I’ve mentioned “The Four Steps” that I followed to help me come to terms with my father’s transition from male to female. We’ve covered Step #1 – Grieve, and now it’s time for Step #2 – Distance.
By the end of the grief process, you have (hopefully) accepted the loss of your parent as you knew him or her. And now that you have grieved and accepted, it is time to move on to the next step of the healing process. Once again, moving on may be difficult because although your parent is gone in the way you used to perceive him or her, he or she is also still physically there.
This is a recurring challenge faced by children in these types of situations, and perhaps the most confusing. To grieve the loss of someone who is still physically there…it’s hard to explain.
In addition, there might not be much time for you to process your parent’s new life choice, especially if he or she is jumping right into hormone replacement therapy, participating in a new lifestyle, or moving far away. There may come a point where everything going on simply becomes overwhelming, and this is where distance becomes a necessity. It is the only thing that will allow you to step back and regroup so eventually you can evaluate the situation with a rational, unbiased frame of mind. Distance is step #2 for a reason: it leads you to step #3 in The Four Step process.
This distance need not be entirely physical, but emotional too. Especially if you are a minor and still living with your parent, physical distance may be difficult. However, you can still do things that allow you to “get away.” Spend time with friends, participate in extracurricular activities and sports, or become involved with youth groups at your church or in your community. You need to distance yourself from the situation, focus on yourself and your interests, and take care not to let your parent’s new lifestyle depress or influence your happiness.
Unfortunately, this isn’t easy. It may be difficult to even understand and recognize that the situation is negatively affecting you.
As for myself, I had told myself from the beginning of my father’s transition that “everything is ok, I’m ok with it.” However, as the months passed and I found myself having trouble sleeping, paying attention in class, missing deadlines and assignments, losing friendships I had for years, and feeling anxious and utterly helpless in my own life I realized that I was not ok with what was happening at all.
Although I was a college student living about an hour and a half away from my childhood home and the city where my father was living, and thus physically removed from the situation, I had not distanced myself emotionally. My father’s transition was influencing my happiness and distracting me from living my own life. I was still trying to retain my old life, “everything is ok,” when in fact my life was different and would never be the same.
For me, healing distance came in two forms: with the help of a counselor and my Peace Corps service. I recommend seeking the help of a counselor/therapist for every child in this type of situation. Joining the Peace Corps, however, is something I can’t recommend for everyone.
I dreamt of living and working in Africa since I was a young child, and decided early on that I wanted to join the Peace Corps after college before going to graduate school. I don’t believe that anyone should join the Peace Corps simply to get away from problems at home, however it does provide a great opportunity for learning about yourself and for being alone with your own thoughts. Although my primary objective in the Peace Corps was to serve in my local community and learn about my host country, my service taught me so much about myself and helped me grow in countless ways. It also helped me distance myself from my father’s transition and accept that my relationship with him/her will never be the same as before.
Once you have distanced yourself to the point where you can look at the situation and say something along the lines of “This isn’t ok, but I accept that it happened” you are ready for the next step.
Once again my home state of Arizona has made the headlines, and not in a good way. When the SB 1062 bill passed through the state legislature last week, it launched a series of debates, protests, and sparked national (and international) interest.
Thankfully, Governor Jan Brewer vetoed the bill on Wednesday, February 26th, saying, among other things, “It could divide Arizona in ways we cannot even imagine and nobody could ever want.”
The bill was described by social conservatives as a form of religious liberty protection. If passed, this type of bill would allow individuals and businesses to refuse service to other individuals if doing so would “substantially burden their exercise of religion.” Simply: a business owner could cite their religious freedom as reason to refuse service to someone based on race, religion, or sexual preference. Such a bill would undoubtedly give way to unintended discrimination against many groups of people, most notably the LGBT community.
I’m sure that some of the legislators who wrote the bill had genuine intentions to protect religious liberty in the state of Arizona. However, I am also sure that others who supported the bill had darker intentions. And these types of intentions scare me.
Whichever side of the political spectrum you stand on, bills like these mean trouble for states and their citizens. Such a bill not only affects the LGBT community, but those connected to those communities: friends, family, and the children of LGBT parents.
I love my LGBT parent and I cannot bear to think that she would face persecution and discrimination in her own state.
