Gender Identity: There are many intersecting factors in the life of LGBT people that may determine their well being and mental health. One of the most influential factors, especially in the life of LGBT youth, but also while growing up, is the support of one’s family. People’s first circle of socialization is their family, and usually we form some of the most important emotional bonds with our parents, siblings, grandparents, or cousins, and we learn to rely on them and to trust them with our issues, concerns, and needs.
However, living in a homophobic and transphobic society often troubles family life and loosens these valuable bonds, especially when someone’s relatives make clear from the very beginning how unsupportive they will be if an LGBT member externalizes how they feel and what they identify as in terms of either sexuality or gender.
Many of us internalize homophobic and transphobic feelings due to our upbringing, and we have real trouble accepting who we are when we grow older. We may grow in a hostile household or, even if that is not the case, we have that innate social fear that people will not accept us no matter how supportive they are when it comes to other issues. Not all of us feel safe to come out, and those who do often have to deal with arguments, a lack of understanding and support, or even abuse from the loved ones. Thankfully, many families are very supportive, but we need to educate society so that it learns to accept its children and embrace all their unique traits, expressions and identities.
So, what would we as LGBT people say that we need our family to understand concerning our identities, and how can those who wish to be close to us become more supportive
We understand that it may be hard for you to accept certain things you are not yet familiar with, but the first step in understanding us and figuring out how you can best support us – if that’s what you want – is listening to what we tell you. Instead of resting on your assumptions based on what you have heard about us by others, try to put yourself in our shoes and give priority to the things we tell you about our experiences and identities. Many of your fears and anxieties may go away if you share our view in things.
2. Take your time.
You are entitled to your feelings, it’s normal do need some time and space to process what is perceived as a change in the life of a loved one. You can take all the time you need, as long as you try to take it easy and respect us while processing the information you’ve got or dealing with how you feel about it.
3. Understand that coming out takes much courage.
Coming out, especially when you don’t have the affirmation of a positive reaction from your loved ones, may be one of the hardest things most LGBT people will have to go through. Usually it takes much courage and we need people on the receiving end to try and be as understanding as possible, even if it’s hard for them. Opening up to someone about your sexuality or gender means that you trust them and want to be honest with them – it means that you want them in your life. This is why we need the people to whom we come out to treat this moment with the according respect.
4. Ask yourself why this bond is important to you.
Do you love your sister because you think she’s straight? Do you love your child because you think they are a boy or girl? When expecting a child and asked whether it’s a boy or a girl, most people answer that they don’t care as long as it is healthy and happy. Why should that only apply before the baby is born? Shouldn’t it also apply when they’re 17?
If you love your child, what does it matter if you learn that they’re not a boy as you thought you were. Is their gender or sexuality what made your relationship important? As long as your child has not harmed to anybody, there’s no reason to not feel the same as you did about them, and please keep in mind that a relative is not trying to cause any harm to you by coming out.
5.Remember that we are not necessarily obliged to conform to your religion/beliefs/political views.
The sexuality or gender identity of a person in your family may go against some of the teachings of your religion, some of your moral or political views, but that doesn’t mean that people in your family are obliged to hold the same beliefs as you do. Many heterosexual people don’t follow the beliefs of their parents anyway.
It might also be the case that your relative does believe in the same things that you do, eg. religion, but they’re looking for some space for themselves in there. Especially if the teachings of your faith are those of love and acceptance, look for them too. Everybody should belong in their faith.
6. Do your research.
While we are more than happy to help you understand more things about ourselves, our existence doesn’t immediately acquire the purpose of fulfilling your curiosity or educating you on everything, especially if you demand it in a disrespectful way. You can ask us things about us that help you understand us, the people you love and care about, better. If your questions and curiosity go further than that, there are countless resources online, in books or films, in activist and support groups that probably exist in your area.
You are more than encouraged to look up and find more stories for and from people like us – as well as stories of relatives, friends and lovers of LGBT people, similar to your experience – in order to understand how our identities and communities work better. It always feels as a major validation when our loved ones give the time and effort to do the research on the things that affect our lives.
7. Again, listen. Take our word on several matters that affect us directly because we undoubtedly know better than you do.
If we tell you something about our experience in a way that you haven’t experienced it, please try to listen to that thing. In most cases it only makes sense that we have the most honest answers to your worries, provided that this is our identity we are talking about.
