My daughter told me that she was gay* a couple of weeks before her 15th birthday. She had been trying to figure out her preferences that year, and I had suspected for a while, but she is not one to communicate through uncertainty. She wants to be sure of the answers before she speaks up. I prodded a bit. On a day when she seemed especially preoccupied I asked, “are you thinking about a boy?” “No, don’t be silly.” “Well, are you thinking about a girl?” “No, but, there’s something you should know.” And she burst into tears as she told me. I hugged her, and told her that it made no difference to her father and me. Not in a “we accept you” or “we still love you, anyway” sort of way, but in a “that’s part of who you are, great” sort of way. Then I said one more thing, one of those things that you know is stupid the moment it clears your lips. “It doesn’t matter.” As if her father and I were the whole world. As if our love and support were the only issue. As if we could make everything ok.
What about friends? If she came out to them, there were some she knew wouldn’t be comfortable with it. Some of the friends, themselves, might accept her, but their parents would certainly not. Even friends who vocally supported marriage equality might feel differently about sleepovers with a gay friend. What about school? We live in a relatively liberal town, but that doesn’t mean that every teacher is equally open. Sure, if anyone were outspokenly anti-gay, she could complain, but that would be unlikely. It would be that little bit of distance, the coldness, the grading that was just a bit more harsh. Nothing too overt. That was the year that she took health class, and there was nothing in there to reassure her that she would be treated as normal. What about the loneliness and anxiety? For an extremely shy and introverted teenager talking about anything can be difficult. Talking about something so personal, raw and new was unthinkable. But what if she didn’t come out more generally? Would she be a failure? A weakling?
My whole world cracked open that day. Not because my daughter was gay, but because I was so hopelessly, uselessly ignorant. I was caught up by a landslide of questions that I hadn’t considered and for many of which I had no answers at all. I couldn’t make the call of who she should come out to, or when, or how. I could say that I trusted her decisions, but it felt (and feels) so woefully inadequate. I can give her a safe space at home, but I cannot create a jerk-free bubble around her. I can listen when she talks about the day to day things: the heterosexual couples snogging in the halls, the reading lists at school that have scarcely any authors who are women and none who are gay, the pressure to be a representative when doesn’t feel ready. And I can accept that it does matter. No matter how much I wish that it didn’t.
* This is the word that she has chosen, so it’s the one that I’m using here.
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