In The Den with Mama Dragons

Thank, Learn, and Love (What to Do When Your Child Comes Out)

January 02, 2023 Episode 1
In The Den with Mama Dragons
Thank, Learn, and Love (What to Do When Your Child Comes Out)
Show Notes Transcript

Join Jen and guest Neca Allgood in this inaugural episode of In the Den as they talk about what to do when your child first comes out to you. They’ll discuss common mistakes and how to avoid them. They’ll also cover what to do when you don’t get things right the first time.  It’s an important conversation for parents with LGBTQ children of any age. 

Special Guest: Neca Allgood

Neca Allgood is the mother of a transgender son. She is a former President of Mama Dragons, a current Mama Dragons board member, and a former board member of Affirmation: LGBTQ Mormons, families, and friends. Neca and her husband own a small engineering consulting company. She has a PhD in Molecular Biology. 

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JEN: Hello and welcome. You are listening to In the Den with Mama Dragons. I’m your host, Jen. This podcast was created out of our desire to walk and talk with you through this journey of raising healthy, happy, and productive LGBTQ humans. Before each episode, we would like to share a personal story from within our community. I’m delighted to pass the mic to Laura Leavitt as she elaborates on her family’s experience. 

LAURA: Hi, I’m Laura Leavitt and my son Tru is currently 20 and a sophomore in college, but even before he came out as gay when he was 14, I had wondered if he was. And I remember wanting to inject him with as much love and acceptance as I could, because I thought it likely that he would meet up with enough negativity regarding his orientation. We belonged at the time – both he and I have since left over this issue along with others –  but we had belonged to a conservative religion and lived in a conservative town, so I started to mention certain LGBTQ celebrities I knew, in a positive way, Elton John, Ellen Degeneres, Freddy Mercury, etc, like I’d say “Elton John is my favorite singer, yeah, I really like him. He’s gay and married and has a son named Zachary,’ that kind of thing. I really wanted to normalize it for him. 

Tru is 5th of 6 kids and when our family would gather to teach something inspirational, my emphasis for quite a while was on the beauty of differences and how wonderful variety was. It was probably overkill, but I really wanted to open up minds and hearts and prepare our family to continue to love and accept their amazing brother. And I can say that they all have; they are all really lovely, good people. 

I used to feel impressed to take Tru on drives after he came out. We might run errands, and it just seemed like a comfortable setting for ask him questions where we didn’t have to awkwardly look at each other. We used to laughingly call it “The Topic.” I didn’t want to ask questions in an interrogative type of way, but just like, “Tru, I’m not gay, and I would love to learn and glean from you and your experience.” I told him I had heard things at church that hurt my heart and soul regarding LGBTQ people, and that it was important that HE know that his Mom didn’t believe those things. And how was his church experience, that kind of thing. And it was never a perfect, seamless conversation; he probably felt like a deer in the headlights, and I’m not the smoothest conversationalist, but it still felt important to try anyway and let him know that we don’t have to hide and that we can be open and we can talk about this. I didn’t ever want him to feel ashamed of who he was or feel like he had to hide any part of him. I once asked him, on one of those drives, “If you could change this, would you?” and he thought for just a couple seconds and then answered, “No, I wouldn’t.” And, oh, wow, and I told him that that was one of the greatest things to hear as his mother, that he loved and was comfortable with who he was. I told him that I loved all of him and also wouldn’t change anything about who he was. 

Once while we were sitting in church together, when he was about 16, I passed him a note that said something like, “Your sisters and I were talking the other day about what wonderful qualities your future husband might have. You have a bright future.” It felt super important and profound to me to be sitting in that church environment that would try to stifle who my son was, and to deliver a mother’s message to him of hope and joy instead. 

