In this episode of In the Den, Mama Dragons Executive Director Celeste Carolin joins Jen to talk about finding and utilizing the available tools that can help make processing your child’s coming out journey a little easier. From appropriate ways of processing your own grief to finding answers to your questions without placing undue burden on your child, Jen and Celeste explore ways to help parents address their own emotional needs in healthy ways, so that they, in turn, are able to fully support their LGBTQ children in meaningful ways.
Special Guest: Celeste Carolin
Celeste Carolin studied business at Harvard Extension School and is currently earning a Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy from NCU. As a queer (lesbian) cisgender woman, she has worked with LGBTQ youth and non-profits for the past 10 years. Celeste has served in Mama Dragons Leadership since 2016 and currently serves as the Mama Dragons Executive Director. She lives just outside Seattle with her lovely partner Jamie, extended family, grand kiddos, and their pup Jackson Blue. Both Celeste and her partner come from non accepting religious roots, which fuels Celeste's passion for understanding and serving the intersectionality of faith and parenting LGBTQ children.
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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 happy, healthy, and productive LGBTQ humans. We are so happy that you’re here with us. This week I feel particularly blessed to be able to pass the mic to Lisa so you can all get a chance to feel the amazing love and support this community has to offer.
LISA: Hi. I’m Lisa. I’ve been in Mama Dragons since the early days. For some reason I remember I was number 38 in the group. And I knew every mama and their stories. And I really miss that intimacy. But I’m excited as we approach 10,000 members all over the world because there’s such need for support out there. And I’m glad to be here. I was raised in and dedicated my life to a very conservative religion. I remember being taught that homosexuality was a sin, second only to murder, among other things. So that’s my background.
I have what I like to call my three-daughter rainbow. My oldest is straight but divorced with three kids. My middle is lesbian and youngest is nonbinary, trans, and queer. So, none of that fit into that prescribed, tightly defined script that my religion expects. In 2011, just before Christmas, my middle daughter came out to me just before turning 21. It was not a surprise because my husband and I had even talked about the possibility of her being gay based on her social media posts. And we blindly just hoped that she was simply supporting her gay friends. So, it did come as a shock to hear, “Mom, I’m a lesbian.” Honestly, I don’t remember what I said at that time. Luckily, what she said she remembers is that I said, “I love you and I don’t want to lose you.” I hope I hugged her.
And then I went down into a dark hole. I didn’t want to talk to anybody or see anybody and didn’t really know what to do. And then I came down with the flu which was convenient because then I didn’t have to talk to anybody. But when the flu went away, I couldn’t get out of my blanket fort. And my husband’s urging, I made an appointment with our family doctor who also happened to be my parent’s congregation religious leader. He figuratively put his arm around me, told me that my daughter was sent to me for a reason, and that my job was to love her absolutely no matter what. And that everything would be okay.
That was not what I expected to hear from a religious leader. But his words helped greatly. He gave me some medication to get me out of the hole and I set off in search of education and guidance. I’m a huge reader. And I found a book that Patrice mentioned in the other podcast called Circling The Wagons by Carol Lynn Pearson, and it was so, so good, lots of other books as well. I found, online, PFLAG. This was 2011. This is before Mama Dragons existed. And Parents, Families of Lesbians and Gays has a wonderful website that just got a wealth of educational material. And I consumed all of that.
And I found that there was a local meeting. And I went and I got to meet supportive parents who had been in this game a long time. And I actually got to meet gay, lesbian, transgender, queer, bisexual people who were healthy adults. And it really gave me hope to see that, “Okay, we can do this.” When I was invited to Mama Dragons, I really found the value of peer support. I can ask any question, complain, vent, and celebrate with my good friends here, where I can’t in some of the things I want to celebrate. I can’t do that with other people. And I found the value of peer support.
When my youngest came out as nonbinary/trans. It really threw me for a loop. I was not prepared for that one. And where Chris wasn’t transitioning to male, I hesitated to join the T-Mamas because it wasn’t transgender. But it really is the right place for those of us who have gender nonconforming kids of all flavors. I know that I can ask anything. I don’t have to bug my kids so much. And it has helped me a lot. I have made lifelong friends in these groups. It’s like we recognize old friends we haven’t seen for a while rather than meeting new people.
My Queerdos which is a term I learned in Mama Dragons, my Queerdos will tell you, Mama Dragons has changed me, changed my life and that is really true. I used to be a very quiet person. I was shy. I didn’t like to talk to people. But, now, I will talk to anybody. The support that I’ve received here has opened my heart and my mouth to share because I know how crucial the support is needed for people whose discovering their kids are not what we really expected from growing up. So, I am grateful to be part of Mama Dragons. Thank you.