I would like to know if the Arizona legislators who supported the bill even considered the implications for children of LGBT parents.
Sadly, I doubt it.
Do we want to live in a world where a family goes in to a restaurant, only to be turned away because the family is a gay couple with their two small children? Do YOU want to be the person to discriminate against a community of people in front of their innocent children? These are the questions I want to ask Arizona legislators.
I think that the children of LGBT parents have enough issues to worry about, and that being turned away from a business should NEVER be one of them.
I commend Governor Brewer for vetoing the bill, and I can only hope that such legislation is never passed again.
For more info:
When your parent comes out to you later in life, a part of your childhood is lost.
The parent that you knew growing up is no longer there. Yes, your parent is still physically present and he or she is still the “same,” but now there is a new part of your mom or dad that you have to get to know. A part you may have never dreamed of and may not understand. And there is a part you will have to let go.
If your parent is transgender, there is an entirely new person you will have to get to know.
The first thing you are going to experience is grief, even if you support and love your parent and retain a positive relationship during the process. You must allow yourself to grieve the loss of your parent as you knew him/her.
But my parent isn’t dead, so why am I experiencing grief?
This is a question I asked myself during the early stages of my dad’s transition. I was frustrated with myself for not being able “to handle” the situation.
Why am I sad and depressed? My dad is alive! People are worse off than me.
Things become clearer with time. And with the help of a counselor, I began to realize that even though my dad is still living, my Dad from my childhood is gone.
Many people are familiar with the “5 Stages of Grief.” I found that they applied to my experience during my dad’s transition.
Here are the stages of grief, as outlined by pyschiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross:
The following are examples from my case.
Denial: I would tell myself, everything’s ok, nothing has changed! I’m ok with this! I’ll deal with it later.
Anger: How could my dad do this to me? How could he do this to my brother and my mom? Why out of all the families in the world did it have to be ME?
Bargaining: For me, this was beseeching God for help.
Depression: Trouble sleeping, anxiety, withdrawal from friends, and trouble maintaining personal relationships. I had trouble keeping up with schoolwork, concentrating during class, I got into arguments with friends, and felt out of control in my life.
Acceptance: I came to a point where I realized I couldn’t change what happened. What’s done is done, and I must move on. I had to learn to let go and at the same time take control. It was hard, even for a so called “adult.”
So take the time, and let yourself grieve. Seek professional help if necessary and let yourself cry – I’m talking to you too, boys.
Here’s a link to a website with some good information about coping with grief and loss:
Your dad has just told you he is gay and your parents are getting a divorce.
Your mom tells you that her good friend Linda is actually her lover and they are moving in together.
Your dad tells you that he has begun hormone replacement therapy and will begin living as a woman in the next six months.
What can YOU, the child of a LGBT parent, do?
You can protect yourself. You can stand up for yourself and voice your opinion about the situation. Your parent’s decision to come out is his or her decision and is not your fault. You may be happy for your parent, you may be angry. THAT’S OK!
Even if you are a minor and must continue to live with your parent(s), you can ask them to refrain from talking about the situation in front of you, to give you space, and let you come to terms with it on your own time. You may not want to talk about it with anyone right away. THAT’S OK!
You may find that sports, poetry, music, or art can help you release some of your worries and frustrations. You may still want to interact with your parent and be curious about the process. You may want to talk to a close friend about the situation. You can choose what you want to do and your parents should respect and help you achieve this.
If you are already of legal age and out of the house, your situation will be less complicated. You won’t have to deal with custody issues or finding space in your own home. However, you may have different issues to contend with.
Your parent may ask to stay with you at your place or if you can help him/her move out. You can decide whether or not you are able to do something like this. And if you can’t right away, THAT DOES NOT MAKE YOU A BAD SON/DAUGHTER.
At some point, a child in each of these scenarios is going to need to step away from the situation for a little while. Maybe just for a few days, weeks, and maybe even a year or two. If you are a minor this can mean you choose to live with only one of your parents or you ask that they don’t include you in conversations about the divorce, new lifestyle, etc. whenever possible.
During this time there are four steps that you can follow to help you come to terms with the situation.
So let’s begin with the first step. #1: Grieve.
Whew. After an eventful holiday season it’s time to get back to reality.
