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Coming out to our Kids: An Affirmative Approach to Assisting Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Parents.
By Kristin F. Jones
In 2004, Adams, Jacques, and May estimated 2 to 10 million gay and lesbian parents were raising 6 to 14 million children in the United States. This large invisible population denotes how pervasive discrimination and heterocentered sociocultural norms obscure relevant queer information; especially, in terms of what constitutes the varieties of the 'American family.'
In fact, large numbers of children who have gay, lesbian and bisexual (GLB) parents are conceived in the context of mixed-orientation coupling; where one parent is gay or bisexual, and the other is straight. Parental alliances do not automatically indicate that a parent is heterosexual, as seen above.
Scores of GLB parents attempt traditional heterosexual marriage in their efforts to have children, while others seek refuge from homonegativity by concealing themselves inside heterosexual relationships. The closeted experience typically is supported by concerns including fear of discrimination, child-custody disputes, family-of-origin reactions, and peer ostracism for the child, parent, or both.
One's coming out breaks the stronghold of the false self allowing the GLB parent to reduce splitting, while challenging the tenacity of shame. GLB clients who consider coming out to their children often seek reassurance that favorable relationships with their kids will be possible, after disclosure. To help serve this purpose, parents are advised to have their own peer support in place before coming out.
Below are seven guidelines to assist the GLB parent with coming out to their child.
Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual Parents 'Coming Out' plan
Assist conceptualizing affirmative meaning, the actual conversation, and the aftermath * It is recommended that parents come to terms with their sexual orientation before disclosing to children * Self-acceptance increases the likelihood that children will react positively * Shame increases the likelihood that children will react negatively (process shame with client)
Plan for self disclosure * Parents need to tell their children before they hear from others * Children rarely initiate a discussion on the topic * Time and place of disclosure should be planned in advance
Prepare conversations * Disclosure should be positive and sincere and not apologetic * Reassure children that loving relationships with parents will not change
Cast self-disclosure in age appropriate language * Parents should disclose to children as early as possible * Children are never too young to be told * Details should be confined to the child's level of understanding
Prepare for possible questions, and if parent doesn't have answers to all questions, encourage the parent to be honest about this; as coming out to their child is a new opportunity for growth, as well.
Kids might ask: * Why are you telling me? * What does gay, lesbian or bisexual mean? * What makes a person gay, lesbian, or bisexual? * Will I be gay, lesbian, or bisexual, too? * Don't you like women or men? * What should I tell my friends?
Allow the child time to process
'Plan' summarized from Barret and Robinson (1990)
As LGBT and queer affirmative clinicians, we assist gay, lesbian, and bisexual parents in the coming out process through reflection and recognition, as we invite the parent to re-imagine their life. The coming out process is exactly that, a process, and it will happen again and again over the course of a lifetime. Clinicians who are not educated in LGBTQ populations are encouraged to obtain training, in order to genuinely understand the lived-experience of GLB parents, their children, and their families of choice.
Affirmative therapy involves responsibility, discernment, contextual focus and above all, support.
Affirmatively yours, Kristin
Article published in CAMFT Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (April, 2013) Newsletter. -----
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