JEN: We all know that our priority as parents is to support and affirm our children. And we are learning more about how to do that all the time. Today we are going to talk a little bit about where we go for the learning support that we might need. Even in the midst of supporting our children from the first day. For so many of us, these concepts are unfamiliar and the growth curve can be steep. We want to try and make sure we are prioritizing things correctly so we don’t unintentionally cause damage. This stuff can apply to so many areas of our lives, not just parenting an LGBTQ child. So, again, we brought in an expert to help us sort through the details.
Celeste Carolin studied business at Harvard Extension School and is currently earning a Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy from NCU. As a queer, cisgender woman, she has worked with LGBTQ youth and non-profits for the past 10 years. She lives just outside Seattle with her lovely partner Jamie, extended family, grand kiddos, and their pup Jackson Blue. Both Celeste and her partner come from non-accepting religious roots, which fuels Celeste's passion for understanding and serving the intersectionality of faith and parenting LGBTQ children. Okay, Celeste. Welcome.
CELESTE: Hi, Jen.
JEN: I’m so excited that you are here with us for this episode. You and I have talked about this off-and-on privately a few times and I love your insights and I’m so excited to share them, basically, with the world. So, start us out, talk us through the basics.
CELESTE: So, first off, just a little bit of my background, right? I come from non-affirming roots. I’ve been participating in Mama Dragons in their leadership for a long time and now I run Mama Dragons. And from my perspective of how I run Mama Dragons is really from a group understanding, kind of a data insight of watching our moms go through their journey and then figuring out ways of how we can support them to better affirm and support their kids. And through that process, who do we better support them? And what are the things that would be noticed as they go through this journey as they hit some bumps along the way. And so this conversation, I think you and I are going to talk about is a little bit about how to help some of those bumps. Is to be like, “Okay, so we know that this is probably going to happen. So what are the few tools we can throw you to make life a little easier.”
So the first one I’ll talk about is this concept of comfort in dump out. So one of the things we have seen a ton is that when kids come out, depending on our mom’s intersectionality – so whether their religion, their family, their dynamic, their culture is affirming or not – they go through some bits of difficulties, trauma, religious investigation themselves. And, in that process, sometimes they struggle understanding who’s the center of the circle of the real trauma. So, if a kiddo’s coming out in a non-affirming environment, essentially the ring theory – as we call it – is the concept of the person in the center of this concept of like a dart board. If we can kind of visualize that, the bull’s eye is the center. That’s the person in trauma. And that’s our kiddo. So the kiddo’s the one coming out. They’re the one at the center of this experience. And we’re the next layer out as their closest people. Often their close family members, really, really close friends could be in that circle. But, often the mom is in that second layer outside of them. And one of the things that we have seen is that moms confuse sometimes dumping in. So that they are frustrated with what’s going on with the school system or they’re frustrated with what’s going on with, maybe, the religion and they start processing that with their kiddo on the inside of the circle.
Or, in this case, maybe they’re trying to learn about what it’s like to be a queer person or a trans person and they want to understand the kids' experience. But instead of doing their own navigating of education, they go to their kiddo and they say “You teach me.” And that’s the same concept of dumping in. And what we want is to be able to dump out of our circle. So, if we look back to the ring theory, the next layer outside of us would be our closest friends and family. And then, the kind of last little layer out there, is the Lookie-Loos. The people that are interested but they’re not really part of this thing. And each concept of this layer as we go outside of that bull’s eye is to think about that. Our job is to comfort in whatever layer we are. And sometimes we’re the Lookie-Loo, right? And it’s our job to dump out when we’re not at the center of that ring or any layer of that ring, that we’re never dumping into that inner circle. And I’ve had personal experiences with this and I’m assuming you have, Jen, and other people out there that both sides of like maybe we got a little wrong.
I remember back a long time ago I had a partner that tried to take her life. And I felt like I was on that next ring of the circle right there with the family. We were living together. I was the one kind of taking care of things. And the whole family was kind of dumping in on me. And I was so overwhelmed. I couldn’t hold it. And people were calling me about all their frustrations, like people on the outside circle, even Lookie-Loos, and wanting to process what was going on with me. And I didn’t really realize why it was so overwhelming and I saw this concept of the ring theory. And I‘m like, “Oh, there is it. I need to be dumping out, not comforting these people on the outside of these rings.” What experiences have you had, Jen?
JEN: I hadn’t thought about it in general. But I know with my own transition because I was on the other side. I was the mom in the situation. And so, like you said, my world was rocked. There was a little bit of trauma for myself. And I absolutely wanted to protect my son from that. So, I was looking to circles outside of myself. But people were being traumatized by what I was saying. My extended friends, my family, especially as I questioned and worked through my faith questions. And so they were coming to me to talk to me about how upsetting my choices were for them, or how I was destroying our relationships, or how I was leading my other children astray to kind of process their feelings about my choices. Where I was really looking for them to support me so that I could support him better, if that makes sense.