When he was in high school, a group of us regional Mama Dragons met in our home to plan a year’s worth of LGBTQ youth activities, and our family had a rainbow cupcake stand a couple years at our local Pride Festival at our city park. I also remember getting up in front of all the congregants at church once to talk about trying to show up and love and how excited I was to attend our Pride Festival. All of those things were important for me to have Tru observe his Mom and the rest of our family be involved in. I am so beyond grateful for my son Tru and his beautiful soul, and all of the amazing and unique talents and gifts he brings to our world. And I hope he always feels our love and support. 

JEN: This is our first official podcast episode, and I couldn’t be more excited to start off our entire show by talking about the conversation that often launches us as parents into an entirely new phase of our parenting journey. This “coming out” conversation can happen when our child is 3, or 30, or 57, or anywhere in between and beyond. Some of us are prepared and do things beautifully; HOORAY for those parents! Some of us, on the other hand, are absolutely shocked when our child decides to “invite us in” and wants us to know them a little bit better. Sometimes we don’t say the most ideal things, especially if we’re shocked or maybe fearful about what it all means. But, today we are super lucky, because Neca Allgood is here to help us all become better prepared for this possible conversation, and to help us find new ways to navigate if we didn’t handle that conversation perfectly the first time around. 

Neca is the mother of a transgender son. She is a former President of Mama Dragons, current Mama Dragons board member, and a former board member of Affirmation, LGBTQ Mormons, Families and Friends. Neca and her husband own a small engineering consulting company. She has a PhD in Molecular Biology. Also, she’s one of my favorite people! Welcome, Neca! We are so happy to have you here.

NECA: Thank you; I appreciate the invite. 

JEN: We are so excited. So, I think Neca, I am actually sure that Neca knows the reason that we reached out to her for this first episode. But anyone who’s listening might not know that Neca wrote a beautiful social media post about the idea of your child talking to you about hard things. I am hoping, Neca, if you have that handy, that you will read that post for us. 

Neca: Very good. 

So. Your kid just told you they’re…

It’s every parent’s nightmare: our kid tells us something that we weren’t expecting. We blurt out a response we immediately regret and it’s too late to take it back. 

So, now, before that inevitable surprise announcement, here is the Parenting Plan for You when you hear, “Mom, Dad, I’m …” Where “...” might be: Pregnant. Sporting a new tattoo. Transgender. Failing four classes. Gay. Becoming Wiccan. HIV Positive. Or taking up the tuba. 

Step 1: Say: “Thank you for telling me.” Because, honestly, wouldn’t you rather know? Your child just trusted you enough to tell you something difficult. And you want to reward this behavior. 

Step 2: Say: “I love you.” Because you do, and it never hurts to remind your kid and yourself that your love has endured through sleepless nights and dirty diapers, and it will endure through whatever announcement just took you by surprise. Ideally, the “I love you” is followed by a hug. 

Step 3: Admit that you don’t know everything already, and want to learn more so you can be a help and support. “Tell me more about that.” “You’ve probably already been reading a lot about this; can you recommend some basic resources to get me started?” “Have you already found a good tuba instructor?” An expressed willingness to learn invites the conversation to continue, and buys you time to be a rational parent rather than a reactionary parent. 

So, there it is: Thank, Love, and Learn. Parenting: We can do this!

JEN: So, everything about that is just simply perfection, this broad overview. But we want to dive a little bit deeper, break it down into some realistic chunks. The broad overview if my kid takes up the tuba, I am prepared, but the more specific ideas. Talk to me, you gave some examples in a general way, but do you have some additional phrases that you might kind of rely on, like some “back pocket” phrases that we can pull out if one of our kids tells us that they are LGBTQ?

NECA: “Thank you for telling me” is a great one; another form of that is “I’m glad you told me.” We want our kids to know that they can tell us things without us freaking out, so PRACTICE THAT SKILL of NOT freaking out. It motivates your child to tell you the truth rather than to tell you a lie. 

JEN: So, for those of us who need to hear, maybe the NOT greatest things we could say, what are some phrases that might be common that would be a good idea to just avoid, even if you’re thinking it, if your whole heart is screaming it, maybe don’t say any of these things during that first conversation?

