This is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids: A Question & Answer Guide to Everyday Life

Dedicated to Sophia and her mom, Carol

Copyright © 2014 by Everyone Is Gay, LLC.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the publisher.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data:
Owens-Reid, Dannielle.
This is a book for parents of gay kids : a question & answer guide to
everyday life / Dannielle Owens-Reid and Kristin Russo, Linda Stone Fish.
pages cm
Includes index.
ISBN 978-1-4521-2753-8 (pbk.)
ISBN 978-1-4521-4242-5 (ebook)
1. Parents of gays. 2. Gay youth 3. Lesbian youth. 4. Coming out (Sexual orientation) 5. Parent and child. I. Russo, Kristin. II. Stone Fish, Linda. III. Title.

HQ76.25.O987 2014b
306.76'60835—dc23

2013040465

Designed by Jennifer Tolo Pierce

Chronicle Books LLC
680 Second Street
San Francisco, California 94107
www.chroniclebooks.com

CONTENTS

Foreword
by Linda Stone Fish, M.S.W., Ph. D.

Introduction

Kristin’s Coming-Out Story

Dannielle’s Coming-Out Story

A Note on Our Use of the Word
Gay

Chapter 1: Coming Out

My child just came out to me, and now I don’t know how to talk to them. Help!

I accidentally found out that my child is gay. What do I do?

I think my child is gay, but they haven’t come out to me yet. Should I ask them?

My child wants to come out at school, but I am concerned for their safety.

I think my very young child might be gay. What should I do?

Chapter 2: First Reactions

Is this a choice?

Is this my fault?

I think this is just a phase.

Am I allowed to ask questions?

Will my other kids be gay?

Chapter 3: Telling Others

When should I tell people?

Whom should I tell? Their siblings? Their grandparents? Our mailman?

My child doesn’t want to come out to my spouse. What do I do?

What will people think?

Chapter 4: Thinking About the Future

I never pictured my child’s life to be like this.

Will my child be interested in different things now?

My child is bisexual. Does this mean they can later choose to be straight?

Will my child always be viewed differently? I worry that they will face discrimination.

I’m worried that my child won’t ever have a family.

Chapter 5: The Birds and the Bees

Does being gay mean my child is going to be promiscuous?

How do I talk to my child about safe sex?

Should I be concerned about sexually transmitted infections like AIDS?

How do I know if someone is a friend or more than a friend?

How do I handle sleepovers?

Chapter 6: Religious Beliefs

I’m afraid my child is going to hell.

This goes against my beliefs, but I want to support my child.

I want my child to be happy, but I feel that marriage should be reserved for a man and a woman.

How do I talk to my religious family and friends to help them understand?

Will my child ever have a relationship with their faith?

Chapter 7: Questioning Gender

How is
gender identity
different from
sexual orientation
?

My child is questioning their gender. What does this mean?

My child is dressing differently. Does this mean they are transgender?

How do I deal with my child wanting me to call them by a different name and use different pronouns?

My child wants to use the public restroom designated for a gender different from the one they were assigned at birth. Should I let them?

My child wants to transition to a different gender. How do I handle that?

Chapter 8: Being Supportive

My child is being bullied at school. What do I do?

Are LGBTQ children at higher risk for depression and suicide? What should I do if my child’s behavior is concerning me?

Should I become more politically active now?

My political party doesn’t support same-sex marriage. How can I reconcile that?

Should I join support groups?

How can I show my pride without embarrassing my child?

Moving Forward

Glossary

Resources

Index

Acknowledgments

About the Author

Foreword

by Linda Stone Fish, M.S.W., Ph.D
.

In the early 1980s, while pursuing my doctorate in marriage and family therapy, I became pregnant with my first child; I was both fortunate and challenged. World-renowned family scholars offered well-meaning advice, which, unfortunately, failed to help me conceptualize the landscape of parenting. One professor predicted, “Your heart will sing with joy 50 percent of the time and be burdened by pain the other 50 percent.” I wish, instead, he offered, “Let your children teach you who they are as they invite you to join in the discovery of their becoming.”

As an academic family therapist, I think about how to best help parents create families that successfully navigate the innumerable crises, traumas, and hurdles of living. Since writing the book
Nurturing Queer Youth: Family Therapy Transformed
, I have traveled around the country meeting with professionals and families negotiating the coming-out process. Countless parents have asked me, “Is there something I can read?” Since my two favorite parenting
books,
The Evolving Self
(Kegan, 1982) and
Far from the Tree
(Solomon, 2012), read more like dissertations than self-help books, I have always shook my head, sadly, no. Now I can respond positively, and enthusiastically recommend
This Is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids
.