CELESTE: That’s a really great example. Thanks for sharing that. And so that’s going to be kind of the core of, as we go down this journey with you, Jen, is kind of looking at that. As we go through this journey of learning, what’s the framework that we’re looking at it in. Are we dumping in or are we comforting in through that process?
JEN: So talk to me, like an example – I’m going to make up an example that I see often in some of our groups – And then if somebody was sitting in your therapy office asking for advice about what went wrong or those kind of things, what would you tell them. So, a parent is upset because their child is upset. They are expressing frustration because they’re trying to talk to their child about all of this. They’ve been reading some articles and they’ve seen some recent statistics about the trans experience. And they’re trying to talk to their child about this and process it so that they can support their child better by listing some of those statistics and making sure that they’re child knows the risks.
JEN: But the child is upset. So what happens at that point?
CELESTE: That’s a really great example, Jen. I think that, first off, awesome mom who’s coming to therapy. Kudos to her, right? I think that’s the first step of how do you support yourself outside of your kiddo. You’re processing this with someone who’s outside of that circle. And I think the first step is recognizing what’s your and what’s theirs. Like, how is your kid experiencing this? There’s a concept in therapy that is called transference that sometimes we take on somebody else’s stuff. And, in this case, this mom wants to protect their kiddo. But how much of it is the kid’s perspective of what’s going on and fighting for what the kid is asking for? And how much is it the mom kind of “I need to Mama Dragon this and protect this kiddo in this wider circle?” And I think in that case, it would be processing with someone like me outside the circle and figuring out a plan of how do we really listen and validate that kiddo and understand what their concerns are and not projecting our concerns on that kid.
And it’s not saying that we don’t address risks. That’s not what I’m saying. But what I’m saying is that sometimes our own emotional energy is almost contagious. And if we have a ton of fear, then we can make them have a ton of fear that maybe they don’t need to go down that journey with and it’s something we need to process ourselves.
JEN: That’s awesome. That’s so often what we see, especially in those circles, those of us who come from cultures or religions or areas of the nation where we don’t have a lot of resources. We don’t know who to ask questions to. It becomes really easy to ask the one queer person we know, who happens to be our 30-year-old child who just came out to us. That’s the only place. So how do we find other places besides that one poor kid who just went through the trauma of expressing themselves to us and then we’ve hugged them and loved them. And now we’ve got to figure out somewhere to go.
CELESTE: Well, I think the first thing is that things have changed even in the last ten years. So, ten years ago, when you would Google, “How do I support my trans kid?” You wouldn’t get a lot of information. Today, you’re going to get a lot more resources. And I think that’s the first step of your journey. What is the language of this population? How do I understand that language and start adapting to some of those words? And then, I think the second part is how do I start investigating this from a place of curiosity? put our defenses down a little and be like, “Okay, this is somebody else’s experience.'' Even though I know my kid, this is their experience. How do they experience this? And not project ourselves into that. And then I think that third step is finding people that understand your story.
It’s easy to read something and be thinking about it from a cerebral point of view. But when you know someone and they have experiences just like yours or a similar journey, there’s something about that, that it changes the way we look at things. It helps our perspective shift. And I think that’s, I mean, you and I both work with Mama Dragons so we know that. We see it time and time again that it’s relationships that change us. Data is great, but it’s really the relationship. So, Mama Dragons is a great online resource.
There’s other things that have in-person events. We have regional groups that get together sometimes. There’s also organizations like PFLAG which, depending on your chapter throughout the US, a really great place to go and start learning with other parents because you’re going to find that you’re not alone especially if you’re coming from that intersectionality which many of our members do where they feel like their friend and family group doesn’t understand the experiences they’re going through.
JEN: When we first started, I remember going to my normal support circle, the people I always went to for support, and they didn’t know anything. Finding somebody who had walked that path instead of seeking advice from people who had never been on that road. I want to jump back a little bit to what you said for number two about seeking with curiosity because I find this is another thing that comes up a lot. We don’t always like to learn new things. Sometimes we get a little defensive, especially if it’s something we hold dear to our hearts or something. And so, sometimes, when we ask questions, we’re really not looking for an answer. We’re looking for validation, right?
JEN: So sometimes a mom will say to me, “But don’t you think whatever, whatever?” Kind of to reinforce those original ideas that maybe they had. Do you have suggestions or advice about staying curious. Because I knew from the start that I didn’t know anything. So some of that curiosity was a little bit easier. If I had marched with signs or protested legislation or had some really strong views that were actually in opposition to my kid, it would’ve been harder to learn, I think. So, talk to me about how people can do that.
CELESTE: I think the first part is challenging our own beliefs. The way we see our world is not the way everybody sees the world.
JEN: Okay, that’s hard.