NECA: OK, so I’m going to say a couple of things to avoid, but then I’m going to go back to some things that we maybe want to ask, and ways that we can ask them to help, to draw out that conversation.

JEN: Perfect!

NECA: But here are some things to avoid:

One is to avoid implying that they might grow out of it, or that it’s a “phase”. Your child is telling you this because it is their reality now, and so accept their reality now. Sometimes kids’ labels DO change as they learn more. My son came out as trans when he was 16 and I felt like I handled that pretty well, but about two years later he came out to me as asexual, and that was just when my son was going on testosterone. So, what I said was, “Well, you might feel differently after you’ve been on T a few months,” and I just meant that as a statement of possibility but to him it felt like I didn’t believe him. And it took awhile for him to tell me that “you know, that was hurtful when you said that,” and I understand better now the importance of just believe what your kid tells you about who they are.

JEN: You can get some questions and details later, after that initial conversation, right? Just believe.

NECA: Yes. 

Another thing to avoid is venting your fears to your kid, right? And as parents, we want to keep our kids safe and it is the reality that sometimes the world out there is not safe for our LGBTQ kids. But that first conversation is not the time to launch into your fears. And, depending on the age of your kid, be very careful further on about how you talk to your child about your fears. Your fears are YOUR job and , yeah, you need to talk about them to somebody, but it needs to be somebody who is an adult and is not in a way that is adding to your child’s fear.

A third thing to avoid is claiming that your kid is being influenced by their LGBTQ friends, or social media. That’s another great one, or what they’ve seen online. We know that lots of times, our LGBTQ kids already have a circle of friends with a lot of LGBTQ kids in it; they gravitate to those circles because it’s a place where they are safe, and where they are accepted. And, from a parent’s point of view, it’s actually awesome if your kid already has a circle of friends that are LGBTQ-accepting when they come out because then they don’t have to shed all their friends and start over if their friend circle is not accepting. So be grateful for that LGBTQ circle of friends. And, again, even if, ultimately, be it a few months later or a few years later, your kid says, “Nah, actually, I’m not that, I’m just straight, or I’m just cisgender”, or whatever, you can say “Thank you for telling me, I love you!” Right? You can use the same script.

So, I think those are the Big 3 “Avoids” that I’ve talked about with Mamas over and over again, because sometimes as parents we are not at all sure that our kid is seeing themselves accurately. In some cases, it’s because our child has been putting a lot of effort into hiding who they are because they’re concerned we are not going to accept them. 

JEN: And sometimes don’t you think they are hiding also in hopes of being able to teach themselves how to conform to avoid that eventual “coming out”, if I just try hard enough to become these things then maybe I’ll be able to.

NECA: Yeah, and think about the burden a child is carrying when they’re “acting,”“wearing a mask for their whole life, in front of their parents. It’s exhausting and we want to be a place where our kids don’t feel like they have to wear that mask. 

JEN: Awesome, so does that kind of cover the common mistakes you’ve seen, or have you seen some common mistakes? 

NECA: Those are the ones I could think of; if you’ve seen any others, I know you’ve done this, too, Jen!

JEN: Yes, I think you did great to cover that. This preventative side that we’re talking about, you gave us the perfect speech: “Thank you, I love you, tell me more, help me learn,” those kinds of things. But for some of us, we’ve never looked into these sorts of things at all because we did not expect this conversation to happen, so we might have said some weird things. For example, when my son came out, I did say, “Are you sure?” and maybe some other things that I maybe don’t feel a lot of pride that I said. What do we do? I think you have something awesome that you can read for us that you wrote.

NECA: Yeah, I’m sorry I’m just here reading posts but I feel like I got the words mostly right one time and so I’ll just read it. This is: “When my kid came out to me I didn’t handle it well, and now I feel GUILTY”

You’re not alone. Recognizing that you did something that hurt your kid is one of the most excruciating and universal experiences of parenting, and none of us can go back and change the past. All we can do is apologize, and then do better.

