There’s something so empowering about finding a strong bond with your mom as you grow older. And this Mother’s Day we want to honor all the moms of LGBTQ kids who support and love us through it all. So many of these moms also become chosen moms of other LGBTQ youth who maybe haven’t found as much acceptance in their own family.
Mother-daughter relationships can be complex and messy to navigate, especially as you evolve into your adult years. For me, the process of coming out to my mom was filled with so much anxiety and anticipation — but in the end, it made us closer because we worked intentionally to better understand one another. Many LGBTQ children struggle with familial acceptance still today — and our queer family holds us up in those moments to help us get through. So, moms who get it and put in the effort to find empathy and understanding for their queer children deserve a little extra loving this year.
We wanted to hear directly from some of these moms about their experience with their children coming out to them and what advice they can lend to other parents of LGBTQ children. We have so much work to do to find full acceptance for queer and trans youth in this world — and parental allies can play a large role in pushing equality forward.
Happy Mother’s Day to all the queer mommas, mothers of queer kids and chosen mothers. You all deserve to be celebrated and loved this weekend (and every day tbh).
What did you think when your children came out to you?
Linda (my mom)
It was for me, a time when I had to kind of almost rethink the preconceived notion I had for your future. I had to kind of get my head wrapped around what the future would look like for you and for our family. And how that changed from the general notion that I had — the one that society feeds you.
I always considered my daughter and I to have a close relationship, so when she called me ten years ago upset and in tears, I was certain it was either that she was having trouble at the school where she was teaching or possibly with a guy she’d been seeing. I knew it was serious though, so I prepared myself… prepared myself to be the encourager, to be a shoulder to cry on, or maybe even the voice of reason. When I heard the words “I’m gay” the plan changed. I didn’t see that coming. At first, I felt as if I couldn’t breathe. Had I heard correctly? Maybe I misunderstood. When I realized it was true, I began to feel confused. Questions were everywhere. Why? How long had she felt this way? How did I miss it?
I don’t remember much about the conversation after that even though we talked for quite awhile. I do remember how I felt after saying goodbye. I felt sadness. Sad for what I thought her life would be. It didn’t take me long to move out of this phase and into my processing mode. What is this going to look like from now on and what is my role as her mom? Basically, what’s next?
It’s been a challenging ten years, full of ups and downs. But I feel like we’re at a good place. A place that works for us. My daughter is till just as amazing as before, maybe even more so. She has a wonderful wife who loves and supports her, and we love her for that and for who she is. They’re good together. What else could a mom ask for?
Each of my three children had a different way of coming out to me.
My oldest came out to me one morning in 2011 when she was home from college. It was very early morning as I was heading out to work when she told me she was gay. I remember thinking, “I wish I wasn’t so rushed right now so that we could really talk — this is a big moment!”
I was confused when soon after she came out as gay, she told me that she was actually queer. I remember sitting on the porch while she patiently explained that queerness was not the derogatory, hateful word it was when I was growing up. And that it meant she could, in the future, be attracted to anyone along the gender spectrum. Oh, and that there WAS a gender spectrum. I had a lot to learn.
There was no coming out moment (that I remember) for my youngest daughter. At one point during high school, she casually mentioned that she and almost all of her friends were queer. By then I had a pretty good grasp of the term and I thought it reflected the times that, unlike my oldest daughter, she didn’t feel like she had to announce anything to us. Later on she called herself bi, and once again I realized that my understanding of gay rights and gay issues were still a little stuck in the 1970’s.
Sometime later, my middle daughter who had graduated college started dating a woman after having had a number of serious boyfriends. Again, she didn’t “come out” or in her case, want to label herself. Since then, she has called herself bi. I also noticed that by the time my younger and middle daughters began dating women, they did not have to announce it to the world or to their parents. The culture was shifting, at least in our east coast urban world.
At first I worried — will she be happy? Will she be able to find a life partner who will be the right compliment to her own personality and abilities? Somehow I thought that if the partner wasn’t of the opposite gender that it wouldn’t be a good match.
I wasn’t prepared as Zara was still coming to terms with her sexual identity herself. Besides that, I couldn’t give a damn that she is gay! I love her and that’s that!!
How have you grown to understand LGBTQ identities better since then?
