I came across this image on Facebook today, and it’s been kind of boring a hole into my brain ever since. I found myself thinking, after posting it, about all of the stories I’ve heard about parents whose kid’s coming out completely changed the way they understood gender identity and sexual orientation. For instance, just recently I read this powerful story about a Southern Baptist minister’s experience at the realization that his son had AIDS. Though there are a good number of stories about homeless teens whose parents kicked them out when the youth came out, more and more it seems we are hearing stories of parents who’ve become advocates upon hearing that their child is gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.
After re-posting the image to my Facebook wall, I found myself trying to write a caption on the image, or comment on it – to somehow clarify that I know that parents will say things that their children will take to heart, to acknowledge that I’ve unintentionally hurt someone by making a short-sighted comment about a particular group, without realizing the offended person was a part of said group. I then thought maybe I should just not post the image, or give a longer explanation about why I posted it, for fear of unintentionally alienating someone who may feel some residual guilt for whatever they may have said at some point in time. My caption then seemed like it would be a better blog post…
The reason I decided to go ahead and post it is because it points out the particularities associated with GLBT people, particularly with GLBT youth. Because the development of identity and self-recognition is an evolving process, many GLBT people may not realize they are queer until they are into their teenage years, or even older – many who do realize it at a younger age often don’t come out until they are older. By that time, they’ve already soaked up a lot of the values of their parents and their environment (school, church, tv, etc). Coming out is scary enough in itself – it can be downright terrifying if you’ve heard only negative associations with queer people. Though the world is changing, there is still an overwhelming amount of negative talk around GLBT people – that kind of talk can weigh on a person after a while, and that weight can add up. Ideally, children will be born into a world and brought up in homes where they know it’s safe to be who they are.
But . . . well, children are human, and are raised by humans; as such, it is inevitable that they will come out of childhood with some baggage – it’s all part of the complexity of being in relationship. Life and love are complicated – they just are.
Words matter. It is important that parents know that, when they say hurtful things about LGBT people, they may be saying hurtful things about their children.
Words matter. Just as they can hurt, they can also heal; and, there is a whole lot to be said for a parent’s willingness to say “I’m sorry. I’m sorry that my words hurt you, or if anything I’ve said has in any way implied that I do not fully love you as you are.”
I have a good friend who once told me that she found a tremendous amount of freedom in recognizing that she could apologize to her children – that in being able to genuinely say “I’m sorry” for something she had done, she acknowledged to her child, and to herself, that she didn’t have to be perfect – that adults (parents even!) could mess up, too. In that willingness, she was also telling her children that they didn’t have to be perfect, that they would make mistakes, they would hurt one another, and be hurt by one another – and that grace and forgiveness would abound even in those moments.
Grace and forgiveness abound, even in those moments when we fear we have said something that cannot be taken back, even when our shame or fear or pain make it hard to forgive ourselves – grace and forgiveness abound.