Apologize: apologies are best done in person, and in private. They are also best when they are the Three S’s: specific, short and sincere.

Some examples: “When you first started dating I said I’d never attend a same-sex wedding, not even yours. I’m sorry I said that. I don’t feel that way now. I love your girlfriend and if you ever get married I want you to know that I want to be there celebrating with you. Please forgive me.”

Another example: “When you first told me you were asexual I told you you just hadn’t met the right person yet. Now I see how dismissive that was, and when you had shared with me something important about yourself I should have believed you. Please forgive me. I want you to know that I do believe you and respect that your feelings are as real and valid as anyone’s.”

Remember that you are in charge of your apology. You are not in charge of their forgiveness. They may have already forgiven you. They may still be carrying a load of hurt that is going to take them time to process. That processing will be helped by the next step which is do better.

Doing better is an apology in action. It is inviting their boyfriend to the family summer picnic and taking him up on his offer to bring his family’s special recipe potato salad. It is using preferred names and pronouns, and thanking them for correcting you when you goof. It is mentioning their boyfriend AND their girlfriend in the family Christmas newsletter.

Do not assume that one occasion of “doing better” makes up for all the earlier hurts. Those earlier hurts were a betrayal of trust, and trust takes time to rebuild. Just keep doing better and being patient. Reweaving the torn fabric of family trust takes time.

JEN: Everything that you say, that you write, is so perfectly written that it feels like I could just say like “Mic Drop: The End.” But I do want to discuss a little bit about how you talked about being patient in healing those relationships. In addition to just doing better, do you have some suggestions for what parents can do to help heal things in  those relationships?

NECA: One is to be aware that knowing that you have an LGBTQ kid will change the way you hear some things. It will change the way you see some things. I was aware that there was violence in our society against transgender people before my son came out. My reaction, I mean, I didn’t WANT transgender people to be hurt before, but it had some distance for me, and that distance went away when it was MY kid. And so, recognize that you will change the way you react to some things, and also recognize that this may be the way your kid has been hearing those things for a while. Things that suddenly bother you now, you may say, “Oh, I wonder if this was hurtful to my son when he heard this ten years ago…” And those can be useful points of conversation to have with our kids, to say, “You know, I was listening to Thing X and heard this. Like, I was reading about our Legislature proposing banning transgender children from playing school sports, and it made me so angry! Have you had that reaction to hearing things like that?” and ask our kid how they are experiencing the world around them. Most of the time, when our kids come out to us, they’ve known for awhile. The data shows that kids know themselves that they are gay or lesbian or bisexual, often by the time they are 10 or 12, but frequently they don’t tell their parents until they are 14 maybe 16, maybe until they are adults. 

JEN: Let’s actually talk about that. How is this conversation maybe different if your child is 4 and is telling you that “I am NOT a girl, quit calling me a girl!” The difference in this coming out conversation between when your child, as a Mom, no matter how old they get, that is still your kid. But the language of children make it sound like we’re only talking about young people. How is it different if the kid is 5 or 62? 

NECA: There are things that are the same, and things that are different. The “Thank you for telling me” and “I love you” is the same. But how we ask questions to learn has to depend on how much our kids know. For young children, parents are one of their primary sources of information, and so they may not have the word, the label, to tell us who they are. So we may need to give them the useful word. I joke that my transgender son spent one day as a lesbian , except it’s not a joke. When he came out to me, he came out to me as gay, and I did the “That’s OK, I love you, it’ll be fine” thing. But I had been seeing all these very gender-variant behaviors and I had been seeing signs that he had gender dysphoria, and so the very next day I explained what it was to be transgender to my son, which was not a word he had ever heard of, and you can’t identify as something you’ve never heard of. But as soon as I gave him that description and that word, for him all the light bulbs went off, it was like “Oh YEAH, that’s who I am.” And sometimes parents of young children have that experience, they need to help their child have the words. 

