When your child is gay

By admin
19 April 2014

Most parents find it hard to accept their child is gay. Here’s how to cope with this news.

Mom, Dad - I’ve got something I need to tell you: I’m gay.”

Now what? If you’ve never suspected your child is a lesbian or a homosexual, you may never have thought about the appropriate response to finding out your child is gay.

Are they pulling your leg? Or is it just a phase they’re going through? What will their grandparents and other family members say and does this mean you won’t have grandchildren?

It’s tough enough for any parent to raise a teenager, but parents of gay black teens have an extra challenge – accepting their child’s sexuality and helping them through the social and cultural difficulties still experienced by many gay children.

Sophia Mbalula* (48), from Phalaborwa, found out her daughter, Mpho* (27), is gay three years ago and she is still trying to come to terms with the unsettling news.

The rumour first surfaced when she heard people in her neighbourhood making comments about Mpho’s sexuality. Sophia dismissed them because she was convinced they were spreading malicious lies. But for a long time the writing had been on the wall. Mpho had always been a tomboy who didn’t like wearing feminine clothes. She had also never brought any boyfriends home – even when she was apparently dating a boy from Venda in 2002.

“When I asked her one day what had happened to him she just said she didn’t know and closed the subject,” says Sophia, who owns a driving school. Still, Sophia didn’t realise what was going on. Her daughter was a private person and Sophia tried to respect that.

Then, three years ago Mpho broke the news that she was gay in an SMS to her mom.

“Getting the news like that was a huge shock and difficult to accept,” Sophia admits. “I felt like running away. I asked God, ‘Why?’ She’s my firstborn and I expected her to give me a grandchild one day. I also wondered what I’d tell my congregation.”

Since then she has had to work through her pain and confusion and her relationship with Mpho, who now lives and works in Joburg, is strained. But Sophia loves her daughter and will do whatever it takes to repair her relationship with her eldest child.

“I understand that God gives us different gifts and He never makes a mistake. This was my gift. As parents of gay children we have to accept them, but I also think that they’ve got to help us through this process,” says Sophia.

Experts say gay children often try to hide their sexuality from their parents and peers and live a double life. But if the situation is not dealt with carefully it can have devastating resultsfor both parent and child, especially if the news is hard to accept.

But more and more black children are coming out, says Thabo Monyatsi, a psychologist in private practice in Alexandra, north of Joburg.

“For a long time being gay was taboo in the black community and people refused to talk about it.

“Many parents wouldn’t even think about their child being gay because it was a huge disgrace and they felt the community would judge them.”

Fortunately, he says, times are changing. “People are to a large degree freer because they are protected by laws and policies,” he says.

Still, parents might resist or reject the idea that their child is gay. Thabo says most parents who struggle to accept that their children are gay are deeply rooted in their culture and religion.

“These parents are often too concerned about what other people will say. Those who are more open and not afraid of being treated differently will more readily accept that their child is gay,” he adds.

If you’re having difficulty accepting your gay child and need some guidance, here are tips from the experts.

* Not their real names.

How to support your child

Many parents are shocked and upset when they discover their children are gay. Even if you’re taken aback or uncomfortable with your child’s sexuality, you need to respect their decision, stay strong and support them. Here are some do’s and don’ts from the experts on how to react when your child breaks the news that he or she is gay.

Do

  • Stay calm. “Reacting to the news immediately can be very damaging to your child,” advises Thabo Monyatsi.
  • Try to understand why your child is gay. “There are a number of factors that could influence a child’s decision to become a lesbian, such as the HIV/Aids epidemic. Some girls are becoming lesbians because it protects them from getting infected as there’s no penetration involved,” Thabo says.
  • Try to support your child through the difficult time of coming out. “A child who doesn’t get support from their parents after disclosing their sexuality can react badly by running away from home, trying to commit suicide or resorting to drinking or taking drugs,” says Thabo.
  • Focus on the things you really want most for them – health, happiness, a loving relationship, a successful career – even if you’re taken aback by their sexuality.
  • Be open about it and talk about it. If you can’t cope on your own, get professional counselling or find a support group for gay parents.
  • Get someone else to talk to your child if you feel uncomfortable, says Port Elizabeth clinical psychologist Hanita Prag.
  • Support them on the issue of bullying by reminding them that it is unacceptable behaviour, and tell them you will help them if they’re being bullied.

Don’t

  • Reject your child – it won’t get you or them anywhere.
  • Wait for your child to tell you if you suspect they are gay. Asking them about their sexuality might be easier than waiting for them to pluck up the courage to tell you, says Hanita. Thabo agrees. Parents might be shocked and might react negatively if they wait and then hear from someone else that their child is gay.
  • Withdraw from your child. Rather try to get closer to them emotionally and try to understand their needs.
  • Isolate your child or treat them differently: they need you now more than ever before.
  • Refuse to be seen in public with them. If you alienate your child, they’ll be exposed to abuse from others.
  • Tell extended family members and friends until you have the permission of your child. Make it clear to them that you expect them to treat your child with respect and dignity.
  • Treat your child’s relationship differently than you would a straight relationship when you meet your child’s boyfriend or girlfriend.
  • Talk about the subject all the time. “Once everything has been said, and perhaps repeated, let the subject go,” says Hanita. “Let ordinary life resume. But also let your child know that you’re there to talk if they need it.”
  • Discourage your child from forming supportive friendships with other gay people.

Where to get help

  • Durban Lesbian and Gay Community and Health Centre Call 031-301-2145 or e-mail info@gaycentre.org.za
  • LifeLine personal crisis hotline Call 0800-150-150
  • OUT Wellbeing Call 012-430-3272 or 0860-OUT-OUT (0860-688-688) or log onto www.out.org.za
  • GALA (Gay and Lesbian Memory in Action) Call 011-717-4239 or e-mail info @gala.co.za
  • Triangle Project Call 021-448-3812

- Kim van Reizig and Ruwaydah Lillah

Extra sources: www.time.com; www.familyeducation.com; www.healthnews.com; www.ashastd.org; www.psychcentral.com

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