I’ve learned what are hurtful things to say and what are acceptable things to say. For me, just understanding what some of these terms mean has been helpful. Like when you say the word queer — when I was growing up that was bad. My mom would’ve told me not to say that word, that it wasn’t nice. But then how you explained it to me in taking ownership of that word and reestablishing that as your identity — that took some education and talking it out.
I think that now I feel more in a position where I can educate other people. Like even when I say “my daughter is queer” people tell me not to say that because it’s offensive! And I let them know that it’s not and explain it the way you did to me. I think I have explored and learned enough to start educating other people.
For the most part, I’ve always treated people as individuals to be taken just as they are — valued and without judgment. While I’m not perfect, I do try to show love and kindness to all. I do think, though, that because of my daughter and her encouragement, I have become more sensitive and sympathetic to the daily struggles of all LGBTQ peoples.
I’ve been eager to learn as much as possible since my oldest first came out to us. And I’m still learning. At first I learned the basics from my daughters — what is the difference between gender identity and sexuality? Why are pronouns so important? What do transgender and transsexual mean? They have helped me understand that language does matter, and to be patient that the language is shifting. Now we continue the conversations and the questions. I try to do my own research so that I can educate myself and my co-workers and friends.
Now I get that it’s not about gender — that you should be able to love and commit to the person who feels the most right for you and that that love shouldn’t be regulated by an outside government force or other people’s opinions because it’s such a big life decision and a personal one.
I have always surrounded myself in the gay community, but Zara has taught me a lot about all gender identifications that I wasn’t aware of. I love that it takes all to make a world!
What advice would you give to parents of queer children who are struggling to find understanding for them?
I would say try to talk to as many people as you can who you can find an ally in. I met up with Luis [queer identified friend] after you came out and said “here’s what Corinne just shared with me and I need to talk to someone about this.” And I met with my Aunt Sue, who has a lesbian daughter. One of the most beautiful things she said to me was “Corinne is still the exact same person; she has not changed. She’s still the same girl you love. This doesn’t change anything about that.” And that clicked for me like — oh, yeah, you’re right about that!
The advice I would share comes in the form of advice from another parent of a queer child. After much prayer and study, my faith agreed. Your child is just that — your child. Something has definitely changed, but not that fact. And you are still the parent. Your job hasn’t changed. You still need to love and accept them the way they are not the way you want them to be. Isn’t that what you were doing before they came out? You don’t have to agree with them, but you do need to genuinely love them and show it. Do the things you’ve always done to show your love. Make them their favorite dinner. Let them curl up on the couch with you so you can play with their hair. Be their parent. Encourage and support them in whatever way you can.
I know that all parents don’t come to the same decision that I did. The journey is different for everyone. You have to do what works for you. Just give the relationship a chance. You’ll miss so much if you don’t.
I know parents in my baby boomer generation — those who view themselves as progressive and not homophobic — who are surprisingly hostile and dismissive of concepts like queerness, being on the gender spectrum, and using “they” pronouns. I’m not sure why. (Or maybe that’s for a different conversation.)
But if these same parents struggle to understand their own LGBTQ children, I would suggest to them: learn, learn, learn as much as you can and don’t stop learning! Yes, ask your kids, but also educate yourselves apart from them.
Simply Googling “what is nonbinary gender,” or “what is cisgender” or “what is top surgery” is easy and helpful. Ask questions, read lots of articles. Be nonjudgmental, listen, be curious, and be as loving as you would about any issue with your kids. Maybe examine your own discomfort with the topic. What experiences or feelings or cultural messages did you absorb growing up that make it hard for you to address LGBTQ issues now? Why do you roll your eyes when asked to reveal your own pronoun? And especially be willing to mess up and apologize and expect that the language and the understanding of LGBTQ issues will continue to change. Be happy that our kids live in a time when many of them can be their true selves — and we can all learn and talk about this. And marvel at how cool it is that younger folks have allowed us to be free to explore different aspects of our own gender and sexuality!
I think the best thing a parent can try to do is help their child feel valued and respected. You’re always going to come across people that like you or dislike you or judge you too quickly or unfairly. You can’t protect your kids from the rest of the world, you just have to give them the tools to navigate it and to be proud of who they are and to know that their family loves them.
To just love and support them is the most important thing! Help them access other queer kids via the internet or social situations so they don’t feel alone.