Friday, June 13, 2008

Coming to Grips with an GLBT Child – Things NOT to Say - Part I

My nephew recently came out to his parents. The long dreaded night finally came for “the talk.” Considering the possibilities, things went well. He’s not disinherited. He’s not banished from the house. And he’s old enough to escape the seemingly obligatory sentence to the psychiatrist or the pastoral counselor.

But he did have to sit through the usual indignities all GLBT kids must suffer from often well meaning but ignorant if not steadfastly self-blinding parents. He had to listen to the lecture on disappointment about not having grandchildren (as if GLBT kids haven’t already had to deal with that disappointment and the realization of disappointing others). He had to endure the obligatory lashing with the theological whip of threats of hell and damnation. And he survived the scare tactics of AIDS complete with disinformation about a 30% failure rate of condoms (that may be true for papiloma virus but not for AIDS, per NIH). But, to his credit, when the predictable “book we want you to read” was proffered, he accepted conditionally – “Only if you’ll read the book I’d like you to read.” Somehow I doubt the family book club will be meeting anytime soon.

All in all, it could have been much worse. The streets of our major cities are full of kids whose news was greeted with much worse response including abuse which made running away the only viable option. And those are the lucky ones. Some never make it out of their houses.

I suppose I was lucky to have parents who dealt with my coming out as readily as they did. My mother’s response was initially “Don’t tell me something I can’t handle,” to which I replied “OK, Mother, I won’t tell you.” Of course, that lasted exactly 24 hours after which Saint Marge simply said, “OK, tell me. When I did, she simply said “You’re my son, I love you. Nothing else matters.” And then there was my Dad, in his usual understated manner, who came to my house during one of my drunken, self-pitying moments during my two years of Purgatory teaching middle school in Inverness, FL, to ask me what the hell was wrong with me. “I love Andy, Daddy,” I said to which he replied, “We know that. But what’s the matter?” Years later my father would ask why I couldn’t serve as a priest in the Diocese of Central Florida when I returned home from California after ordination. “Because I’m gay, Dad,” I said. “But why not? Is that the only reason?” he responded.

Undoubtedly my parents suffered through the same sense of loss of dreams for their child that many parents have known albeit for a longer period than most parents of GLBT kids. Because my sexuality falls closer to the middle of Kinsey’s scale, I had a difficult time coming to terms with my sexuality and came close to marriage (to an RBG, real biological girl) several times. I also know they worried about how people would treat me and how my sexuality would affect my career. The shame they sought to suppress revealed itself in the absence of photos on their walls of myself and partner. And, during my wilder days when my rage over the homophobia I was encountering fueled some fairly self-destructive behaviors, they worried, and not without cause.

I tend to think most parents are not mindless homophobes narcissistically bent on making their children into their own image though clearly there are some who are. But I do think that a lot of pain can be inflicted by well intended parents who, unlike my mother, don’t have the better sense to step back for 24 hours before responding to their child who is trying to come out to them.


The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.

Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando

If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding. Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes.

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