Dec. 30, 2009 was the last day I spent living a lie. I was 17 years old, and I gave my mother a handwritten letter before she left for work and told her not to open it until she arrived at her office. What transpired in those next 24 hours following remains one of the most vivid experiences I have stored in my memory.
My mother came home the next day after working a double shift. I remember running as fast as I could to turn off the lights. I was scared sh*tless. My plan was to hide under my covers and pretend I was asleep. Before I could get under my blanket, my bedroom door swung open. The bright light from the living room swamped over my pitch-black room. I looked up at her dark silhouette standing over me. I couldn't see her face, but I could feel her anger, hurt, and disappointment as it filled the quiet spaces of the room.
Growing up, I had a pretty solid relationship with my mother. My older brothers would always taunt me as the "mumma's boy" in the family. And I didn't mind. She was my confidante. She was the one who always made me feel safe and loved . . . no matter what. But the more I came to terms with my own sexuality, the more I began to isolate myself out of fear of being rejected by the one person who always made me feel worthy of love the most.
"So what does this letter even mean?" she asked, in pure confusion.
The tone of her voice snapped me out of my daze. I stammered to find the right words, but none came to me quickly enough. "What do you mean, 'what does it mean?'" I replied. "Are you telling me that you like boys?" she said. This time I could visibly see the disgust in her eyes as I admitted to her that, yes, I am attracted to the same sex. She started to ask me about my sex life which, at the time, I could not answer because I was still a virgin. The more I drew blank answers to her invasive questions, the more frustrated she got. She left my room eventually, but not before stating, "After this, nothing else can kill me."
I remember that entire evening, I felt hurt. Not because I was being reprimanded for confessing who I really was, but because I plainly understood that this news somehow hurt my mother. Could you imagine, as a teen, trying to grapple with those emotions and make sense of it all? It was difficult. But as time would have it, the healing process would eventually begin.
Fast forward six years later, and I've since come out to all of my family members and friends. I can honestly say life has never been sweeter. My mum has come a long way with learning to accept me, but it did not happen overnight. What I learned is that I had to give her time to grieve the idea of the life she envisioned for me. I also learned that the only person who truly needs to accept me is me.
That being said, coming out can be a scary experience for anyone who might not feel comfortable opening up about their sexuality. This is especially true for children who have parents who are not open-minded about the LGBTQ community. In honour of #NationalComingOutDay, I've rounded up three things that parents should avoid saying to their kids if they do decide to come out to them.
1. "Did I do something wrong?"
The worst thing a parent can do when finding out their child is LGBTQ is question their own parenting. No, you did not do anything wrong. Blaming yourself will not make you feel any better, nor will it help you cope with the situation. You also don't want to insinuate that your child's lifestyle is wrong, which will make them feel guilty about their decision to express their true feelings to you.
2. "How do you know for sure?"
Questioning the validity of your child's sexuality may bring on even more confusion for the both of you. For many people, exploring their sexuality is not always seen as a black-and-white issue. There are different things to consider. Give your child time to come to terms with who they are before forcing them to check any definitive boxes.
3. "It's just a phase."
Telling anyone who feels secure in their sexuality that it's "just a phase" is simply offensive. Even if a child does change their mind about their sexuality in the future, allow them the space to make that decision for themselves. The more support you provide, the more likely your relationship with your child will actually benefit from them coming out to you.