With our young children, they need offers of help because there are a lot of things in their life they can’t control. If the child is transgender, they need help from Mom or Dad to get some new clothes that feel more comfortable for them. Also, young children don’t have as much control of their community of support, and so it’s our responsibility as parents to ask the questions, “Is the school my child attends affirming?” or “Are they being bullied at school and the teachers are not intervening because they don’t approve of my child?” And so it is one of those things that we have to understand that with little kids, there’s just so many areas they don’t have power over, and as adults, we have more of that power and need to step up. 

As our kids get older, though, they value their autonomy more, and so while our kids are changing things about how they present themselves to the public, we have to strike a balance between offering help but also respecting autonomy. And so we may say “Would you like a Stand-To-Pee device?” which if you’re not the parent of a transgender kid you may not have ever heard of but they really are devices that let people with a vulva instead of a penis stand to pee, and for some transmasculine guys, that’s very useful for them. I got one for my son and he used it for about 6 months and went “I don’t actually care about this.” And I was like, “Ok, no problem! YOU get to decide what’s important to you.” So, that balancing “I’m here to help with what you need help with, but I respect your autonomy” is a bigger deal for a teenager. 

The other thing, though, is that we have to recognize teenagers do have limits on their access to information. That is particularly an issue when it comes to things like Sex Ed. Depending on what state you live in, your child may have access to good, comprehensive sexual education that just may be so informative for them, OR you could live in a state like I do, where I feel like Sex Ed in my state is kind of a joke, even for the straight, cisgender kids; it’s just not that useful. And LGBTQ people are totally ignored in a lot of that sex ed information. And so, as a parent, let’s be honest: most of our kids don’t want to hear it from us. But still, WE can do the work of looking and saying, “Oh, what are organizations that teach good, comprehensive LGBTQ-inclusive sex ed”, and then offer that to your child. 

JEN: I’m going to throw in a plug, I’m going to try to include in the show notes, a link, but  Planned Parenthood does a really great online course that is comprehensive, shame-free, fact-based, inclusive sex ed. We’ll include that in case people are looking for it, because I remember going back to my son and being like “Remember that talk that we had? Now we’ve got a new version, we gotta re-do it.” 

NECA: Yep, definitely. And that’s not urgent if your kid has come out to you when they’re 7, but if they’ve come out to you when they’re 12, it is more urgent. We want our children to have access to good information in advance of when they need it. 

JEN: That’s such a perfect thing, because sometimes we do wait until we think it’s imminent, might be imminently needed, but if they’re prepared years in advance, they have time to ask questions and things come up and we can kind of negotiate some of the nuance, and we can keep learning. If we give them 12 year old information when they’re 12, we’ve got a couple more years to hopefully negotiate that a little bit.

And when they’re 62, what kind of sex ed info do they want from Mom? 

NECA: Ha ha. Zero! Some LGBTQ people do come out late in life, and again, for adults, respect autonomy is top of the list, because they’re adults. But it’s never inappropriate to say, “How can I help?” and maybe it’s just “Here’s my new name and pronouns” and maybe it’s “I need to introduce you again to my ‘best friend’ who has actually been my girlfriend for the last five years.” 

JEN: Gotta start over on that one. 

NECA: The other thing is that, for some parents, having an LGBTQ child helps them discover some things about themselves. And so sometimes having a child come out means suddenly the parent says, “Oh, that explains a lot about MY life.” And there’s nothing wrong with figuring out when you’re 43 that you’re Bi instead of straight, or that you’re transgender or non-binary or whatever. It’s OK; you’re allowed your journey, too. And sometimes our children give us that gift of nudging us along on that journey. 

JEN: And I’m going to toss in the recommendation that if you are discovering things about yourself, probably your child, even if they came out 10 years before you, or 5 years before you, isn’t the one to help you navigate that. Find some mentors and peers to support YOU so that you can continue to support your child. 

