Resources for parents of kids who don’t fit the heterosexual cisgender model
Let’s say that you’ve just found out that your child is LGBTQIA. Unless you live somewhere significantly more utopian than I do (in which case you don’t need this post), it means that your kid is likely to face some tough times. If you are reading this post, then I’m guessing that you would like to help and support them, and that you could use a little support yourself. The interwebs are filled with advice, some of it truly horrifying. (Helpful hint: Your child does NOT need to be “fixed” to make them acceptable to “normal” people. If you find a site telling you that you need to do so, run away.) I’ve organized some links and suggestions that I, or friends, have found helpful, but there are many different situations and starting places. Don’t treat this as a top down read, scan and pick out the places that strike you as right for you. I’m bound to have missed (many) things, so if you’ve found great resources of your own, please add them in comments.
(1) Educate yourself. I remember being told as a young person that people did not talk about “such things”, which was largely true. It meant that for many people communication about gender and sexuality consisted of sideways references and looks. This does not build much in the way of understanding. Fortunately, now people talk more, and with increasing clarity, about gender and sexuality. It helps to start with a common vocabulary, so that terms like cisgender and the collection of letters in the first sentence are meaningful. It’s also important to get reality based information.
– There are a number of glossaries around. The ones published by UConn’s Rainbow Center, Berkeley’s Gender Equity Resource Center, and UCDavis’ LGBTQIA Resource Center are good starting places.
– Visit a blog, like Queereka and listen for a while.
– Take a course if you can. If you live close to a University or Community College that has open enrollment and offers gender studies classes, take one.
– Become a member of a group like PFLAG (more below) or Human Rights Campaign (HRC) . They are wonderful sources for news and information on laws at all levels and locations. HRC membership includes Equality Magazine whose glossy pages include pictures of non-straight and non-cis people doing normal things like looking happy, traveling with their families, and working. Believe me, as a parent this matters, especially if you are faced with people telling you that your child will be an outcast.
(2) Listen to your kid. This seems easy, but just isn’t always. Some children figure things out quickly, but for many it takes a while and they may be frustrated or confused, themselves, even for a long time after they’ve come out to you. They may not want to talk about what’s going on, which can make listening seem difficult. And remember, this is only one piece of their identity, there are plenty of other things going on in their lives at the same time. So, listen to what they do talk about. Listen for what they don’t and for what they used to talk about, but don’t anymore. Some of it will just be part of growing up, but they need love through that, as well. IF your child wants them, suggest resources that are supportive, but don’t force things on them.
– In addition to PFLAG and HRC, there is the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN). There is also the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) Network which has clubs in many schools, although some states have more than others.
– In the San Francisco Bay area there is the Family Acceptance Project. In Western New York there is Gay & Lesbian Youth Services. Even if you aren’t in those regions they have some good resources online.
– In my case my daughter found forums on DeviantArt that helped her to make sense of her sexuality as only one part of her interests and life. You and your child will need to work with your own rules on internet safety and use, but keep your eye open for resources that aren’t obviously or principally LGBTQIA related.
(3) Find people to talk to for yourself. You will be a better support for your kid if you have a support network of your own. What you choose will depend on your personality (e.g. whether you are happier with groups, individuals, online interactions), and where you are starting in your own journey. Many people can feel guilty, conflicted or disappointed when they learn that their child is not heterosexual or cisgender. If that applies to you, don’t take it out on your child, but don’t beat yourself up, either. I don’t think that most of us want our children’s lives to be more difficult or unhappy than they need to be.
I’ve listed a couple of good groups to start with below. You will probably want to make some personal connections which may include talking to friends or family members, BUT choose a support network that will not compromise your child. Before you talk to someone, be absolutely certain that the person will not out your child. Also, if you know that you have family or friends who will not support your child, don’t turn to them. You need to find a network that will make your life less, not more, stressful.
– Check out PFLAG (Parents, Families, & Friends of Lesbians and Gays). They have a ton of online resources, as well as 350 local chapters. Whether you want to start quietly reading, join a group to talk, or jump into activism they can help you get started.
– Advocates for Youth includes LGBTQIA issues under their broader mission of advocating for reality based sexual health for young people. (Their Parents’ Sex Ed Center has some great advice and resources for parents of all adolescents.)
(4) Let your child make their own coming out decisions. This is covered in #3 above, but I want to make sure that you see it. This includes to friends, family, and community. It can be really hard when people can tell that something is up with your child and want to help. It can be even harder when people like teachers see that your kid is having difficulties and don’t want to help. You want to let them know what’s going on, but don’t do it unless you discuss it with your kid and your kid is unequivocally ok with it. Trust your child and make sure they can trust you.
(5) Know the law and resources in your area and at state and national levels. Find out where you and your child can turn for help if you need it. So far we’ve been lucky, and I hope that you are, as well, but it’s a good idea to be informed. You might try starting with:
– The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
– Human Rights Campaign (HRC)
– a state group like Equality California or Equality New Mexico
– the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
– the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC)
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