Keeping Families Together
The Asian And Pacific Islander Family Pride Blog
April 30, 2012
Should You Tell Your Parents? Why Not? Or, You Have Told Your Parents. Now What?
By BELINDA AND JOHN DRONKERS-LAURETA
We held a workshop a few days ago. It was interactive where through personal stories we guide participants in a discussion about the difficulties of coming out, both for API LGBT persons and their parents. Friends from other organizations came to help and there were five of us facilitators. We broke the sixty or so participants into groups and discussed coming out from the API LGBT children point of view and the point of view of parents. Our part of the workshop is to relate our experience as parents when our son came out.
Coming Out Remains Difficult
We continue to be surprised. Despite today’s far greater visibility, despite the many legal advances, for API LGBT people coming out remains a fearful prospect. Over half of the workshop participants were not out to their parents and over the many years we have done these workshops the questions remain the same. There are no answers to many of these questions. Coming out will always be an intensely personal process and each person is different. We gather personal stories to reach for when people ask questions, but no matter how many stories we collect, and we have literally hundreds, and regardless of the guidelines we tease out of our stories, there is a gap between the story and the reality of the person who asks the question.
When Children Come Out, Parents Go In The Closet
In addition to all our resource material, in these workshops we hand out a sheet of paper titled: “Challenges to Acceptance.” One side lists the difficulties LGBT children have coming out to their parents, the other lists difficulties parents have when their children come out to them. These two lists are put together from the many stories we have collected over the years bolstered by research literature. The participants scan over the material and then come the questions: How did your son come out? How long did it take you to accept him? What were you most afraid of? These questions we can answer because we own the answers. But inevitable the questions change when participants try to project their parents’ possible reaction to what they hear ours was. What do you do when . . .? What if . . .? Would you do . . .? We no longer have answers. We provide guidelines acutely aware that the person who asked must make the guideline his or hers. That is, he or she must take a general rule and apply it to his or hers uniquely private situation.
Make Information Yours To Apply
One of our fundamental guidelines is to maintain the relationship with your parents. Your parents are in disbelief, in shock even, but don’t disappear, or, in the words of one participant long ago, don’t let them work it out by themselves. They cannot. They have questions and don’t know where to go for the answers. Stay close, they may ask you.
This guideline is of course dependent on the existing parent/child relationship. We had a close relationship with all our children and our gay son stayed in touch (he was at college on the East coast). He sent literature, he called and answered questions, we called to ask questions. It also depends on the child’s attitude. On the one hand there is the “I don’t want to lose them,” view, on the other there is the “If they don’t like me the way I am, it’s their problem” attitude, and every nuance in between.
Finally, it depends on the parents’ attitude. When the workshop ends, some linger to ask more questions. One did so this time to ask what to do when a father says: “Don’t bother me with this. You live your life the way you want to.” We counseled to have patience, the response is encouraging: “Your father is working at it and he did not disown you.” “How long will take for him to accept me?” No good answer to that. It took us two years and we are still learning. We know of parents taking more years than that and we know of parents who never have “that conversation.”
Our friends who helped us had a complaint we have also heard many times before: the workshop does not give us enough time. But then: how much time would be enough time? There is so much need for conversation, there are so many concerns, there are so many questions.
Belinda and John Dronkers-Laureta are board members of Asian & Pacific Islander Family Pride www.apifamilypride.org