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So your son has come to you and told you what he’s feeling. Or you’ve noticed the difference in his actions or your daughter’s outfits. As a parent, you feel a panic besiege you, knowing full well how the world treats people like them, even when they’re young. You recall the taunts you’ve heard growing up, directed at some poor kid and maybe even to you.
You think of your gay colleagues, many of whom are still cruising as adults, most still hiding their nature from their families. You feel protective of your child and would like to shield him from pain. You did not raise a child to be treated poorly, and it’s just natural for a parent to look after their offspring. You decide your child is not going to be treated that way.
But the task of changing the world is too big and cumbersome, so you decide the change is going to come from your child. You ask that he or she not be “like that,” as if it were a habit like saying a dirty word. God doesn’t want you to be that way, you say, because you can’t fathom as a parent saying you don’t like how your own child looks and acts. You cite examples for him like the neighborhood bakla you’ve assumed is lonely and alone. You mention your lesbian relative, and you say she will never have a family, or be a wife and a mother. So don’t be like that, you tell your daughter. I won’t have it. This is for your own good.
Dear parent, I ask at the very least that you be careful about your speech because someone is listening. They are gauging whether you will love them as they are, even before they let you in on what they’ve known about themselves. Be careful of the silence that ignores them when they’ve finally revealed it. It is as dismissive as spoken words saying, “Do not be who you are.” Your child has waited and terrified himself about the day he tells you he’s not the child you wanted. Your silence kills your acknowledgment of your own child.
Why do I care?
I am asking for your attention because every day a child runs to me because her mother told her she should drop out of school if she won’t stop being gay. I’m writing this because a father threatened his daughter that he will kill any girl she loves. I’m telling you this because a boy just made a secret Twitter account to tell me he feels so alone and wants to die. I hope to God he is not your child, because I’m pretty sure you’d rather have a gay son than a dead one. Or would you?
But you won’t know this because you refuse to discuss what you think is an anomaly. She won’t tell you because you told her it wasn’t natural and that she needs to behave when you’re around. Meanwhile they run to me and find solace in my well-intentioned but sometimes misguided words. They tell me I’m the only one who makes them feel like a human being, and that listening to me makes them feel alive.
But I’m not human, at least not through a laptop monitor and another hemisphere away. I’m not there at your house with the ability to make those tears go away. I’m not there for a hug, and I’m most definitely not a parent. I’m simply a stranger who is telling your son he will be okay. But will he?
I’m not so sure, especially when the computer is off and your kid is being teased and bullied in school but he can’t run to you because you agree with what his tormentors are saying. You’ve told him that he is wrong and he needs to change because his kind isn’t liked by God. He knows you also think he is going to hell.
I don’t know if everything will be fine, because your daughter just came out to you as a transgender man and you decided to deny it by making him wear women’s clothes at home. Do you know that’s as horrifying as making your husband do the same? Do you know that your new son is taking testosterone shots he gets from a questionable source online? Do you know that because you refused to acknowledge his identity, he won’t ask for help in finding a good doctor to help him transition? He’s already looking at cheaper options for sexual reassignment surgery without your input because he knows you would never understand. He’d rather risk the dangers of self-prescribed hormones (cancer, aneurysms, death, etc.) and go under less experienced surgeon’s knives to be the person you’re rejecting, but is closer to who he truly is, no matter what the outcome. Don’t you think he needs your help now more than ever in his life?
Be a friend
I am your child’s friend, or so they say when they send me a note in tears, telling me nobody else understands. I’m even a big sister who will guide them in the way I think is right. But I’m not their parent. I’m not the first choice in the source of love and acceptance in their lives. You are. I also will never know your child the way you do. At night I turn my computer off, I sleep, and I get tired of what I could simply treat as a hobby. Tomorrow I could decide I no longer want to be your child’s confidant. Then what?
Others will come. Most of them will be kind and be good role models. But some will not. Some will prey on your son’s feeling of loss and abandonment. Someone will teach your daughter the wrong kind of acceptance and confuse it with desire. Still others will convince them that love is in casual sex, or in drugs, or in reckless behavior.
Will you blame your child for not knowing the difference between an insincere and manipulative love, and the real love you’ve denied? I know you didn’t want a gay child, but here he is now and he is gay. He also cannot change. You may blame who you want and say what you want, but one thing I know you never wanted was to create a child you wouldn’t love.
Five things to say to your gay child today
1. I’m sorry. For not knowing sooner, for not being there, and for saying hurtful things. I didn’t know then, but I know now.
2. I may not always understand you but I am here to learn from you. Please let me help.
3. Nobody loves you more than I do, no matter how you look and who you love.
4. I am here for you and will listen to what you need from me.
5. When I react negatively, I am just so afraid you’ll get hurt and I want to protect you. Promise me you’ll look out for yourself, and prioritize your future, then I will feel all right.
Shakira Andrea Sison is a Palanca Award-winning essayist. She currently works in finance and spends her non-working hours answering questions in subway trains. She is a veterinarian by education and was managing a retail corporation in Manila before relocating to New York in 2002. Follow her on Twitter: @shakirasison and on Facebook.com/sisonshakira.