“… I’m gay, please don’t make me leave. I like living here, I like our family. Please don’t kick me out.”
Haunting words from a child. From MY child. From a well-adjusted, always loved and supported child. To parents that have not been negligent nor abusive nor overbearing. We were and are a happy, cohesive christian family. We went to all our kids’ activities. We attended school parties and hosted teen parties, while allowing our kids to figure out friend and teacher drama on their own. We trusted our kids to make decisions, and usually allowed them to reap the natural consequences of those decisions. We didn’t helicopter hover, nor did we watch from afar.
Yet our kid thought we would kick him to the curb for his sexuality.
I have spent many countless hours steeped in parent guilt wondering what I did or said, or failed to do or say, that made my son think we would kick our birdie out of the nest before his time to fly.
Our daughter helped a bit when she rattled off the name of nearly a dozen LGBT teens my kids knew who had come out to their parents and had been forced into the streets. Every one of them. And that’s not in some distant city, but in my very own loving community in mid-to-upper middle class christian suburbia. In my kids’ home town.
Statistically, 25% of LGBT teens that come out to their christian families are immediately kicked out of their homes. Counselors dealing with LGBT kids instruct them not to come out to their traditionalist families until they have a back-up plan in place for their financial and physical safety, just in case. Smart advice, but so sad that this is reality.
I wasn’t that parent, but my son didn’t know that. And while his friends’ negative coming out stories strongly affected his level of fear and worry, I can’t push all of the blame away from where it belongs — on us. On me.
Let me beg you: don’t be sitting on your couch with your coffee, or in your car in the pick-up line thinking that this blog is interesting, but not take it to heart. This could be you. At this very minute your child might be panicking inside because he is finding himself attracted to boys instead of girls. Or your daughter because all she wants to do is hang with the boys and stop pretending to be a girl. This is real. You are where I was, only five years ago. Clueless and in denial. Not in denial because I refused to accept my son might be gay, but in denial because I refused to consider my son might be gay. It wasn’t even on my radar.
Watch for indicators.
I can tell you some stereotypical “gay behaviors” my son has had through the years, but I can also tell you a host of other young men with those same behaviors that are straight. Yes, he is in musical theater, and lots of musical theater people are LGBT, but lots aren’t. I understand that stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason, but they aren’t an infallible method of “diagnosing” LGBT. As a parent, look for those. Don’t block them — I’m not saying to not let your male toddler play dress-up in sister’s dress up clothes, or play with Barbies, nor am I saying keep your little girls off of baseball and football teams and in dresses. Slinging a softball isn’t going to make your daughter a lesbian. What I AM saying, is when you see things that might be stereotypical signs, notice them.
There are signs that seem to be common in talking to other parents of LGBT kids. In hindsight, our son’s best friends were always girls. ALWAYS. He had male friends, but inevitably his besties were female, even back as far as preschool years. I didn’t really think much about it, other than thinking he was “good with the ladies” from a young age. (That’s the thing about transparency — it doesn’t always put me in a good light.) But thinking back, even as our son hit adolescence and puberty, those relationships with female friends didn’t evolve into awkward flirty situations. They stayed true best friends. I missed that sign — that lack of physical attraction in a time when that should have been paramount in his hormone-plagued world.
Again, caution: don’t think having friends of the opposite gender is going to make your child gay or trans. That’s not going to happen. Having female best friends didn’t make my son gay; having female best friends might’ve let us know he related emotionally and intellectually with women more than men, which might be an indicator he is gay. Or maybe not. Again, no check list here.
Most important part as a parent: You aren’t looking for signs of homosexuality or transgender for any reason other than to be able to be there for your child and help them deal with their confusing feelings in a healthy way. That’s all. Not to fix them, but to love them more thoroughly.
Be prepared for The Moment
I know it’s tricky, as a christian parent. One on hand, you love your child completely and want to support them. On the other hand, if you believe in the traditionalist view that homosexuality is a sin (as I did), that mucks it all up. Believing that, the loving thing as a parent is to help your child recognize their feelings as sin and help them work through those feelings and come up on the other side. That’s what I tried to do. Which takes me to a pivotal moment of regret.
One day, a year or so before we found out he was gay, Easton and I were chatting in the kitchen. One of his friends had come out to his conservative parents, and his christian parents made him move out. The young man was reaching out to his friends, looking for a place to stay for a few nights while he figured out what to do. Then my son asked me a question:
“So what would you do if I came out to you?”