So, kind of along that note, it made me think: when our kids come out, sometimes we know a lot, about – or anything, if they’re going to start taking the tuba, maybe we already know how to play the tuba and so we have some wisdom to impart and maybe we’re not sure which of the instruments in the band actually IS a tuba, and we have nothing to help them. At different ages and stuff, what’s the expectation, like if your kid is 17 and they tell you that they are pansexual; how much do you expect to be teaching your child and how much do you expect to be learning from outside sources just to be able to support your child? 

NECA: My recommendation is that you combine knowledge from your child with outside sources in this way: you use outside sources to get the generalities, but your child knows themselves the best. And so read about what the experiences of gay teenagers are, or read about the experiences of people who come out as transgender and transition as adults, for example. But then go to your kid and say, “So, here’s some of the things I read and learned. How are you experiencing this?” and see what they say. 

JEN: That’s so perfect. And I feel so lucky; I don’t know how parents did it 30 years ago, because now we can go to YouTube and watch 15 TedTalks about what it feels like to be transgender, or read blog posts from dozens of women about how it felt to discover that they were a lesbian and, and we can start to develop some empathy and some knowledge and some compassion to prepare us to go back to our kids. Before the internet, I don’t know how parents did it.

NECA: Yes, even 11 ½ years ago, when we figured out my son was trans, there were just not nearly as many resources and it was really a challenge for me to find good information, and it was really a challenge for me to find community. And I’m so grateful that Mama Dragons exists in part because I never want another Mama to feel as alone as I felt, trying to find good information to help my kid.

JEN: Where did you even go at that point, like, were there library books? Did you use the card catalog? What are we talking about?

NECA: Yeah, there were a few books that had been written for parents of transgender children, and none of those were available in my library, I had to go buy them. But they did exist and I certainly read those. And I went looking for scientific articles, and at the time there were very few and the few I found were primarily published by researchers in the Netherlands, or there were a few from researchers in Italy, and the articles were written in English fortunately, because I don’t read either Dutch or Italian. But still I just felt a real shortage of useful parenting information.

JEN: Not all of us have a PhD in Molecular Biology…

NECA: RIght. And I encourage people that if the information you need is in a research paper, try to slog through it. But there is more information out there, we live in a better world in that way. 

JEN: It’s nice that even through 11 years that things have changed enough for that. My experience is similar : just looking desperately for mentors or community or information has gotten easier, and there are people who are so excited and willing to help and gracious. I find that people are very gracious at the beginning when we are stumbling and tripping and trying awkwardly to figure out the next step, there are people who are 5, 10, even 2 steps ahead of us on the pathway that will guide a little bit and help us catch you taking that next step forward into the dark. And there are people who have walked that path that will be there for you to help you know what’s coming next, there are definitely some patterns that happen with all of this even though the journeys are unique.

So, before we wrap it up, do you have any specific wisdom or insight or a fun anecdote, even, about the process of coming out? 

NECA: One of the conversations I think it’s useful to have with a child very early is to talk about coming out. Ask them, “Are there people that you have already told?” because you may not be the first person they’ve told. Lots of times they tell peers before they tell parents. And ask how ready they are to be public. I know when my son was ready to transition, we talked about it  – we, in this case, is my husband and myself and Grayson –  and we talked about the list of people who deserved to be told in person before we did a Facebook post. And it took us about 6 weeks to kind of march through those lists and in those complicated 6 weeks, my son was out at home and so we were calling him Grayson and He, but out in public he was not out to people yet, he had not socially transitioned and so I was still having to use his old name and she/her pronouns, and I call that “Six Weeks of Pronoun Hell” because I was just constantly “Am I using the right name?” and it was awful, but fortunately, it was short and then I got to just use his new name and pronouns all the time. But it’s really important that you have your child’s consent before you tell other people. 

JEN: Super important point.