Researchers and clinicians know that the process of coming out to a parent is one of the most significant events in the formation of gay identity. When children challenge their parents’ most fundamental perceptions of them, it can often be a confusing time for the family. The authors of this book guide parents through what can be an emotionally challenging, life-altering event in a constructive way that enhances the development of both children and parents.

This is an advice book with both heart and wisdom. It is a comprehensive, honest, and heartfelt encyclopedia about the process of discovery. Using the experiences of many different families as illustrations, the authors remind the reader that initial reactions will be followed by different, evolving responses. They encourage parents to create a soft landing for children to return home, and they include useful summaries at the end of each chapter to capture important lessons.

Actually, I will recommend this book as a useful primer for all parents navigating adolescence and young adulthood. Spoiler alert: At the end, Owens-Reid and Russo share three essential ingredients to good parenting—dialogue, patience, and reflection. With this book, the authors have managed to give helpful advice that illuminates the unfolding landscape of parenting and helps families successfully negotiate the coming-out process.

Introduction

In 2010, we were nothing more than acquaintances who shared a few common friends. Dannielle, who was about to make a permanent move from Chicago to New York City, had just started the comic website “Lesbians Who Look Like Justin Bieber.” She happened to mention to Kristin that, amid the positive feedback, some people were saying that she was stereotyping lesbians and turning the community into a joke. Dannielle felt the comments were off base, and Kristin agreed. At the time, Kristin was on her way to getting her master’s in gender studies, so she was more than ready to discuss these issues. Together we decided to start a website where we could address that negative feedback and answer questions from the community while still doing what we loved most: making people laugh. We named the site
Everyone Is Gay
. At the
time, we had no idea that we were taking the first few steps into running an organization aimed at helping lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) youth.

As it turned out, LGBTQ youth across the world were itching for a place to ask questions. They had so much on their minds and so many things they wanted to talk about, but there simply hadn’t been a place for them to express themselves. Our site also accepted questions anonymously, which opened up a safe space for youth to ask questions without having to worry about what others might think. Many kids felt they couldn’t open up to their guidance counselors, parents, siblings, or friends without consequences, judgments, or weird looks.
EveryoneIsGay.com
provided that space, presenting practical and supportive advice to people when they needed it most.

Soon, we began to receive questions, thoughts, and comments, not only from kids, but also from their parents, teachers, community members, aunts, boyfriends, and others. We began to post an answer to a question every day of the week, and after a few months we also added a video element, in which we responded to questions that readers called in. As the site expanded, we realized that there were countless individuals who desperately needed an inviting, judgment-free resource to answer questions and share stories.

Now, millions have explored our site, and we’ve received more than fifty thousand questions, ranging from the utterly practical
to the deeply emotional. We’ve provided advice on topics ranging from what to do when you’ve fallen in love with your best friend to how to come out to religious family members. Soon after starting the website, we decided to take our message on the road, and began to travel to middle schools, high schools, and college campuses, promoting equality while still keeping everyone laughing. That shift was monumental, as we were finally able to speak to the many people who had previously been anonymous faces on the Internet. Kids repeatedly told us that we’d helped facilitate a first, second, or third conversation between themselves and their parents. They would watch our weekly advice videos with their families so they could have an easier time talking about things that they previously hadn’t been able to discuss; the presence of EveryoneIsGay had given them the courage they needed to be who they were, and to share that with their families.

Connecting directly with LGBTQ youth around the world has given us unique insight into the issues facing kids today. Both of us have our own stories of coming out to family members—shared in the following pages—but it is our years of experience speaking to today’s youth that enabled us to write this book. We have seen thousands of youth struggling with how to talk to their parents about their sexuality, and on the other side of that divide, we know there are thousands of parents who have no idea what that process feels like. While we are not yet parents ourselves, we have talked with many (including our own) and have come to appreciate that the coming-out experience can be just as tough on parents as it is
on their kids. You may not have expected this, it may conflict with your personal beliefs, you may have concerns for your kid’s future life, or you may just need some guidance on how to move forward in an informed, positive way. We also know that, especially in the first stages of the coming-out process, your child may not want or be able to answer the many questions that you have. We are here to help bridge that divide.

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