An open letter: To parents whose child is ‘different’.
A short while ago I was visiting a friend and while there I was speaking to his son. I had known him for some years and, while his dad was out of the room, he calmly, and slightly excitedly, stated to me that he was gay. Now there were no cheers or clapping or jumping with joy on my part, firstly because, as well he knows, I don’t see being gay as being anything other than just another fact of life but also because he had told me in a lowered tone as if to imply that something was wrong with it. I confirmed with him that everything was alright and then asked if my friend, his dad, knew about it. “Yes he does.” “Okay, and is he okay about it?” “Yes” he said, “But he doesn’t want me to really…” I waited and looked at him willing him to finish the sentence… “Well? Want to really what?” “Well he doesn’t want me to really…come out. You know…erm…publicly.”
When he told me this my heart immediately sank. I’d have expected better of my friend and suddenly realised I knew him less than I thought I did. The body language I was using must have been quite obvious because my friend’s son immediately leaned forward and literally waved away my concerns. “Oh no, it’s not like that. He’s been fine about it. Honestly. I just think he’s worried about what the guys at work would say, you know?” I reassured him that the guys at work would probably raise as few eyebrows as I did and wondered what he was worried about. “Do you want me to talk to him?” I asked. “No that’s okay. He’ll come around. I think he might be wondering if I’m just showing off or if it’s just a cry for attention or something.” I screwed my face up “Erm, really? That would be an odd way to cry for attention…” “Tell me about it.” “But are you sure you don’t want me to talk to him? I’m sure he’ll be okay with it.” “No that’s okay. One day I’ll invite him to my wedding and ask him to give me away to my husband. I’m sure he’ll start to get the hint then.” He smiled almost apologetically and soon afterwards my friend returned so that was that.
This was a conversation that just wouldn’t leave me alone for days. My friend’s son had insisted that I not speak to his dad and I respected that and could not see any immediate welfare issues that would cause me to consider overriding that promise. I did however need to mentally and silently give my friend permission to be such a dunderhead. I decided that I would not hold it against him as it was something that he was clumsily doing out of peer pressure and had, at least, accepted the news from his son without batting an eyelid. I know he’s fundamentally a good man but unfortunately his son is having to be the adult on this one. And though I’m sure it will all work itself out in the end it just got me thinking about how much damage parents can do, either intentionally or by failing to listen to the needs and wants of their children. So often do they try to inflict their own values on their children without observing and dealing with the potential negative consequences that this may lead to. And yes, yes I know that, as parents, we owe it to our children to try to inspire them, to educate them, to pass on the valuable lessons we have learned in the form of our knowledge and core values but we should never force these onto them. Again I also know that some of these values will certainly keep them safe, like taking care when crossing the road for example, and these are the lessons that we should impress upon them but if your son or daughter one day comes home and says “Mum, I’m gay”…”Dad I wanna be a man”…”Mum I wanna give up my studies and be a bus driver”…”Dad I don’t have the same faith in God that you have and I need to walk away from the Church”…”Mum I’m a Goth Demon and I f***ing rock”…then what right do we as parents have to stifle these choices or decisions? As parents we should ensure that we prepare our children for their world because, let’s be blunt about it, they WILL one day inherit it from us. There’s no avoiding that I’m afraid and it is simply the natural order of things. Get used to the idea.
As parents we have a responsibility to prepare our children and part of doing this is by us instilling our positive values in them…but that does not give us the right to force these values upon them.
On a slightly happier note my friends’ son has since spoken to him and has told him that when I found out I didn’t react other than to say, “And?” which is exactly the reaction he was hoping for. He has now since ‘come out’ (a term I still don’t like and have discussed in another blog called ‘An irrational fear of gay spiders’) and he is happier for it, partly because he knows he hasn’t got to stress about it anymore but also because he knows his dad’s not going to stress about it anymore either. On a slightly less happy note however my friend’s son told me of a friend of his who has since ‘come out’ to his parents who have since thrown him out and have told him they want nothing more to do with him. He’s just entered his twenties and has been made homeless by the people he needs most in life to keep him safe. Sad that when people take on the responsibility of becoming a parent they don’t discuss, what they see as being, the small print with their children before they decide to have them.
Some people live their lives in parts of the world where revealing their sexuality can lead to being isolated, imprisoned or even being put to death. I hope that anyone thinking of discussing it with their parents or are parents themselves and who have recently had this conversation with their child finds the courage they need, the compassion and the ‘meh’ to accept each others’ rights and wishes to be who they are.
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