NECA: And maybe they’re just not ready to be public yet. Maybe they need to wait until they go away to college, maybe that’s when they’re going to feel safe to be publicly out. And it may be really hard for you to not just tell everybody. But it’s their news to share, so get their consent, and if they’re not consenting, if they don’t want you to put information in the family Christmas Newsletter, accept that and don’t include it. 

JEN: That’s so hard when our kids are little because we feel like their stories are ours, but this is a really important category to recognize, that this story does not belong to us. 

NECA: Yes. The other thing is that little kids may not understand that once you “come out”, it’s very hard to go back into the closet. And so, this is certainly not appropriate advice for parents of teens, but if you are the parent of a young child, say a 4 year old, a 6 year old or whatever, it may be appropriate to talk with your child about the difference between public information and private information. And there may be things that you say, “Because once this is out in public, we can’t erase it from people’s brains, I think it would be better if we delay sharing this publicly.” And in general, I don’t think that’s a good idea because I think it can sometimes can send the message to your child that you are ashamed of them, or some aspect of them. But I know, particularly for transgender children, a young child of 6 may be fine with telling her classmates that she’s a girl with a penis, but when she’s 12 that may not be the information that she wants her classmates at junior high to know. 

JEN: Absolutely. One of the mistakes I made that I didn’t find out was a mistake until much later,  was that I actually asked my son, “Are you?” and he was compelled to answer. Talk to me for a minute about why they recommend that we make lots and lots of space for our kids to come out when they’re ready but we don’t directly ask them.

NECA: And that’s complicated because I was one of those parents who explained transgender to my kid and then said “Are you?” But there are thoughts and feelings for each of us that we keep inside ourselves, that maybe we’ve never told anyone, and maybe we don’t want to, and that’s OK. That is part of our individual autonomy; it’s not just that we have control over our bodies and what we wear and whatever, but we have control over what in our brain comes out through our mouth and what doesn’t. And, similarly, our kids deserve some of that same kind of autonomy. And we can have very different personalities than our kids. You know, we may be “out there,” outgoing, extroverted, social butterfly, want the world to know, but if our kid is a more reserved person, they get to be who they are. 

JEN: I’ve heard stories also of kids who were asked and weren’t prepared to talk to their parents yet and so they lie. And then when they are really interested in talking to their parents and inviting their parents in to get to know them a little bit better, they have to also confront this lie that they’ve told, and it sometimes delays them letting you in, “Remember when I told you I wasn’t a lesbian? I lied to you.” Because parents can weaponize those things. “I asked you three years ago, and you said No.” If they’re not ready to talk about it, the inclination for a lot of people, statistically, is that they will lie, and undoing a lie just adds an extra, extra layer of effort to the whole coming out process. 

NECA: Yes. I actually feel like it’s very useful for parents to have certain conversations in front of their kids but not directed AT their kids. Some of those conversations need to be affirming to LGBTQ people. You know, to have said, “Cousin Jane and her wife are coming to visit for Thanksgiving and we are so excited” you know. Having those conversations sends the message to your kid that you are going to be safe to tell. And our kids aren’t mind-readers; we may be totally supportive of LGBTQ people in our heads, but if it hasn’t come out our mouths, they don’t know it. 

JEN: And there’s a certain element of fear because we can see conversations that happen in the media, we can see different situations that go badly, and so there is an element of fear that we might be that situation. I was going to even mention that earlier when you said that sometimes Mom and Dad aren’t the first ones to know. I’ve spent a decade talking to queer teenagers and asked many of them “Who did you tell first? Why did you tell them first?” just trying to get a little bit of information and insight about that. And I found that it really didn’t have that much to do with how great their relationship was with their parents. In a lot of cases, they genuinely felt so close to Mom, for example, that they were worried about disrupting that closeness, and so they would tell a couple of other people first so they could practice a little bit, like they could work on their wording a little bit, they could decide “Uh, I wouldn’t say it that way next time.” And they would practice with people when they cared about the relationship less. 

