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Getting Better

Published Apr 3, 2010

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One of the most seemingly innocuous, yet powerful, observations I've ever heard from a PFLAG parent was the statement, "when I first walked in the door, I was sick.  And I'm still a little sick, but I'm getting better."

Literally, physically sick?  No.  This parent was suffering from the disease of homophobia.  And I'm willing to bet that he is joined by many, maybe most and possibly all of his fellow parents.

Why would I say this?  First, for most of us PFLAG parents, we are not personally familiar with GLBT people as a group.  Many of us grew up in a time when we heard lots and lots of anti-gay prejudice, jokes and remarks, and most of us also automatically associated gays with AIDS.  Homophobia was in the air we breathed.  It was a given.  Just for one example, I remember being taught as a child that most of the Nazi high command under Hitler was "homosexual," and that this explained their aberrant behavior.  Imagine that, when the truth was, of course, that gay people were horribly persecuted.  But these are the kinds of things that leave a lasting impression on a parent.

It's true that most of us had never examined our feelings towards GLBT people closely, until we were forced to by circumstances.  We find that, although familiarity may breed contempt, lack of familiarity breeds something worse: uneasiness, fear, and shame.

Being gay - or bisexual - or transgender - is not what most of us expected for our children.  It came to some of us as a rude surprise; to others as confirmation of long-held suspicions.  But, rarely did it come with the degree of happiness and joy that would have accompanied the disclosure that the child was a math prodigy, or an unbelievably talented swimmer, or was going to have beautiful, curly blond hair.  This, too, is a reflection of the straight sea in which most of us have spent our lives swimming: we didn't expect it, we certainly didn't wish it, and on some level we do not see it as "normal."

Notwithstanding, most parents know, intellectually, that they need to accept their GLBT child.  They also know that intensely anti-gay feelings probably won't be terribly popular at PFLAG meetings.  So, very often, parents' angry or sad feelings about their child's sexuality are expressed in terms of displeasure with the child's new same-sex partner.  A predatory gay person has "seduced" their child.  Or, the parent is furious at some aspect of the child's behavior, whether it's clubbing, or serial dating, or curfew violations, or wearing eyeliner.  It can help to try and view these behaviors through the "straight lens": would you still be so terribly unhappy if the partner or the behavior were part of the straight world?

Working out negative feelings is part of the process.  I would much rather have a parent come right out and say, I'm uncomfortable with this and I need some time to adjust to it, rather than displacing the anger onto some third party or issue.   It isn't horrid to admit that we don't know everything we need to know, or that not all of our feelings are rosy and positive.  But the sooner we realize we are sick, the sooner we can take the right medicine and get the right care, and start getting better.

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Jane Ferrall lives in Guilford, CT, where she and her husband of 20 years, Bill, enjoy their family of four children. Among her other interests and volunteer work, Jane was a founding member and is the moderator of the Greater New Haven/Shoreline chapter of PFLAG.

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LaMonte Miller
Apr 28, 2010 7:56am [ 1 ]

Well put, Jane. We have come so far and have farther to go.

-LaMonte, mother of a lesbian teen

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