Instead of listening to what your local pastor, professor, or conservative psychiatrist says – while it’s very imporant for our community to find the support of some caring and open-minded professionals – try to listen to your kid, parent, or sibling first. They are the ones who go through it, so they know the real challenges, problems and positive things they are experiencing, better than most people.
8. Give up trying to “change us”.
I can’t stress this enough: you are going to fail. Better focus on being supportive and do what’s better for our health, security and emotional fulfillment, than investing effort into probably abusive tactics that are guaranteed to make our lives harder and will never succeed. While sexuality and gender identity may be fluid in itself, due to various psychological reasons, they can’t be subjected to any form of forced conversion successfully, and such efforts can only cause severe emotional pain to the victims.
9. Don’t manipulate, guilt-trip, or abuse us.
Don’t threaten us that if our father learns he’ll die. Don’t tell us that we’re doing this because we hate you. Don’t blame the family’s financial issues on us. Please don’t act like we’re doing this on purpose in order to punish you for something; we’re not. High chances are we’ve lived in fear and guilt for the biggest part of our lives already. We don’t need this.
10. Remember that some thing concern us, first and foremost, and may be none of your business.
There’s a limit to where your care, concern, anxiety or direction can apply, and this is the point where you start becoming invasive in ways that you shouldn’t. Some of the issues that concern us personally, and no one else, like the decision of whether we’re gonna settle down and marry, what we do in our beds, and how we express our gender, have nothing to do with you and you have no say in them.
Please, identify these limits by paying attention when we tell you to stop. For some issues, we simply won’t care what you think because this is our life, and we have no obligation to listen.
11. Don’t make it all about you.
First of all, no.
We are very grateful if you are supportive; no one should try to undermine the importance of it. However, don’t expect kudos every time you are literally being a decent human being. For example, not misgendering your trans kid doesn’t make you king of the allies: it simply makes you a non-asshole. Your support is extremely improtant, but don’t use it to blackmail us or to backlash it on us when things get tricky.
Give your feelings some time, deal with them, but after some point, please stop prioritizing them over our own when discussing our lives. Me being bi has to do with me, not with my entire family. I am going to be extremely grateful if they are supportive, but I am not going to erase and suppress my identity in order to not put them out of their comfort zone.
12. Don’t ignore what we ask of you and don’t act like it never happened.
We understand how a transition in your life and habits after the coming out of a loved one may be a bumpy, somewhat awkward process and it may make both of your feel uncomfortable on many occasions. However, acting like it never happened and ignoring the issue might only make the person you care for feel more uncomfortable, unwelcome and invalidated. If a relative came out as trans, they didn’t just do it to spice up Sunday table discussion. They did it because they needed to be heard, so don’t keep misgendering them and act like they never told you. If your daughter comes out as gay, don’t keep acting like she’ll find a nice guy and settle down in the suburbs.
13. Be open and ready to shift your ideas about the world.
This is literally what caring for people is about. This is literally what supporting is about. This is literally what the work of a parent, guardian, or grandparent is. Not only with LGBT children, but with every child, there most likely will be a generation gap with many cultural differences and contrasting values lying on either end of the spectrum. The job of a supportive parent is to try and open up their horizons by reminding themselves that society changes, and maybe what used to be considered good for youth when they were young, is not the same with what’s considered to be good today.
14. Stop saying homophobic/biphobic/transphobic things about other people.
You may accept your son but keep talking shit about a gay actor while watching TV. The fact that you are not directly talking about us doesn’t make it any less hurtful when you are dehumanizing our siblings.
15. Be supportive even when we aren’t watching.
Real support comes when the ally gets nothing – for example gratefulness – out of it. Please, don’t just be polite while we’re in the room. Using a person’s correct name and pronouns when they’re present but misgendering them behind their backs isn’t real support.
16. Seek support for yourself.
It’s normal if you find that all this is hard for you. We care for you as much as you care for us, and we want you to be well. It’s always a good idea to seek support intended for people who are going through the same things you are. After a certain point, we are the ones who need support when coming out or dealing with what comes with a marginalized sexual or gender identity, so we cannot always provide adequate support for you, but you can seek it from other allies. There are many support groups for relatives, lovers etc. of LGBT people, and they usually do an amazing job in creating safe spaces, informing, getting you in touch with your feelings, and make it easier for you to accept our identities.
Thank you for being by our sides! We care for you as much as you do!