I took the question completely hypothetically. Didn’t for one moment imagine that he was actually asking for himself. I replied with something to the affect of:
“Well, I guess it depends on how you came out. What your attitude was. If you were like, ‘hey, I’m gay, suck it up and deal with it’ it probably wouldn’t go well. But if you were more like ‘mom, I’m struggling with feelings of same sex attraction and I need some help dealing with it,’ then we could work together on it.”
There was a pause, a deep sigh, and the conversation moved on.
I was actually pretty proud at the time of that statement, believe it or not. I was trying to give the friend’s parents the benefit of the doubt and assume there was more to the story than him simply being gay. I couldn’t imagine anyone kicking their kid out for that alone. But that’s not what I said. And while the words above are what I did say, this is what my son heard me say:
“I might or might not kick you out, depending on your attitude. If you agree with me that it’s a sin and are willing to work with me on that, we are good. If you believe you are gay and that isn’t changing, I might kick you out.”
I promise, I meant NOTHING of the sort, but he and I were coming at this from a very different place. I felt it was a sin, he felt he was born that way. If your Christian child comes out to you, odds are pretty solid that he or she has already struggled hard with the difference. That they have already tried with everything they have to get rid of their confusing feelings. And as a parent, when you say you have to admit you can change, you are simply making your child feel like a failure. In this world, that all too often compounds on itself with year after year of fruitless attempts to become straight, and takes your precious child on the path of cutting, panic attacks, substance abuse, anxiety, self-hatred, suicidal tendencies.
Don’t be that parent.
Where I was that day, I didn’t have a better answer because I didn’t understand that there was a different way of believing that was still bible-based doctrine. I had never given the topic that much time and effort, because it didn’t really affect me much. Or so I thought.
Even once my son came out, I didn’t know how to study any differently than I already had, which simply amounted to searching for the word “homosexual” in my study bible topical study guide and reading those six passages.
If that was how you tried to study slavery, you would be convinced it was still a valid biblical principle that we should be following to this day. Obviously, that’s wrong. But my point it, there is more to the topic than the verses in Genesis, Leviticus, Romans, I Corinthians and I Timothy. Way more. But this study is tricky: I can’t quote a chapter and verse to show you that being gay is okay with God. This study takes a commitment. It takes a true seeking. That search for me began with the book “Torn,” by Justin Lee. That is what gave me the direction for my study, and then God and I took it from there.
If it worries you to read outside your bible on this topic, then stop reading your concordance, your foot notes and end notes printed in your bible, your books of the bible introductions. All of those were added by man. The modern translations were all done by man. Try as hard as you can, you just can’t keep man out of the picture completely. Pray for discernment for knowing true from false doctrine. Is your study bringing you closer to God, or farther away? Is your study producing good fruit? If so, it’s a good tree.
Read both sides. See what makes the most sense to you. Pray. Let the Holy Spirit guide you. Here are a few starting places:
“Torn,” by Justin Lee
“God and the Gay Christian,” by Mathew Vines
“The Good Book, Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart,” by Peter Gomes
Read the testimony of Jen Hatmaker and her husband Brandon. Jen has been a very successful Christian speaker and author, and not long ago went public with the fact that she and her husband had been convicted to study homosexuality and now believed it was not a sin. They don’t have an LGBT child, at least not that they know of yet, but still were lead by God down that path.
Here is the thing: Even if you never believe that homosexuality isn’t a sin, you will see and understand how others can believe that. And that changes everything.
Educating yourself should be first and foremost. Once that happens, then you WILL be open to signs of LGBT and it won’t hurt or worry you. You won’t live in fear of “what if.” You will understand that your child might have a different life path, and you will lovingly help them along that path. Once you are more educated biblically on the topic, you will be ready for those big moments and questions.
Had I had a more thorough understanding of the scriptural side of homosexuality, my response that day would’ve looked more like:
“I’d love you regardless, and be there to talk to. I’d be happy that you trusted me enough to allow me to know you that much better. Do you think you are gay?”
Regrets. Regrets I wasn’t that mom. Not then anyway. I’m giving myself grace, in understanding that as moms, as parents, we can only do the best we can with what we have and where we are at any moment in time. But that doesn’t mean you have to follow in my footsteps. I’ll tell you that those words carelessly spoken to my son, caused him an extra year of fear and loneliness and darkness.
Study now. Pray now. Don’t wait until it’s YOUR child begging you not to kick them out. Trust me when I say it can happen.