CELESTE: That’s a hard thing. So, if we went deep into theory, this is called social constructionism, right? This concept that how we learn things is often from our culture, the space we live in, our privilege. The way I see the world is because I am a white, cisgender woman who grew up in Montana in a religious environment. That’s how I see the world. And, so, when I hear somebody else’s experience that is in a different country, a different race, a different sexuality, a different gender identity. I don’t know, sometimes, how to hold that. And, so, what I try to do is instead of processing it based upon my “I” experience. I accept everything they’re telling me as true.
JEN: That kind of goes back to what you were saying before about perspective and listening to someone else’s lived experience. I think it’s really easy for people, or maybe this is just me, to think how would I react? What would I do? How do I feel about my gender? And you try to, it’s almost like this exercise in empathy. You’re trying to be empathetic, like, “How would this affect me? How would I feel about this?” And learning how to say, “It doesn’t actually matter how I would feel about this. It only matters how you feel about this. Explain to me what this means to you and then I’ll just believe you. And if you change your mind later, I’ll believe you again.”
CELESTE: And I think that this is where sometimes things get crunchy. Is that, let’s say you have a trans kiddo that is also autistic which is common. And you know how they experience the world is a little bit different than how you do to begin with. How they see things, how they experience things, the sensations, even light and sound is all different for them. And so, when they tell you this thing, then you start thinking, “Do they really know? They experience the world differently.” And I think that’s where you have to start challenging that. Being like, who knows themselves better than yourself? Have you ever had an experience when you try to tell someone how you feel and they tell you that you can’t feel that way?
JEN: Absolutely, I think we all have.
CELESTE: Right. So, this is exactly that concept. Someone is telling you exactly how they feel and the last thing they need to hear is, “You don’t feel that way.”
JEN: Don’t you think that starts when we’re really young. I’m thinking back when I was a little tiny girl. And I tease my mom about this now. But she would say things like, “You need a coat.” And I would say, “I’m not cold. I don’t need a coat.” And she would say, “look at my arms. I have goosebumps. You need to put on a coat.” And that idea that because she was cold, I needed a coat is such a perfect example of how we start with our littlest of kids by imagining that they’re just little extensions of ourselves instead of they are their own unique people who are going to have a very unique life separate from us.
CELESTE: And, as a budding therapist. One of the things at the core of therapy is that it’s not about you. IT’S NOT about your experience. It’s completely about that client’s journey. And, actually projecting your experience in it, makes their experience worse. It doesn’t help them because it’s not about you. It’s about their experience.
JEN: So what do you see, if people are applying the therapy – and I should give credit and we’ll put a link in the show notes. The Ring Theory is attributed to a psychiatrist named Susan Silk if someone wants to Google or follow a link – but as you’ve seen this applied and we talk about this a lot in the Mama Dragon group where this one might not be about you. Because we’re afraid, right? What do I do if my mom’s mad at me? I’m 50 and I still think, if my kids do that, is my mom going to be mad at me. And I have to remind myself, it’s not about me. This one is not about me.
CELESTE: This is actually my next favorite topic.
JEN: The topic of, it’s not about me?
CELESTE: Well, kind of, because I think this goes straight into that conversation of boundaries, is that over and over and over again, I heard people misuse boundaries of, like, what is a boundary. And, any time someone is using it to control somebody else and it’s a you statement, “You need to do this.” That is not a boundary. Boundaries come from an I perspective. And they are there to protect us. And so that would be a concept, too, as you’re going through this journey and you’re trying to navigate all these new relationships and you’re trying to protect this kid, how do you really understand what a boundary is? And if you catch yourself trying to control other people’s behaviors, then you have to look at what you're doing and say, “Okay. I can only control me. I can remove myself.” Like, “This doesn’t feel good to me. I would like to remove myself.” That’s okay. But when you say, “You have to do this differently.” That’s now controlling somebody else.
JEN: Which is actually impossible no matter how hard we try.
CELESTE: I just hear it over and over again. People in our groups and support groups and they’re trying to navigate this, it is, “How do I make my mom do this thing.”
JEN: Yeah. Absolutely. So, as you’re in these groups and you’re often in these conversations whether they’re with individuals or in these big social media conversations, what do you see as the benefits in the relationships when the people are actually applying this theory in their relationship, remember that they’re one ring away from the center – well, from the queerness that we’re talking about, even if you’re queer yourself, it’s a different relationship when your kid is in the center ring – what do we see the benefits, because this is hard work. This is going to be hard. We’ve got to have a reason.
CELESTE: This is hard.
JEN: What are we getting out of it?
