Authors: Anne Dohrenwend
Parenting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual
and Transgender Kids
Anne Dohrenwend, PhD, ABPP
NEW HORIZON PRESS
Far Hills, New Jersey
Copyright © 2012 by Anne Dohrenwend, PhD, ABPP
All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form whatsoever, including electronic, mechanical or any information storage or retrieval system, except as may be expressly permitted in the 1976 Copyright Act or in writing from the publisher.
Requests for permission should be addressed to:
New Horizon Press
P. O. Box 669
Far Hills, NJ 07931
Anne Dohrenwend, PhD, ABPP
Coming Around: Parenting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Kids
Cover design: Robert Aulicino
Interior design: Scribe Inc.
Library of Congress Control Number: 2012932037
ISBN–13 (eBook): 978–0–88282–413–0
New Horizon Press
Manufactured in the U. S. A.
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In memory of my father, Edward Dohrenwend,
who parented me with great love and ample wisdom.
offers advice about parenting a gay child. In it, I have attempted to explain coming out as a psychological process that unfolds within the broader context of social and emotional maturation. It is important for parents to understand how oppression influences emotional development and how emotional development affects adjustment to sexual orientation. A broader understanding of development will also help you understand what your child needs from you for you both to cope best with his or her sexuality.
This book is largely geared toward coming out during the age of adolescence and young adulthood. I believe it will be useful for those with adult children who’ve come out later in life as well. Many of the struggles are the same, regardless of age. When the issues are different, I’ve tried to make those distinctions clear.
I delve into some of the religious beliefs which you and your child will probably confront. The anti-gay stances of some religions have impacted lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender and queer individuals (LGBTQs) of faith and shaped public attitudes toward homosexuality. For many, religious beliefs will be one barrier that stops you from accepting your child’s sexual orientation. Religion may affect your child’s self-acceptance as well. On closer inspection, I think you will discover that your beliefs allow for differences between you and your child and those differences need not and should not interfere with maintaining a loving parent-child relationship.
Throughout the text I have tried to indicate clearly whether something is based on scientific evidence, clinical experience or personal opinion. Please be aware that my sources are selected with great care. I only cite sources from peer-reviewed scientific journals, qualified experts and, on occasion, from well-regarded Web sites. I try to use updated references only. The social and political climate for LGBTQs has changed dramatically over the past decade. Research completed more than ten years ago does not accurately reflect those changes. When I rely on older research, it is because the scope or quality of the work has not been bettered.
This book is based on my research, personal experience, interviews and clients’ real life experiences. In order to protect privacy, names have been changed and identifying characteristics have been altered except for contributing experts. For purposes of simplifying usage, the pronouns s/he and his/her are sometimes used interchangeably. The information contained herein is not meant to be a substitute for professional evaluation and therapy with mental health professionals.
At the time of writing this, I am fifty years old. It is a good age to be. I know who I am and I feel happy and at peace. I am married (in our fifteenth year) and we have a son. The joy he brings to me and my partner is beyond measure. He makes me want to be the best parent I can be.
There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.
’m gay.” These few words, from child to parent, can transform the relationship. Whether that transformation results in a closer bond or a broken one is largely dependent on you, the parent.
As a parent, I know how you feel and how much you love your child. You picked up this book because you feel sad, angry or unsure of what to say and do now that you’ve learned that your son or daughter is gay. You know that your child’s coming out and your response to it are important. You want to do the right thing. That says a lot about you. What you may not yet realize is that this challenging moment can lead to a better, more authentic parent-child relationship. This moment of risk and honesty is full of potential for both of you.
The first step in preserving your relationship with your son or daughter is self-exploration. Whether you’ve thought of homosexuality as acceptable or unacceptable in the past, your child’s announcement requires that you re-explore the issue with greater depth and scope. None of us is immune to the cultural stigmatization of homosexuality. With greater self-awareness, you will be less likely to make statements that may inadvertently hurt your child. With insight, you will be more likely to offer sound, empathic advice.
You do not have to march in gay pride parades in order to be a good parent. Additionally, you need not change your religious affiliation nor reject deeply held beliefs. Disagreements about the nature of homosexuality will likely add tension to the relationship, especially
during particular phases of your child’s adjustment to his/her sexual orientation, but that tension doesn’t have to tear apart the relationship. It is normal for children and parents to disagree. It is part of the natural process of maturation. It is also a generational reality. We do not live in the world of our parents and our children will not live in ours. There is, however, a right way to convey disagreement and a wrong way. Relationships that survive conflict do so because differences are conveyed with respect for boundaries, personal humility and a sense of perspective.
Be assured of one thing: Your child can live a full and happy life. If you have any doubt about this, I hope that reading this book will put your mind at ease. Some things that frighten you about your child being gay are no more real than monsters under the bed. When your child was little, you sent those monsters running with courage and logic. You can do the same now with your child’s and your worries about homosexuality.
ou were brought up in one world and you raise your child in another. This complicates parenting. Even if you try to keep up with this changing world, you can never see the world the way your child sees it. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus taught us: “You can never step in the same river twice.” If you’ve ever tried to re-create a magical moment by returning to the same spot and reenacting the event, you know this is true. The place will have changed, if ever so slightly, and you will have changed, if ever so slightly, as well.
Think of all the dramatic shifts in lifestyle that have occurred over the last four decades. Middle class children born in the sixties or seventies didn’t have cell phones, computers or electronic games. Parents located their children by calling neighbors via landlines or by shouting outside. Family life in this era was represented by the family on the popular television show
The Brady Bunch
. Jan could be jealous of her sister’s popularity and Peter did a bit of sneaking behind his parents’ backs, but drugs and sex were topics not addressed. In this era, stimulation was, well, much less stimulating. Superheroes Batman and Superman were about as violent as it got, at least until teenagers were old enough for R-rated movies. Though the world was not safer, it
safer back then. Bad things happened in American homes—incest, emotional abuse and violence—but they were not
openly discussed. A child untouched by such tragedies was protected from the reality of their existence until s/he was much older.
There were gay men and women in these communities, but, most likely, they were in the closet. If people knew someone was gay, most likely they knew it through whispers and assumptions. The social penalties for coming out were much more severe a few decades ago and legal rights for homosexuals were virtually nonexistent. There was a host of negative feelings associated with homosexuality. Gay people were thought of as foreign, odd, incomprehensible, lost, shameful, disappointing and perverted. There were few public gay role models and, for the most part, homophobia went unchecked. If you grew up in this era, you were probably never exposed to anyone who lived, shamelessly, as an openly gay individual.