Q: I think my son might be gay. How do I ask him, so I can tell him that I’m supportive?
A: I have been working with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) kids and the community for many years, and one thing I can say for sure is it is generally not a good idea to ask anyone, including your child, if he or she is gay, lesbian or bisexual.
So, what’s a parent to do if she thinks her child may be LGB and she wants her child to know that she is supportive? “Coming out” – that is, the process of determining identity, what this means in the person’s life and how to integrate this, including how to tell people – is a process that each person has to navigate for himself or herself. While it might be painful to watch your child struggle, you can’t rush this, figure it out or do it for him.
What you can do is create a responsive, supportive, accepting environment that allows him to figure out who he is, whether he is gay, bisexual or straight. This process starts not when you think your child might be LGB, but before your child even has language. The more you demonstrate an appreciation for differences in others and your children as they develop, the more you are creating an accepting environment for a child to explore who he or she is.
Here are some things you can do to be supportive:
It says wonderful things about you as a parent if you want to help ease your child’s struggles and communicate support and acceptance of your child who might be questioning or defining his sexual orientation and identity. However, unless your child is sharing this with you, your support is best offered indirectly until your child is ready. Don’t underestimate the power of being a gently supportive presence in your child’s life.
Michelle Topal, MSW, LCSW, is the owner and a therapist at Change for Living Counseling ( changeforlivingcounseling.org) in Raleigh.