For my first post of the new year, I want to get back to the grief process. I closed “The Grief Process: Part 1” with the following question: how do we foster a meaningful and loving relationship with this new person in our life?
Truth be told, it isn’t easy.
Here is the breakdown of what this process was like for me:
I believe following these four steps can help you come to peace with the loss of your parent as you knew him/her, find comfort and strength in yourself, and help you form a new, healthy relationship with your parent.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a perfect recipe for how to deal with this type of situation. When a parent comes out to his/her child there are a lot of different emotions to grapple with. Not to mention that some children may be too young to be able to comprehend the situation fully.
You may never want to reconnect with your parent, but I believe that it is possible and ultimately the culmination of the healing process.
In the next few posts I will explore each of the four steps fully, offering personal insight and strategies for getting through this type of situation.
A special holiday gift…
As I was flipping through the pages of my December issue of Vogue magazine, I came across a wonderful article entitled “Taking Pride,” by Katherine Bernard. The article features Danish model Josephine Skriver and her experience growing up with gay parents.
Needless to say, I was feeling all warm and fuzzy reading about another child with LGBT parents during the holiday season and had to put it in the blog! I commend US Vogue for including such an article in their magazine and hope to see more of them in the future. Just another reason why the magazine will remain a favorite in my coffee table collection.
Here is a link directly to the article itself:
A link to the entire December issue of US Vogue:
And a link to an article about the lovely Josephine Skriver:
This is the first post in a series of posts devoted to understanding the grief process that surrounds a parent’s coming out to his or her child later in life. Please keep in mind that I can’t speak for the children who grow/grew up knowing that their parent(s) are LGBT, only for children who experience situations similar to mine.
One of the most difficult aspects of my father’s transition, for me, has been the crazy emotions that hover around it.
On the one hand, I love my Dad and support her no matter what. And on the other hand, I struggle to come to grips with the fact that I lost the “Dad” I knew and grew up with. When a parent comes out to you, you lose something. There’s no easy way around it. It may be the image you have developed of your parent, a sense of trust, the sense of comfort in family, what have you.
But the bottom line remains: you lose something.
It may be hard to pinpoint, even more so by the fact that you still have your parent – he or she is living and breathing. There is no physical loss, but there is a marked emotional one. I struggled to come to terms with this feeling, and it was difficult for the people around me to understand what was going on.
I felt pretty alone during the first few months after my Dad announced her decision to transition. It was hard to find support, even in my own family. I was unsure of how to approach my Dad at first, my younger brother didn’t want to talk about it (can’t blame him) and my Mom had her own emotions to contend with. I can’t blame my family and friends for not knowing how to reach out to me, it’s a difficult and uncommon situation. But I wish that someone had been there to say, “I’m really sorry.”
Part of the problem is the nature of my specific situation: it is so uncommon (at least publicly) that people are fascinated. When I told some of my friends about the situation with my Dad, some of them responded with “That’s cool” or “How interesting.” Looking back on it, yes, it is an extremely unique and formative experience. But at the time, I was still getting over the initial shock of losing the image I had of my Dad for 20 years and trying to figure out what this all meant for my family; namely my Mom and brother who were also experiencing some really tough emotions. In short, it wasn’t cool or interesting. It was really hard.
Then there is also the problem of political correctness. Of course we want to support people who come out, as it is a brave and difficult thing to do, but we must also respect the fact that their coming out can effect the people around them. I’m sure that some people may think that if they say something like “I’m really sorry” to the child of a LGBT parent that they are admonishing the LGBT community.
I say: not so.
By making such a comment, you are simply reaching out to the child of a LGBT parent and acknowledging that he or she has a difficult road ahead.
If I had to give advice to the friends and family of children who go through this experience, I would say this: pretend that the child has lost a parent. If someone loses a parent or loved one we are supportive, loving, and kind. We grieve with the person who experienced this loss and understand that the love the child had for his or her parent is still very real despite the physical loss.
This is exactly the case for children with LGBT parents who come out to them later in life. We have lost our parent, at least in the sense that we knew him or her, and are grieving. Yet we still love our parent. We need understanding and sympathy, support and love. We must be given time to grieve. The only critical, and most confusing, aspect of our situation is that our parent is still physically there.
So now the question becomes, how do we foster a meaningful and loving relationship with this new person in our life?