When a child is born, and parents first look at this precious gift; their hopes and dreams for their child begin to take physical form and become reality. Some may find out ahead of time which they are having, and begin to prepare the nursery for the gender they are expecting. Pink and ruffles or blue and sail boats, we begin to imagine what our lives as a family with this little girl or boy will look like. We want to believe that much has changed, we encourage children to reach for the stars, but those common gender stereotypes initially flood us with ideals of how our family experiences are going to take shape; dance classes and glittery costumes or t-ball and baseball outings.
As our children grow and develop into little people, some identify at a very young age that they felt different but were unsure why. This has been described as just a feeling of not being “like everyone else.” This “feeling” is perpetuated in children’s books and mainstream media signifying that masculine males-feminine female relationships as normal; other types of behaviors, and love, are abnormal, or wrong. This translates into children feeling less than, weird, odd, and not being able to be authentic for fear of being teased, and found out. Parents want to see their children happy, healthy, and grow to be well-adjusted adults. Families may notice their little ones struggling with making or keeping friends. No parent wants to harm their children, but in trying to protect them from a life of bullying, or hardship, family members might reinforce stereotypes, and attempt to feminize their “tomboy daughters” and “toughen up” their effeminate sons. The child then internalizes this message as, “Something is wrong with me. If it isn’t okay for me to be myself at home, where am I supposed to feel loved and safe?” Many pretend and act like the gender they were assigned at birth with an attraction to the opposite sex. This can have detrimental long-term effects on an individual’s belief system and how they learn to cope with feelings of being different.
For LGBT youth, seeking love and acceptance is much more complicated than the “straight” adolescent. The fear of being ostracized or physically and emotionally hurt is real. Often, alcohol and drugs initially help them gather up the nerve to express their authentic selves. Unfortunately for LGBT youth, compared with the general population, this will not be an experimental phase. They tend to have higher rates of substance abuse, and are more likely to continue heavy drinking into later life (Semylen, Tai, et al 2008). LGBT individuals are more likely to report problems with depression and anxiety, and suicide attempts are twice as likely among LGBT individuals (Chakrabory, McManus, Brugha, et al 2011).
Having a child who identifies as LGBT is a process for parents. Whether you have always been supportive of the LGBT community, or this goes against your religion, admitting how this impacts your expectations for your child is essential demonstrating true acceptance and inner peace. Pretending that you are “ok” with it and “I will always love them” may be true for you. However, processing the feelings of what the world will now look like for your child is real too; and for many of us, a scary proposition. We may hold on to the belief that convincing them it would be easier to be straight would eliminate so much pain in this world of prejudice and violence toward the LGBT community. The real way to help your children is to do your own work. Figure out what you are holding.
Having a child is like moving to a new country. Like pregnancy, you begin reading and planning for this move. You plan where you are going to live, work, and what it is going to look like. You read everything there is about Italy. As your child grows and you get off that plane, you are told you are in Paris, not Rome. You are angry; there certainly is a level disappointment. You may fight it; denial, this can’t be. This is not what I had planned; get me to Rome. You are not supposed to be in Paris. You only know what you heard, the French don’t like Americans. You don’t have the information you need about Paris. You never had any desire to go to Paris; but here you are in the beautiful French Countryside. Do you continue to fight the change or do you begin to embrace this new beautiful dream?
King, M., Semlyen, J., Tai, S.S., et al. A systematic review of mental disorder, suicide, and deliberate self harm in lesbian, gay and bisexual people. BMC Psychiatry 2008; 8:70.
Chakraborty, A., McManus, S., Brugha, T.S., et al. Mental health of the non-heterosexual population of England. Br J Psychiatry 2011 Feb; 198:143-8.
Vicki Dyar, MA, PCC Intern
The Cafferty Clinic
Under Supervision of Kansas Cafferty, LMFT