So, you’ve just found out that your child, your friend, your sibling, falls under the LGBTQIA+ spectrums (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, intersex, asexual)…you either have been told directly by your loved one, or you somehow found out through other means. Suddenly, you’re overwhelmed with emotions. You might be feeling a sense of self-blame “what did I do wrong”, anxiety “what does this mean for their safety or their future”, grief “I don’t know this person”, religious confusion “will my loved one go to hell?”…you might also feel a sense of relief “I finally know what was up with them”.
You can experience one of these feelings, or more commonly, a mixture of all.
But what can I do now?
First things first, take a deep breath and remind yourself that you will get through this. The feelings can get quite overwhelming, so it’s essential to take this moment to feel centred again.
It might be hard to believe, but knowing this part of your loved one’s identity can actually help you get closer. They were holding back from telling you this part of their identity, and now that you know it, you can be a bigger part of their life… if you wish.
But how can I get through these feelings first?
- Speak with others – find a ‘family and friends of LGBTQIA people’ group, speak with your friends, speak with your coworkers… speak with anyone who will let you vent your fears and frustrations, but who may also correct any misconceptions you might have absorbed from society (gay people are lonely, trans people will never have a happy life).
- If a group, or person of trust, aren’t available, consider speaking with a therapist or counsellor for more professional help.
- Read up! Part of the reason why this is so overwhelming is because of the messages we received from society about people who are LGBTQIA. Find literature, read books. These will help you understand your loved one better.
- Speak with your loved one. This might seem obvious, but we sometimes forget that the best person to teach us about this is the person themselves. While they may form part of a community, their identity is unique.
The most important thing is to remind yourself that it’s ok to take your time to process this. You should never expect yourself to be 100% supportive and understanding… it’s great if you are, but it’s also ok if you’re not. Show your loved one that you still care about them, and that you are trying to learn more. Tell them that you’d like to get to know them better, with this identity in mind. You can love someone, and still need time to process particular aspects of their identity.
Beyond Acceptance: Parents of Lesbians, and Gays Talk About Their Experiences. (updated edition) (Griffin, C. W., Wirth, M. J., & Wirth, A.G., 1996). New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Mel McElhatton holds a degree in Social Work from the University of Malta. With Willingness, Mel does life coaching and is one of the facilitators in the IRL – In Real Life team. They are also the producer of the radio show Niddiskutu s-Sess. They can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 79291817.