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A Series to Help Parents Understand Their LGBTQ Child: COMING OUT

by | July 15, 2019

A four-part series, to help parents know how to communicate with their child and understand what they are telling you, how to support, and where to find support.  

Raise Vegan is able to bring you this series with the help of Lindsey Pembrooke (they/them), who has been involved in the New Haven Pride Center since 2016, and is a member of their Board of Directors. In addition to co-coordinating the Transgender Adult Support Group at the New Haven Pride Center, they are a trained group facilitator with PFLAG.org (pflag.co.uk), and active in support groups around the state and online. If you are non-binary, or the parent of a non-binary child, you can find their support group on Facebook: Non-Binary Gender Pride.

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A Series to Help Parents Understand Their LGBTQ Child: COMING OUT

The first interview of Lindsey’s I ever read discussed and explained what it means to be transgender, or non-binary, in such a comfortable and straight-forward way; I knew we had to find a way to feature them in Raise Vegan. All the questions I’m sure a lot of people have, but are too afraid to ask, for fear of sounding uneducated, or worse, bigoted, could finally be answered. We, at Raise Vegan, knew if anyone could explain to parents how to support, love and accept their kids unconditionally, especially when going through an uncertain time in their lives, it was Lindsey. 

Here are the excerpts from the interview:

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A Series To Help Parents Understand Their Non-Binary Child: COMING OUT

RV: Hi Lindsey, thank you so much for taking time out of your very busy schedule to work with us for the next few months at Raise Vegan. We appreciate your willingness to help parents understand what it means to be LGBTQ+ and to educate them on how to create a loving environment for their LGBTQ+ children. 

So, let’s get right into it! One situation confusing parents a lot is when their child has previously had partners of the opposite sex, but then come out, for example: “My son told me he was gay, but he’s always had girlfriends – it doesn’t make sense.” You spoke before about kids learning about themselves, and always evolving. What they may have said to their parents regarding their sexuality is not a guarantee their preference won’t change.

Is there a way you can prepare parents for those difficult conversations? Do you have any tips on how to be mindful, and to support your child at the moment, but to also be prepared for life to continue to evolve as your child learns about who they are (i.e. trying something else, roll with the differences and expectations)? 

Lindsey: It is nice when you can finally come out to someone. There is a lot of trust in this, especially if a person does this early on.  They may not have the words or understand it all themselves, but they understand enough to know SOMETHING is there. They are trusting you and confiding in you.  

One of the hardest things for an LGBTQ+ person to deal with in this situation is this assumption made that the person has 100% awareness of everything about themselves and can articulate this to parents when asked. That they have a game plan and a target they are aiming at. In the case of a transgender person, this assumption can also include some idea such as the individual has a hatred of their body, and it will inevitably end with a medical transition. Check your assumptions at the door.

A Series To Help Parents Understand Their Non-Binary Child: COMING OUT
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A Series To Help Parents Understand Their Non-Binary Child: COMING OUT

What do you suggest for parents if they feel overwhelmed about being able to support their children? Often times the kids themselves aren’t sure what kind of support they need, so how can parents help them to feel safe and loved?

Lindsey: The main thing a parent can provide is a safe space for their child to be able to question, grow, and figure it out. A lot of this is like a trip to an optometrist: “Can you see better with this lens, or with this one?” Rinse and repeat. Your child may not always know the right answer, but they can feel the wrong ones along the way. It’s ok for them to try something and find out it doesn’t resonate.  

People grow up and try to do what they think is expected of them, to conform to a society which will garner approval from their parents and peers.  Guys date girls, girls date guys. For some people, they go from unfulfilling relationship to unfulfilling relationship; drugs, alcohol, and other high-risk behavior may be part of the equation. Just because someone has dated a member of the opposite sex does not mean they would not rather be dating a member of the same sex. In the same way, just because someone dates a member of the same sex doesn’t necessarily hold true either; they would not date someone outside of that definition. 

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Some people are bi-sexual with an attraction to more than one sex. If a bi-sexual woman dates a man, it does not mean she is no longer attracted to women. Some people treat a bi-sexual person, who is dating a person of the opposite sex, as if they are heterosexual and “cured.” It makes them feel like their identity is erased when this happens. A bi-sexual person dating the opposite sex is still bi-sexual, and this is a critical thing for parents to remember. Let them be who they are. Don’t try to pretend they are someone else you’d rather they be just because their current circumstances may support the narrative.  

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Do you think children can suffer feelings of guilt due to the family expectation of them, or fear they are not the person their parents had hoped? 

Lindsey: Ultimately, they need to know you love and accept them. If a child doesn’t think their own parent accepts them, when this should be their best case scenario, they lose hope of anyone else accepting them and may cause a downward spiral. 

There is a high suicide rate among the LGBTQ+ population, with transgender people having the highest suicide rate of 41% having attempted suicide. This isn’t necessarily because they are LGBTQ+, but rather because of the way the people around them behave – and the feelings of isolation and lack of support comes with that. Simply, support from their families, along with using their chosen name and pronouns significantly decreases the chances of them committing suicide. It sounds trite, but it can’t be stated any more seriously – you need to choose whether you’d rather have a dead son or an alive daughter. 

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That is a terrifying suicide rate, and I feel your last open question, of having a deceased child, or one of the opposite sex will really hit home with a lot of parents. Do you have one final piece of advice to share this month? 

Lindsey: There will be plenty of time to follow up on specifics, and ask questions. There are things you are going to want to know. Before you start bombarding them with a lot of specific questions, take some time on the internet and try to do some reading on key terms they mentioned. This will help you formulate more educated questions, and it will let them know you took what they told you seriously. It will demonstrate to them, without needing any words, that you care.  

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This initial experience [of coming out] for the child only happens once with you, and you’ll never get the chance to gain their unadulterated trust like this again. Talking to you is something they have likely stressed out about and struggled with for a significant period of time. All they will remember from this conversation is how you reacted and how you made them feel.  

The most important action you can take is to just listen to what your kids are saying without comment, question or judgment. Make sure they know, no matter what happens in the future – they are loved – and nothing will ever change that. You are their parent and you watched them take their first step; you want to be with them taking this giant leap. It is ok to say you don’t understand, but you will do everything in your power to learn more, and will be with them through every part of this journey, holding their hand. 

You can rad further instalments of this series here and here.

The series originally appeared in the Raise Vegan print magazine.

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Lindsey Pembrooke

Lindsey Pembrooke (they/them), is on the Board of Directors for the New Haven Pride Center and a trained Facilitator with Hartford PFLAG. They are active in support groups around Connecticut and online, as well as a frequent panelist on transgender/non-binary issues.As a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, Lindsey is also a parent, a spouse, and a person of faith. Lindsey uses this perspective to relate to the reader with understanding and compassion. They are fond of saying "create the world you want to live in". [Photo credit: Am Norgren]

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