analysts are debating about who knew what and when they knew it – as if that really makes a difference – I’m going to let you in on some secrets. And I say secrets, because it seems like so many of you don’t have a clue when it comes to abuse. Continue reading

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

The truth about Brazilians

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Cocktail parties are usually disasters waiting to happen. Not only can they be cesspools for juicy gossip and drunken mishaps, but there’s always that one person or group who just can’t seem to understand the simple concept of shutting one’s mouth.

So it wasn’t much of a surprise when I recently got sucked into a most uncomfortable conversation while attending a colleague’s soiree. A group of eerily tanned women were boasting about their upcoming ladies-only trip – an all-inclusive beach vacation somewhere tropical. Their dazzling jewelry jingled in unison as they slurred their descriptions of a pre-excursion check-list, which included very expensive spa treatments.

BrazilWhether we wanted to be or not, helpless guests were subjected to the final details: “Tomorrow we’re getting mud baths, fresh mani-pedi’s, and ooh, ooh, guess what!? We’re getting Brazilians!”

A charming older gentleman named Roger (who I had only just met) discreetly leaned over and whispered in my ear, “What is a Brazilian?” I promptly coughed and mumbled something about an empty wine glass and headed for the bar. Continue reading

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Get a Life! Top Ten Tips for College Graduates

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

When I graduated from college about a million years ago, my main priority was to score enough champagne bottles for me and 20 of my closest friends. I didn’t have a job lined up, I had no idea where I was going to live, and “career ambition” wasn’t a part of my vocabulary. Quite frankly, I sometimes wonder how I ever managed to get a life. But depending on your definition, I did.

college-graduationIf only someone would have sat me down at the time and parcelled out meaningful advice. Except, let’s be honest, I might not have listened.

But now I’m full of it (advice, of course), and I’m ready to share it with anyone who might benefit. So here’s how to Get a Life! Top Ten Tips for College Graduates: Continue reading

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

A Serious Wish for Mother’s Day

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

ribbon“What do you want for Mother’s Day?”

Every year it’s the same question, and I never know how to respond.

A gift in a box, no matter the value, somehow seems counterintuitive. After all, Mother’s Day is dedicated to those of us who focus on almost everyone and everything else except ourselves. Our attention is drawn outward, for the most part, leaving little time for personal reflection, let alone wish-list development.

We are experts at managing the needs, schedules, lunch boxes and doctor appointments of those in closest proximity. We plan birthday parties and play dates, carpools and sleepovers. We mop up vomit and wipe feverish brows. At any given notice, we are able to calculate the ratio between dirty laundry piles and free hours of the day with staggering accuracy. Continue reading

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Skirting Around the Issue

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

The question was innocent enough, I suppose, but I still spit out my coffee. It all began with a simple conversation.

womenboots“Mom, I can’t remember that saying, you know, about working hard when times get tough,” my 13-year-old daughter said. She was tapping on her laptop, crafting an essay for school.

“Oh, you mean the one about bootstraps?” I asked, trying to remember if it involved pulling up straps … or strapping on boots. Or maybe it had something to do with sleeves?

“No, that’s not it,” she replied. “Isn’t it something about hiking up your skirt?” Continue reading

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Searching for Swank

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

I went shopping for a light fixture and came home with a doctor bill. I hear this happens all the time.

Paint-ChipsIt all started with a seductive color sample called Swanky Gray. I wanted it. No, I needed it – in my dining room. But I couldn’t paint a single ritzy square inch until I maneuvered my clunky 1990s china cabinet away from the wall. There was only one solution: I’d have to sell it.

Once I navigated the treacherous sea of humanity known as Craigslist, I found a buyer for the cabinet (along with its matching table and chairs) without getting murdered. The victory was short-lived when I realized that if I painted the now empty space, I’d have to also paint the living room sharing the same wall. Continue reading

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Ban bossy? No thank you.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

650queenI watched with curiosity as the new Ban Bossy campaign rolled out this week. (In case you gave up all media for lent, I’m talking about this massive initiative led by LeanIn.org, the brainchild of Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg.) The movement is also heavily supported by the likes of Girl Scouts USA and even (grab a tissue because the queen is here) … Beyonce. This campaign has some firepower, to say the least!

So let me go on record first by saying that I completely understand and wholeheartedly support any and all efforts to help girls find their voices and gain confidence in their ability to lead, to contribute, to make a difference. And I know research shows that as some girls grow up, they become hesitant to step forward … and for a number of reasons. Young girls often feel misunderstood, or torn between being liked and being labeled. Continue reading

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail