While some individuals are able to come out as queer to their families and be embraced with a tremendous amount of support, others are immediately ridiculed, rejected, and made to feel unloved. Individuals with non-binary gender identities or non-hetero sexual orientations are already facing an uphill battle against a society that—to a dangerously dehumanizing extent—is still largely clinging to the “traditional” rejectionism of the past. The last thing they need are for their families to be rejecting them, too.
Yet, sadly, for many LGBTQ teenagers across the United States and elsewhere, coming out to their families can be a very difficult, uncomfortable, and negative experience. To the most extreme extent, some individuals are kicked out of their homes or physically and verbally abused. To a less extreme—but still morally wrong—extent, some individuals face difficulties feeling loved, accepted, or even acknowledged by their parents.
“It’s just a phase. You’ll grow out of it eventually.”
“Where did we go wrong with you?”
“I know you’re a boy (or girl)—I was the one who gave birth to you.”
“We’ll just send you to one of those ‘scared straight’ camps.”
“You’re just doing this for attention.”
These heartbreaking and ignorant responses from parents are all too well-known by many LGBTQ teenagers. You can try to diminish your parents’ reactions by telling yourself things such as “they are just old-fashioned”, or “they don’t know any better”, but at the end of the day, hearing any of these phrases is still never easy.
If you are a parent whose teenager recently came out, you need to realize that no amount of rejection can change who they fundamentally are as a person, or what they are feeling. Your job is not to reject your child, but to make them feel unconditionally loved and accepted. They need you as their rock more than you could even imagine.
If you are an LGBTQ teenager who just came out to your parents and were rejected, we know that the struggle you are experiencing is indeed very real. Though there unfortunately isn’t a “magic button” that can immediately lead to things being exactly as they ought to be, here are a few pieces of advice that can help:
Know that you are never alone.
There a few things that it is important for you to always remember:
- What you are feeling is normal and acceptable.
- There is nothing wrong with you.
- You are not the first, the only, nor the last person to have these feelings.
- Your identity is something you can be proud of.
One of the reasons that many LGBTQ teenagers struggle with coming out is they often feel alienated from the mainstream cis-het society they may have grown up surrounded by. These feelings of alienation can make you feel the need to conform to the binary identities your parents may be forcing upon you, but this simply does not need to be the case.
Across the United States—and all around the world—there are literally millions of LGBTQ individuals. The fact that millions of people can feel this way and that LGBTQ individuals have been known to exist in all cultures, classes, ethnicities, and groups just goes to show how normal you are.
But even if these numbers aren’t enough to make you feel a little more comfortable in the skin that you are in, there are a lot of people out there who can help you feel less alone.
Try to find a community that will accept you for who you are.
Even if you haven’t gotten the acceptance you were hoping for from your parents—who, admittedly, can be quite unpredictable at times—there are still other groups, people, and places out there that will indeed accept you for who you are.
- School (or even some church) groups
- LGBTQ support/rights groups
- Pride parades, rallies, and festivals
- Various teen resource centers
- 24/7 helplines
- Online communities of LGBTQ individuals who may have had an experience similar to yours
You are not alone in what you are experiencing, and there are a number of useful resources and communities that exist solely for the purpose of helping people realize just how worthy of love they really are. Though, of course, you naturally might hope that your parents could be this resource, even if they are rejecting you for the time being, that doesn’t mean you are still not worthy of being loved and accepted.
Even if you do not feel loved by your parents, try to learn to love yourself.
Ultimately, one of the reasons being rejected by your parents after coming out to them can be so emotionally damaging is that—naturally—many teenagers depend upon their parents to be their source of self-validation.
But at the end of the day, your parents are just one possible source in which you can feel validated. You ARE worthy of feeling validated as a human being, NO MATTER WHAT kind of human being you may be. And even if you cannot count on your parents, you can still learn to love yourself.
Learning to love yourself—no matter who you are—is never an easy process. But it is possible. Take time to meditate, think deeply, and say to yourself “this is who I am, and that is completely okay.” Even if at first such a phrase sounds like nothing more than just words, eventually, you will start to realize just how true it really is. As silly as it may sound, you will be the one who will be there for every experience in life you will ever have, and if you can learn to love yourself and validate your own sense of self-worth, then naturally you will always have a source of immediate support available.
Be proud of your identity.
Just because your parents may have rejected you, that doesn’t mean they were right. No amount of judgment being cast upon you from your parents can validate or objectively confirm their views. Ultimately, it is YOUR life, YOUR feelings, and YOUR personal identity that is at stake. Naturally, it is YOU who gets decide how to feel about things.
No matter what your parents may say, you can still be proud of who you are as a person. You have made a major, personal discovery about yourself, and you also had the courage to express it—that alone is something you can be proud of. You may not be able to change your identity, but you can change the way you feel about it. Be proud of who you are—it just might be the only person you will ever get to be.
Realize that things can get better with time.
Hearing any news that differs from normal expectations can initially cause a dramatic reaction. Our brains naturally react to surprising news with denial and anger far sooner than they are able to react with total acceptance. But once you have come out, and the news is “out” in the open, each passing moment in time might be a step closer when your parents can fully accept you for who you are.
If you did have the courage to come out to your parents, congratulations. You have realized who you are, and you have decided to let the world know it. Realize that the hardest part is already over—it does get better and it does get easier over time. Even if your parents never come to fully accept you for who you are—as sure as the passage of time—they will at least get over the shock they may have initially felt, and be able to move closer to establishing a functioning relationship.
You are worthy of love. You are worthy of acceptance. You might be facing an uphill battle, but with every step forward, you can still at least be moving up. Your life is something that will always remain in your hands; your identity is something that will always remain your own—and no amount of rejection nor denial can ever, ever change that.
Polaris Teen Center is a residential treatment facility for teens and adolescents suffering from severe mental health disorders. Our highly accredited facility is fully licensed and certified in Trauma Informed Care and is a part of the Behavioral Health Association of Providers (formerly AATA).