CELESTE: These two things are really hard. So, if we can respect that center space and allow that person who’s going through their experience that we let them have space to yell and throw things, emotionally throw things. To yell and scream and be frustrated and hurt and allow them space to do that. And then how do we really make it about them and let there be comfort. And then allow space for yourself. So, I kind of see two things happen. One, people either make it about them when they’re on the outer circle. Or, the don’t allow the space to even process. This is only about my kid. This has nothing to do with me. And I see that as also, there is this other aspect that is about you. You’re switching your entire framework of how you exist as a parent and what you know. And often people are changing belief systems and changing friendships and family dynamics. And I think there is space to make this about you, just not with your kiddo. And you need to create that space for you to be like, I’m going to go on this journey and I need some space and I need some comfort myself.
JEN: That is so important to make space for ourselves and find some people who can do that with us, who can support us. I do remember thinking, “Wait. Now I have no friends who understand.” And I’d spent 40 years of my life building these relationships and centering my whole family in this certain way of life and to pretend it wasn’t traumatic to lose all of our friends or change all of our family dynamics or the relationships that we held most important, wouldn’t be beneficial to anyone. It was traumatic. It just wasn’t our kid’s problem.
CELESTE: No. I and I think there’s an element of communicating your needs, needs to your partner, needs to your family. And that goes back to boundaries. What’s communicating a need and what’s a boundary, and understanding that language. And what’s a need and what’s a want. I feel like all these things are things that, as you have this change in dynamic, you have to reevaluate. I imagine, Jen, as you went through this experience, you probably tried some of that on, of being like, “Okay. What is a need for my family? What’s a need for me? What’s my kiddo saying their needs are?” And then, what are wants and what are the things we can compromise on, because some things you can’t compromise on and some things you can. And I guess that’s how I define the difference between a need and a want. A need, you don’t compromise.
JEN: That’s so genius. I’m going to think about that for days now, actually. What are some of the risks? What are the consequences that we see over and over again, particularly, you, when people are maybe prioritizing backward? I remember wanting to just be with my kid all the time because I knew nothing about being gay and this was my in. This was my source. And he was only 16, so I didn’t want to do that with him. I was very conscious and repeated over and over, this is not about me. This is not about me. This is not about me. But I wanted that. I was drawn to that. Thankfully, I was able to avoid it. But it took a long time of finding resources and hunting things up. If I had dumped-in, because that was it. And he was willing. He was so kind and so gracious with me. But what are the risks? What happens when we do it backward?
CELESTE: What happens when we do it backwards is that; One, you change the parent/child dynamic. The parent/child dynamic needs to stay intact where you’re still the parent, they’re still the child. And sometimes that can get a little cloudy when we do it the reverse. And that, essentially, means that you are now relying on them to like tell you how to navigate this. And I think it also doesn’t allow space for that kiddo to figure out things on their own. Just like us growing up and we navigate who we are, it takes a minute and we need space to kind of try that on. I think of like clothes, I’ve seen a trans client and they’re trying to figure out their identity with clothes and their style. Like, it takes a minute. Literally, to physically try it on. And I think of that experiences as anybody’s gender identity or sexuality. It takes a minute and that style sometimes changes as we grow and develop. And you need the space to be able to do that. And sometimes, when you have a parent there with you or maybe even making it about them, it doesn’t really allow that journey for that kiddo.
JEN: I’m going to interrupt with my standard age thing. I’m consistently concerned, when we use the word children, the people think we’re talking about 10-year-olds or 4-year-olds with gender or 13-year-olds or whatever. My own self, when we started this journey, I was 40. And I absolutely don’t even know if I would be able to articulate it. But I needed my parents to parent me. We were both adults and I was 40 and still that idea that we were, like, equal, like on equal playing fields, it wasn’t real. It wasn’t reality. And so it made that relationship, like you’re saying, a little bit cloudy and confusing. So I try to think about that with my own kids just from that experience.
CELESTE: And I can tell you from the side of a therapist, that when parents just try to be a kid’s best friend, it does not turn out well.
JEN: Even if the kid’s 40.
CELESTE: Even when the kid’s 40. There is an element you can be your kid’s friend, but you’re still their parent. And you’re the parent first.
JEN: I don’t know why my mind thought that a certain age, you become equals or whatever. But I just don’t think it’s true. I think, when they’re 90 and you’re taking care of them, there’s still an element of them being the parent. And that’s probably why it’s so painful.
CELESTE: Yeah. and I think there’s an element even when, like in Mama Dragons, we have moms where their kids are coming out of all ages. And primarily an amount of them are in their adolescent/young adult lifespan. But we also work with a ton of moms who their kids are coming out in their 30s, 40s, 50’s. And in that same dynamic, kids still need comfort from family members and acceptance from their parents. And I think that if we look at it from that “We’re just friends” dynamic, then we kind of throw that to the side. You’re like, “I’m just your friend. It’s fine.” But they need a parent comfort in, and they need acceptance from a parent. And it makes a significant difference in the self-esteem and the self-worth of someone who’s queer.
