Are you parenting a child who is questioning their sexuality or gender?
We are a group of parents and carers in Worcestershire and South Birmingham area, whose children have come out to them as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Non-binary or Gender-fluid. There are other categories too. We may have more than one such child and they may have disclosed at any age from very young into adulthood.
Whilst many parents are accepting and affirming of their different children, for some, including other family members, it can be a shock and a loss. It is difficult to believe that their child can think such a thing. Parents and Grandparents can be particularly distressed to realise that their child is not the person they thought they knew, and their expectations for the future are dashed.
Our feelings may include, disbelief, denial, disapproval, ridicule, shame, guilt, blame and fear. We may feel responsible in some way – as if we have failed as parents. We may fear for ourselves or our children in an unaccepting society or culture. It is difficult to confide in friends who do not understand the depth of our dismay, and some religions are discriminatory which may add to our distress.
Our group is a safe place for parents to share feelings, learn, and better understand how we can accept and support our young people. It is run on confidential lines by well-trained volunteers who are also parents of such children. The group has been in existence for seven years and has been supported by FFLAG (Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) and by the Allen Lane Foundation.
I first joined a parents' support group when our daughter came out as gay. This group was part of FFLAG (Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays).more less
Our younger son had already come out ten years before, aged 18. At that time I was taken aback by the strength of my confused emotional response, as I was a trained accredited counsellor and supposedly non-prejudiced! By the time Susie came out I had educated myself, and society had moved on from when I was growing up in the 1950s, so I was more prepared. But I was sad that she had wasted her youth not able to be the person she felt she was, as it wasn't until the millennium when she was already 30, that she came home tearful, to tell us something so important.
I thought she must have had a cancer diagnosis, lost her teaching job or was expecting a baby without a partner! She had seen my (poor) reaction to our son coming out those ten years earlier. But when she said she was gay, I felt enormous relief and we opened a bottle of champagne, delighted that she could at last be the person she felt she was. In fact I had already guessed.
But then I felt, "How weird. Both our children are gay – I must have done something wrong!" I phoned up a support group and found that I was not unique – there were other parents with more than one LGB child. We were all different in the group – a crisis like this is certainly a social leveller – but it was so helpful to talk in confidence to other parents who also had LGB children and who understood my conflict of emotions. My grief, guilt and fears were shared and understood and have all now gone. I can now accept my children for who they are and support them in every way. I am proud of their achievements. My husband never had a problem, but he is an atheist and I was a church-goer, which also seemed to make acceptance more difficult.
We are a much happier, closer family now. This is why I set up New Road for the South Midlands area, as I knew I was not the only parent to have problems in accepting my children. In fact society has moved on again now, and most of the parents in the group have Trans children.
The day after her 12th birthday my daughter left me a note on my bedside table declaring she was a 12-year boy called Ryan. My whole world disintegrated.more less
We had had a tough start in another country. I had fled her abusive father 11 years previously. Having been forced to flee our family home, we found ourselves on the streets in Costa da Caparica where the British authorities picked us up, and family flew us back to the UK. We then spent six months in a refuge before being rehoused on a tough council estate where we found ourselves bullied as I had chosen to train as a teacher – clearly figures of authority weren't welcome in that neighbourhood.
My poor daughter did not have the most idyllic childhood yet we had remained a tight and formidable team from the word go. When my daughter "came out" it seemed I had lost everything I had fought for, my "raison d'être". After all I had been through – two more abusive partners – I could scarcely believe this was happening to me. I struggled to accept this latest challenge. As a teacher, you are trained to deal with other people's children's issues, but it does not happen to your own. I was a teacher and as such, an immune professional. Not so. I would drive around rather than go home after school. It felt like I had a complete stranger in my home and I longed to have my daughter back. I felt disconnected from this person occupying my daughter's princess-themed bedroom. I struggled with the new name and new pronouns and he was very unforgiving at the odd slip. I felt very angry at being put through yet more trauma.
