Recently, a young woman I know reached out to me for help in coming out to her friends. I hadn't even known that Cath (not her real name) was a lesbian. I really hadn't given it much thought. I like Cath but I don't know her well. At 20, she's someone I think of as a "nice kid." I was touched that she chose me to talk to about something so important, and that she wanted my advice and support. Not only is our relationship more of an acquaintance than a friendship, but I'm not in any way an expert on this topic. I'm no longer young. I'm not a social worker or counselor. I'm not someone who's experienced any significant struggles in this area.
What emerged, as Cath told me about her situation, was that her parents know she's a lesbian, and have known for a while. She disclosed to them years ago, assuming they'd be fine with it. Cath's parents, you see, are very liberal. They have lots of friends in the gay community. They've advocated for the rights of homosexuals. They raised Cath with the idea that people are people, and that homosexuality is just as normal as anything else. In fact, Cath was born and raised in San Francisco, where her parents always took her to the annual Pride parade. So, when Cath - then in her late teens - disclosed to her parents, she did so with the expectation that she'd have their full support. Sadly, this has not been the case.
Cath's parents did not take the news well, at all. Now, several years later, they're no closer to embracing who and what she is...no closer to supporting her as she prepares to disclose to her peers. Let me make this clear - Cath's parents are decent people. They love their daughter. They support, in theory, the equality of homosexuals to heterosexuals. They just don't seem very good at coping when faced with theory becoming a reality within their own family. They want to know where they went wrong. They want to know if they should have raised Cath differently. They've witnessed, first hand, how difficult life can be for homosexuals, and wonder why their child has "chosen" such a difficult path to tread. They are not bad people, but they are cliches. I hate to say it, but these good people are not being good parents. They're certainly not being friends to their daughter, when that's what she desperately needs, right now from them: friendship. They probably don't realize it, but their lack of support is actually a rejection. And their rejection of who and what Cath is has undermined her self-confidence. She tested the waters with her parents - her nearest and dearest - and they blew it. Instead of finding the waters warm and calm, her parents' initial reaction and continued rejection has been as cold as an Alpine lake. This is one of the reasons she's turned to me - someone she barely knows - for friendship and support.
This morning, I woke up to this story, about a father who contacted a radio show, upset to discover his daughter may be a lesbian, and the radio show host suggesting that the father have one of his friends "screw her straight." Somewhere in America, some idiot father is getting advice from a shock-jockey, instead of sitting down and assuring his gay kid that she'll always be his kid, and that he'll always love her. Somewhere in America, some animal is suggesting rape as an antidote to female homosexuality.
This upsetting story made me think about Cath. While her parents are not fundamentally bad people, they're behaving badly. Their rejection has had a profound impact on her. They need to step back and realize that this is not about them, that Cath didn't open up to them because she wanted to punish them, or send them into a 4-year exercise in self-pity and self-absorption. She opened up to them because she thought she could count on them to be there for her. Sadly, they've failed her. They've failed her so badly that she's finally turned, after years of just quietly living with her parents' rejection, (Cath tells me her parents doubt she's really gay, and expect she'll "snap out of it" soon enough) to someone who is practically a stranger for friendship and validation.
I like Cath. I'm happy to be a friend to her. As I said, though, I'm not a social worker or a counselor. More importantly, though, I'm not a parent. I'm not Cath's parent. In her frustration, this young woman has turned to me because she likes what she knows about me and figures I won't insult her or question her decision to start coming out to her friends. And I won't. But I'm no substitute for a supportive parent, and a young person in this position who has parents shouldn't have to look for surrogates.
This stuff is supposed to begin at home, and it's not charity.