JEN: Some of us, maybe most of us, probably for sure me, probably made some mistakes. Right? Our kid came out and we maybe did it wrong. Maybe we said, “I’m the pastor. This will destroy my career. You need to stay in the closet.” Or whatever we said, we made some mistakes. And we saw the relationship damage that came from this, when we become ready to see what we’re doing. Do you have suggestions for people to correct that, to fix it, and try to heal some of those things so they can move forward?
CELESTE: I think that with any conflict, the first thing is talking about it, acknowledging it. And I think about that, in that parent dynamic we’ve been messing up with our kids their whole lives. And there’s appropriate ways that we can communicate, “Hey, I didn’t get that right and can we talk about it?” And if it’s deeper than that, some of these things that have happened are deeper than that. Family therapy is a really great place to have some support to do that with someone who is educated on how to navigate that with your family. Because, I think that no matter how old we are, we always carry this thing with our family that we want things to be a certain way or acceptance. And I think it’s tricky as a mom to feel that guilt and shame that you broke your kid or you didn’t do it right. And I just want to – even though there’s things we know, we know that affirming parents has greater beneficially mental health outcomes for our kiddos. There’s not one right way to do this journey. Each kid is so different. I just look at it from multiple perspectives. One, like, how do we be gentle with ourselves? Two, how do we allow space for that kiddo to process that? And then, three, like, when you’re ready, how do you come back together and say, “Hey, we don’t always get this right and I’m sorry. And I want to make amends.”
JEN: OK. So now I’m going to take you out an extra ring.
CELESTE: All right. One more, Lookie-Loos.
JEN: No. Not that far. One closer than that. So you’re listening to this because your kids are little and you don’t know what’s happening in the future. But your friend has a 4-year-old who is adamant about their gender and their gender expression. And they come to you because it’s hard to get support from a 4-year-old. So they come to you in the outer circle to support them. How do you make sure you stay in that outer circle and support in. And any fears that come up for you, we’re dumping out further, another step away.
CELESTE: Well, I think the first one is being aware of what’s happening with you and how you’re processing. Not all of us are external processors. And I think sometimes the external processors get themselves in more trouble because they just say it out loud.
JEN: Yes. We do.
CELESTE: They just spit it right out. And let’s pretend this scenario is happening and your friend is telling you like, “I don’t know what to do. And I don’t want to do it wrong.” And your instant thought is this thing, “Well, what if you get it wrong? What if you mess it up?” And I think when it’s a little bit of self-control to be like, “My job here as her friend is to just listen and say what can I help you with? What can I do for you?” The same way we would with our kiddo, right? It’s that same type of journey and being like, what kind of support are you looking for me right now. And I think that’s a difficult thing, especially for us women who have grown up in some type of religious environment. We were almost taught to overstep and make it about us or take on other people’s stuff without asking. I think it’s a tricky life lesson to be like, “Okay. I’m here for you. What do you need from me? What can I do to support you?” Instead of being like, “These feelings are coming up for me and I’m scared, and so I’m going to project those on.” It’s the same thing with your kid.
JEN: I think we do it, like to take it away from the queer experience into another thing just for examples just to help people kind of understand what we’re talking about – an example I like is when you’re sick. And we’ve all had this, where you tell someone, “I just got diagnosed with whatever.” Let’s pretend you just got diagnosed with breast cancer. “I just got diagnosed with breast cancer.” And you’re seeking support because you’re the center of the circle. The breast cancer experience is your own, and so you go to a friend and are like, “I just got diagnosed with breast cancer.” And they say, “Oh, my gosh. My mom had breast cancer and it was so horrible for the whole family.” And they tell you their whole life story and you tell them, you comfort them through it, like, “That sounds really hard. I’m sorry you lost your mother.” And then you leave feeling absolutely not comforted or supported in any way at all. And then it changes the dynamic. I think we can see with these health issues how it just seems more obvious in every day to me that you can see that’s probably like when you’re having some pain or it’s time for chemo or you’re feeling nauseous, that’s probably not the person you’re going to tell next time. That’s going to diminish that relationship. You’re going to find somebody else. And I know I’m really bad at that. I think it’s a characteristic of ADHD, actually, to try to tell relatable stories to try to bond with someone. And that’s awesome, unless somebody needs comfort or education or support. Then we need to step back.
CELESTE: Yeah. And I think that’s, I mean for you even saying that, I think that speaks to your self-awareness of being like, “How do I interact with others through this.” And there is an element of crisis that happens when you’re parenting an LGBTQ child. And I think there has to be a little elevation in awareness of yourself, your surroundings, of how you’re engaging to kind of make it through that journey.