Sometimes we feel like they tell the most important person first, but I did not find that to be true when I talked to the kids. Sometimes they told their parents first and their relationships were beautiful, but sometimes their relationships were so amazing that they needed to test it out and practice on some people so that if they lost relationships, it wasn’t quite as big of a risk, wasn’t quite so risky to lose, where if your Dad is your best friend in the whole universe, and you destroy your relationship with him, that’s like a big risk. So, I want parents to know that, if  you are the last ones to know, that it doesn’t 100% necessarily point to the fact that you haven’t done a good job with your children. They just navigate the world. They’re just making it up the best way they know how as they go. 

NECA: The other thing is that sometimes, as parents, we may have been aware that our kid was gender-diverse for decades, but when our kid says “Mom, Dad, I’m non-binary,” it is not the right thing to say, “Oh, I could have told you that 10 years ago.” Just, no. Again: “Thank you for telling me. I love you.” 

JEN: They will express that they’ve spent 4 years desperately trying to keep this information suppressed, and maybe everybody knows and maybe they are more extreme than they thought and, on that same note, sometimes there has been some suppression and some hiding, so when they finally come out, and they are embraced and accepted and loved, the pendulum swings a little bit far, and all of the behaviors that they have been desperately avoiding and trying to hide seem to come out of nowhere, and they express and experience and explore, kind of almost the opposite extreme of all of the things that they’ve been trying to hide. And so I would encourage parents to just kind of ride that wave a little bit; the pendulum does, very often, swing quite far, and then kind of settles back, and the child –  even at 70, when people come out, we see that acceptance and then there’s a little bit of a pendulum swing where they finally get to express ALL of the things that they’ve been hiding, and then they find themselves and become a more authentic version of themselves that’s not quite so performative or extreme when you’re exploring and have to try all the things out. 

NECA: But honestly, isn’t that the way we are as human beings? You know, when we find a new thing that is a big interest to us, that we didn’t know about before, OK, Raise your hands if you’ve binge-watched a hundred videos on whatever your new item of interest is, right. That’s how humans learn, we learn best when we’re motivated by our own seeking of knowledge, and that happens to our kids, too. 

JEN: And I think we can enjoy the ride if we step back and don’t be afraid of it. I’ve had so many Moms, I’m sure you have, too, say to me, “My daughter came out and that’s fine but now everything, her whole identity, her whole room is decorated in demi-sexual flags and she’ll only wear the color blue…” and like their whole identity becomes this, and it can be scary as a parent to be like, “Ah! This phase is scary!” but it’s really a great opportunity for them to dive deep into a subject that’s really about themselves, and they settle out, they don’t wear rainbow flags for 45 years, all day every day. They have jobs and wear regular clothes again. But they might wear rainbows for a couple of months. And that’s OK. It’s actually really kind of fun to watch them explore, in ways that I didn’t feel comfortable exploring as a child. It’s kind of exciting that kids now have the opportunity to hear their Moms say “Thank you for telling me. I love you.” and then there’s this little safety net where they can really just figure themselves out, take a few steps into the dark themselves. It’s a lovely thing.

NECA: It is. 

JEN: I’d like to thank you, Neca, for giving me some of your time to talk about this important, first step for a lot of people on this journey and I instantly thought of your original social media post that we talked about and hoped that everybody would be able to get a chance to listen to those three elements.  If we could get everybody in the world to just adopt these three elements: “Thank you” “Love you” “Tell me more”, we would save a lot of pain and hurt that sometimes happens in families and can take a long time to repair. 

So thank you for coming and sharing your wisdom with us. I appreciate it greatly. 

NECA: Thank you. And for all of the parents out there listening: you are not alone. 

JEN: Exactly. So much exactly. It can feel like it sometimes at the start, can’t it? 

NECA: Definitely. 

JEN: Thank you so much.

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