I don’t know what my response would have looked like had Cooper come out at 12 instead of 16. I was extremely rigid in my faith and politics. My mindset changed some due to circumstances that played out over a short time. In the space of three years, I was informed three times, with three children, that doctors were looking for cancer. I spent years constantly going through the process of diagnosis and treatment, staring at life and death. I also had a child who literally was incapable of speaking for quite some time. My kids became teens and I began to put away my idealistic views and question the realities they were facing. It wasn’t until Cooper came out that I realized somewhere in my youth, I never formed my own thoughts about the LGBT community. (By the way, when my oldest had cancer, it was a gay doctor who saved her life with unusual expertise.)
Some years before Cooper came out, I suspected my niece, Melissa, might not be straight. I’d known her since she was 7 and I was 19. We had an otherwise close relationship (from my perspective), and I was sad that she wasn’t telling me what seemed obvious. I asked myself hard questions to figure out why she might not tell me. I didn’t like what I saw inside of myself. I lacked humility. I had life – moral, political, and spiritual – all figured out in my mind. I was comfortable dictating in the quiet of my mind how others should and shouldn’t live. Eventually, I recognized that the freedom I so greatly valued was not what I was offering to others. I was a hypocrite and that had to change. I decided at the very least I wanted her to feel loved if she were to ever come out to me. I formulated a few sentences I’d say to her if she ever felt safe enough to share with me. I ended up saying those sentences to my very own son when he came out to me.
Not everyone wants or needs to come out. From what I hear, it can be incredibly complicated and scary. Melissa eventually did come out to me as one who identifies as bisexual (though she isn’t crazy about labels). About a month later, we were alone. I stood facing her, put my hand on her arm, and said, “Do you know…that because you lived your life in such a way that your actions spoke of who you were, you prepared me for Cooper to come out? In this conservative family, you could have easily hidden and it would have been understandable and fine. But you chose to just be you.” Tears spilled onto our cheeks as I looked intensely in her brown eyes and managed to swallow the lump in my throat and say, “Melissa, I will be forever grateful to you for the courage you had to be true to who you are…..before you were out, and after.”
Are you ready? Sooner or later, someone WILL come out to you, UNLESS, they are convinced that their heart is not safe in your hands. To whom will they turn? I hope, in an effort to escape the pain of being rejected by the ones they love the most, they don’t turn to someone selling drugs or sex, as so many young people do. I hope they don’t have to wait until they’re 25 and have a solid income to let you into this aspect of their lives. It doesn’t have to be that way. You can prepare to tell them that you are so grateful they shared with you. You can share that how they identify sexually doesn’t change the way you see them. They will likely share even more with you because they need you or they wouldn’t be telling you in the first place.
If that feels difficult for you, you’re not alone. Here is a story of another family’s approach to their young gay son. It’s difficult to read, but if you don’t, the same things could happen to your loved ones. I am immeasurably grateful that she shared her story. Take a look: http://justbecausehebreathes.com/