JEN: OK. So talk to me about that. Self-awareness, I think we’re all seeking it, right? That’s probably not true. Some people are probably not seeking it. But, in general, if we want more self-awareness so that we can move through life with more compassion and grace and dignity and understand who we are so that we can accept ourselves. But also understand who we are so we can make changes where we are motivated to make changes. How do we do that? I don’t want any more self-help books.
CELESTE: You know, maybe this is kind of a simple tip. But we’re kind of hard-wired to reject any type of constructive feedback. That is our defenses generally come up. We push it away pretty hard. And I don’t know where that comes from for most of us. And it may be lots of different reasons. But I think it’s that first thing of being like, okay, if someone’s telling you something – and we get told stuff in lots of different ways. We get told stuff through people’s body language, directly, indirectly, we’re taking in all these messages all the time. I think the first thing is to maybe get clarification. Like, “Hey, I noticed when I said this thing, that your body language shifted. Did I do something that made you upset?”
JEN: I felt you cringe.
CELESTE: Right, like, I saw this thing. And let someone, one, to give you what they think rather than what you think they think. And then I always think about when people tell me this stuff, I think about literally trying it on. Like, if I’m standing in the mirror and they’re saying this feedback, can I physically put it on and say, “How does this feel for me.” And then sit with it. And challenge those defenses that go up and “Oh, it feels a little uncomfortable, but I could see a little bit of that. I can see that I do that.” and then accept it gracefully. And sometimes we’re going to get feedback or comments or stuff that comes at us and we try it on and we’re like, “That doesn’t really fit. I don’t see that with part of who I am.” And I think the other thing is that people that you trust, I think it’s okay to be like, “Hey, I’ve been thinking about this thing about myself. Have you ever experienced this with me?” Even with our kids, “Hey, have you experienced me getting a little upset while driving?” There’s just so many things about us that I feel like it’s the rejection of any external comments or feedback that makes it hard to try on stuff.
JEN: When my kids were little and other kids at the play ground would say mean things to them or about them, we had a little process that we would go through every time. And it makes me think of what you’re saying, right? So somebody would say, “You’re stupid.” And then I would ask my kids, “Before you respond, before you react, stop and ask yourself, is that true.” Like you’re saying, try it on. Is it true? And I’d be like “Are you stupid?” And they’re not, so they would say, “No.” And I would say, “Then you’re done. Step one, you’re done if it’s not true.” Step two, is it true? Yes. We’ve got to move on, it is true. I do, do that. So maybe you say you keep interrupting me. And you’re like, “Is that true. Yep. It is. I do, do that.” And then you’ve got a third step. Is this something I’m willing to live with and accept about myself or is this something that I need to figure out a way to change. And sometimes we just don’t have the energy to change all the things. So, maybe I’m an interrupter, and I’m going to be an interrupter. Maybe I’m not good at answering emails, but I really want to improve on that. Maybe I don’t answer emails, and that’s not in my work-on-it pile. I’m just going to accept it about myself and hope the people that love me accept it also. But that idea of the first thing you need to ask is, “Is it true?” because it’s really easy to take on weird insults that people throw at us without stopping. I love your version of “Try it on.” I wish I had that when my kids were little instead of “Is it true.” Because that’s where we would stop all the time. “She says that I’m ugly.” “Is it true?” And they’d get offended every time. I’m asking like, is it true.” Sometimes there are negative things about us. We’re not all peaches and cream all the time. Sometime we have some flaws and people are going to point them out. And we can be mad at how they point them out to us, but it’s actually a really great opportunity to stop yourself and breathe in and out and say, “Is that even true.” And think about it. I love that idea of sometimes I don’t like the things I learn about myself. Sometimes we’re defensive, because I’m like, “No, thank you.”
CELESTE: Yeah. And as we age, I think we know the things that are more sensitive to us. I use the example, I’m a horrible speller.
JEN: Are you?
CELESTE: Absolutely, horrendous. And in my younger years, I thought I was dumb, right? I’m like, I can’t spell so I’m dumb. And so it created this real sensitivity that spelling was attached to my intelligence. And so if anybody touched it at all, my defenses would go sky high, right? And I’d get all puffy. And I think, as I grew up and I learned things about myself, just like as you’re saying. I’m like, “Hey, you know what? I’ve worked pretty hard to come from a ridiculously horrible speller to just kind of a crappy speller. And I’m okay with that.” I did some work, but I don’t really think I’m going to become the best speller in the world. I’m not going to get there. And so I put my energy in places where, “Alright. Here’s a place that is getting in the way. Maybe I’m working on empathy. Maybe I’m working on being a better listener, things that change the way I want to live in the world.”