As time went on many agencies supported us and helped me come to terms with my child's transgender status. Things got easier. His transgender status became the norm. Pronouns came to us both more naturally. Five years on and he is a wonderful young man of whom I am extremely proud, smart in his suit as he heads off to sixth form. A successful student, he is preparing an Oxbridge application, and he has a wonderful group of accepting friends. However, I have a collage of photos of the little girl he once was in my hallway, and I still miss her, but I have to accept that we have traded up for a young man.
We have had family therapy at Tavistock, and he is undergoing hormone therapy at UCL. The Gender Trust initially played a huge role in keeping me sane. But above everyone else, I owe my survival during the dark times five years ago to Margaret and her group. Without New Road Parents Support Group, my little family would not have survived the Trans journey. Our young man is already growing and developing happily into a successful adult, who is fully supported by his family.
We will never forget 6th June 2015. Whilst other families enjoyed a normal Saturday evening together, watching television, eating a meal or just doing family things, my husband and I found ourselves faced with a devastating letter from our 21 year old son.more less
He had sent it to me, via Facebook, and asked me to read it, and then let him know what we thought. As we read the words that said, "Mum, I'm transgender" we thought that the world as we knew it had come to an abrupt end.
Our night was filled with tears and the constant question "Why?"
What had we done, as his parents, to have caused this to have happened? Of course there were no answers, and we spent a miserable weekend, trying to be the supportive parents that our child needed, but also wondering what had happened to our world.
It was made harder for us as our child was away from home, at university in Leicester. We realise now that they had been struggling for a while, and being away from home had given them the opportunity to live their life as they wanted to.
We trawled the internet (foolishly) trying to find some answers and some advice, but found nothing that really spoke to us. We felt lost, and really in the wilderness, not knowing how best to deal with our own feelings and those of our child. In the end I sought some help from our GP, not really expecting him to be able to help us.
However, he pointed us in the direction of the New Road Parents' group, and gave me Margaret's email address. I can never put into words the feelings that we experienced the first time we attended a meeting. Suddenly we found that we weren't the only parents that were in this position, everyone was so welcoming and supportive. They helped us realise that we weren't to blame, and that our child was still the same person. Albeit she now wore make up and called herself Emily, but inside she had not changed. New Road has given us both immense strength and courage to deal with those people around us who are not supportive, and also to show the world that we are so very proud of our daughter, and all that she has achieved.
We now see her as a beautiful 23, nearly 24 year old young woman, with a promising career in biochemistry ahead of her. Although the memories of our son will never fade, we now have the strength to see our daughter as the wonderful young woman that she is. Without Margaret and the rest of the New Road Parents I don't know that we would have survived those early dark days. They truly saved us both.
It was quite frequent to have a little note left on our bed by our son for us to find when going to bed usually saying "I love you guys" or such like. Opening this note was a little different.more less
This note said "I have something to tell you guys, I'M GAY". Now to some parents, they may have had suspicions or not be surprised at their child's coming out, but this was totally left field, out of the blue. We had had no idea!.
Thinking back now, our lad had been quiet for a couple of weeks which was a bit unusual, but he was 13 and not long started high school so we didn't think too much of it. In reality, he was summoning up the courage to tell us. A massive leap of faith and trust!
His coming out was a huge shock that knocked the wind out of our sails and life stood still as we reviewed all the things we had done as parents. The biggest thing was that we felt like we didn't really know our son like we thought we did. It was like a sense of mourning because we had lost the son we thought we had and gained a new one, a stranger.
To be clear, we have never been homophobic and we have friends who are in the LGBTQI community, but this was closer to home than we had ever expected. All our thoughts and plans for ours son's future had evaporated in seconds. But that is a point in itself, our thoughts and plans, not our son's.
We found New Road Parents by chance looking for some help, support and guidance. To meet other people in similar situations was brilliant. The comforting thing was that all our mixed up turmoil of emotions was echoed by everyone in the room, we weren't alone at all. Everyone had experienced the same thoughts, doubts and emotions.
We are immensely proud of our son and his bravery for trusting us and coming out at such a young age. We still have moments of doubts and worries about the future, but our lad is a wonderful and caring person. What does it matter if he falls in love with another man as long as he is happy?