Everyone has arguments with their parents. Every parent, from the worst to the best, has times when they upset their child. For LGBT people, parental relationships have an added layer of complexity, that extra uncertainty of whether or not our parents will accept something about us that we cannot change. When we talk to new people, when we make new friends, both inside and outside the community, there’s always that question: “Do your parents know? How do they feel about it?”
My parents do not know. I told my mother I was bi – this turned out to be incorrect – back when I was 16 or 17. She asked me not to tell my father, because, “He would blame it on me.”
I don’t know how my parents would feel about me being trans, but I doubt their reaction would be overwhelmingly positive. The increasing visibility of trans issues – and the increasing presence of those who are opposed to trans rights in the media – has led to a corresponding increase in the number of transphobic comments I have to sit through at the dinner table.
Most cisgender, heterosexual people will never know this feeling: the fear that an aspect of you that cannot be changed will alter your relationship with your parents once they know about it. Christmas, a festival which in modern times has become associated with family and spending time together, can be an especially bleak midwinter for LGBT people. If you’re in the community you can divide your friends into three groups: the ones who are happy to be seeing their families, the ones who will hate the experience, and the ones who can’t go back at all.
I don’t know when I’ll tell my parents. Hopefully soon. But the longer I leave it, the more upset they’re likely to be that I didn’t tell them before. I’ve sometimes thought that even if they rejected me – always a possibility we have to consider – I would at least be free. Free to start my transition, to change my legal name, to start properly living my life the way I want. And the longer I wait for that to happen, the more of my life I’ll feel like I wasted by not doing it earlier.
But then there’s the thought of everything I have back at my parents’ house. All the books, clothes, memorabilia and bric-à-brac; the flotsam and jetsam of 17 years spent living in the same building, with the same people. I’d have to choose between retaining painful reminders of a family I used to have, and starting my life again, aged 23, with nothing left of the first 20 years of my existence except clothes and photographs.
At least I would still have a family, although not in the sense that many people –most straight, cis people – would recognise. The community as a whole, and that particular microcosm of our community in which most LGBT people live, and which consists of our friends and exes in and from various cities, often functions as our second family. The concept of the “found family” is one which many LGBT people are very familiar with. A group, a collection, a conglomeration of people whom we love, share experiences with, hang out with, grow older with. The only difference is that these people will accept us for who we are, no strings attached.
My housemates and I often consider ourselves a family. Just like a family, we live together, play games together, share meals together, usually annoy each other but always love each other. Our identities have complicated our relationships with our biological families, but we always know that at least our other family won’t feel that way. Some linguists claim that the expression “blood is thicker than water” in fact refers to the “blood of the covenant” and the “water of the womb” – that it actually means friendship is a stronger bond than mere genetics. It’s not hard to see why this interpretation has become so popular amongst the LGBT community.
There’s a scene in the 2018 film Love, Simon in which the protagonist’s father, after finding out that his son is gay, breaks down in tears. He’s not crying because he’s disappointed; it’s his guilt at knowing Simon couldn’t come out to him earlier. Before we come out to our families, many of us have to sit through jokes and negative comments about LGBT people, whether born from genuine hatred or simply from the false belief that none of the people they are mocking are around to hear it. What we don’t hear, but what we most need to, is a simple declaration that they will accept us.
If you have children, or are planning to, or might do some day, please: tell them this. Tell them that if they turn out to be gay, bi or trans, or if they already are, that you will love and support them. Tell them whether they’re five, 15 or 35. Tell them because if you don’t it will delay the moment when they finally feel able to come out to you, and until then you won’t have the relationship with your child that you could have.
If you’re planning on having children, and you wouldn’t support an LGBT child, then frankly you’d better revise your plans. And if you already have an LGBT child and you don’t support them, then all I have to say is this: go to hell.
Beth Desmond is a trans woman and translator. She tweets as @languesbians.