Coming Out, Coming Home – Gay Teens and Their Families
by Beth Garascia
In the book Coming Out, Coming Home author Michael C. LaSala shares with readers the results of a study comprised of data collected from a multi-cultural sample of sixty-five gay youth and seventy-six of their parents. The focus of the study is the reaction of the parents to their discovery that a son or daughter is gay, the effects this has on the youth, and what factors help or hinder parental adjustment. He describes five stages that families go through, ultimately discovering that families of gay youth in general had the depth and persistence to stay together despite everything.
As a parent of two gay young adults, I was struck by many of LaSala’s findings. One of them is his description of being gay as a stigma. He describes the beginning of the coming out process as a slow dawning in young persons that something is wrong; they feared that if their loved ones suspected what their sexual feelings were, the youth would become “objects of rejection and abuse”. He labels this as stigma, the definition of which is a personal quality or condition that is considered deviant and diminishes the bearer’s worth and status. Because coming out often occurs during the teenage years, the fact that they are different is one more way gay teens feel they are outsiders during a time when they desperately want to be a part of the crowd.
So despite what some describe as a widespread acceptance of gay persons in our society, as evidenced by TV personalities such as Ellen Degeneres and Anderson Cooper, and shows such as “Glee”, and “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy”, many young people still experience a great deal of inner turmoil in the process of discovering that they are gay. In the midst of their pain and anguish, some fear feeling further isolated by a possible lack of acceptance by their families.
For those who are fortunate enough to feel assured that they will be accepted for who they are by family members, there is a different concern, this being that their parents may be blamed or stigmatized for the sexual orientation of the teen. It is still believed by some that it is a domineering mother and a distant father that causes homosexuality, so youth fear that others will see a less than ideal family life as the cause for their sexual orientation.
Once the young person has revealed that he or she is gay, parents and other family members go through a coming out process of their own. A grief reaction is a common initial reaction for parents, in conjunction with blaming themselves and worrying. Once these emotions are dealt with, parents must decide whether to share the news and with whom. Ultimately, if the family together can find ways to deal with the discrimination and prejudice, they can grow closer as a unit.
As a safe place where gays are welcome, MLC’s and Marianist parishes could provide an environment where families who are working out this process feel supported. This can only happen if being gay is accepted as normal in our communities. Only then will our GLBT members be accepted for the wonderful people they are.