JEN: So, comparing this back to our ring theory. I think this is important to get feedback from our kids. So, we see over and over and over in these support groups, mom’s who say things like: I do everything that my kid asks. I call them by the right name. I use the right pronouns. I hug their girlfriend. And they say that I’m not being affirming. And instantly, that instance defensiveness. Right? I’m trying so hard, how can you accuse me of being anything less than perfect. But it’s that opportunity to stop and be like, “Hmm. Are there ways I’m not being affirming.” Maybe my kid doesn’t care that much about pronouns depending on the situation. Maybe your child really needs something else and it just didn’t occur to you. So, when they say something to you, because they don’t approach it, usually when they’re younger, with a lot of diplomacy. Right. It sounds like: Why do you always? Or You never support me, or whatever that kind of language. But, if we can stop and, like you said, and try that on the mirror and be like, I’m not sure if that fits or not because I’m trying really hard. Somehow I’m not communicating that to them. So we need to probably have a conversation about what it looks like to them if I’m supporting them instead of what it looks like to me to be supportive.
CELESTE: And if that’s something you want to try on and keep. Because, again, our kids can say, “Hey, for you to be an ally, I need you to do x, y, z.” But, there’s a possibility maybe one of those or some of those you’re like, I can do these, but this is something I’m not ready to do yet. And that’s okay too.
JEN: Yeah. and it’s okay to recognize that from both sides. There’s going to be some relationship changes as you mature through, this is a hard stop.
CELESTE: This is.
JEN: Like we talk about it like it’s so easy. Your kid comes out and you buy a rainbow shirt and march in the parade and then you’re done.
CELESTE: Yeah. But I don’t think people think about this inner, like your personal journey aspect. It’s really challenging. And I love that we’re talking about it. I know we’re just skimming over the surface of all of these topics. But I think it’s just a really important part of that journey of being like, “Hey, we’re going t go on this journey and there’s some things, here’ some tools for your tool kit.”
JEN: There’s going to be some bumps in our road in our journey.
JEN: I love, too, that you yourself haven’t parented an LGBTQ child, you were the LGBTQ child.
CELESTE: I was.
JEN: And I love that you have this motherhood perspective. I think we often get pushback from the queer community who have never had children where they say things like, “Why are you trying to make it all about you?” Or “This isn’t even your life.” And I love that you recognize that, for a mom, we hear all of those sayings, right? The mom’s only as happy as the saddest kid.
CELESTE: It’s so true, though.
JEN: Separating yourself from your kid’s journey, if your kids hurting, you’re hurting.
JEN: If you look at some of the statistics we’ve talked about with the family acceptance project and I remember thinking, “Oh, Heaven’s No. Not my kid. We’re not becoming that statistic.” And you take it on. I love that, even though you haven’t gone through the experience, you recognize that mothering, and we see it when queer people join the group and when they have a queer child. And they’re like, “I grew up queer. I thought this was going to be easy for me. I thought I had all the answers. But now I’m negotiating things from this parent perspective and it’s a whole different ball game.”
CELESTE: Totally different and I love that aspect of being able to watch it and support it. Because I feel like, so often, we can put our energies towards fixing things that are, we’ve already hurt people. I’m a therapist so I do reparative stuff at the end of the journey when everybody’s already been hurt. And I love Mama Dragons were it’s more preventative. And we’re like, “But if we did it this way, you wouldn’t have to spend the next five years with me in therapy.”
JEN: Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could get all the parents onboard, just the most basic education. If we could teach every mom ring theory when their kid is born, even if their kid never comes out as queer, they’re going to come out as something whether they’ve embraced the tuba or something at some point. It’s going to be our opportunity to support them. I appreciate, so much, you being here. I know you’re so busy and you’re so wise. And I love talking with you just in general. I’m sure we’ll have you back a thousand times with a million different topics. But I love your perspective on this in particular after your own acknowledgment in your own life of like, “Oh, wait. That’s why I was exhausted because I was in the middle ring, but I was supporting every other ring.” It’s empowering to be able to think that when people come to you to be like, “Oh, I’m in the middle this time? So, you’re going to have to go somewhere else to throw up that boundary.” I’m not going to be supporting you.
CELESTE: That’s a great example of a boundary.
JEN: Right, because whatever ring we’re in, we can say that to anyone outside, whatever ring is outside. Oh, you’re outside. You’re in the outside ring this time. Your job is to support me. And that’s not the boundary, right? But we can say, I’m not here to support you for this part.”
CELESTE: Yeah. And we can do it. And we can do it in a kind way. And we can renavigate and restructure those relationships which is beautiful.
JEN: Thank you so much for being here to walk with our parents who are new to this journey or remembering back to this journey, or the parents that don’t even know yet, that they might be facing this in their future. I appreciate so much you being here with us.
CELESTE: You’re welcome.
JEN: For more information on Mama Dragons and the podcast, you can visit our website at mamadragons.org, or follow us on Instagram or Facebook. And if you’d like to help Mama Dragons in our mission to support, educate, and empower the parents of LGBTQ children, donate at mamadragons.org or click the link below in the show notes. We’re glad you’re here.