advice from the guardian: discuss
How do I tell my children that I am gay?
I am a middle-aged woman who divorced several years ago and have two children, aged 14 and 11. One reason for the split with their father, other than issues with his behaviour, was that I had to come to terms with the fact that I am gay. But discussing this with the kids has become a sticking point. In spite of good intentions, of inclusion policies and acceptance of minorities, the word “gay” is still hurled as an insult at school. To move forward with my kids, and perhaps find a partner and at last do something true to myself, I need to tackle this head on. Most gay women either have young children born into a gay family, or none at all. I have drawn a blank looking for advice. Susan, via email
Unless you have brought them up to be incredibly intolerant and closed-minded, your children may surprise you. It’s natural that you feel nervous, but I also think you are projecting a lot on to them. Maybe you were brought up in a household where being homosexual wouldn’t have been tolerated? But they are a new generation and while I’m not pretending it’s easy to come out, whatever your age, it’s important to remember that it’s your children, not your parents, you’ll be talking to.
I had a good chat with someone from the Lesbian and Gay Foundation (lgf.org.uk, 0845 3303030 – do look on the website, where there are real-life stories about coming out that you may want to read. A quarter of the calls the LGF receives are about coming out). Please think about ringing the helpline – there are skilled people who can talk you through your worries and can even help with role play – taking the role of your children – so you can practise what you might want to say. I think this would be a really good idea for you, as you’ve probably never vocalised what you want to say and the language you use is important. You don’t want to say “I think I’m gay”, for instance; this will just confuse your children. The helpline can also help you with that all-important opener.
It’s with advice from the LGF that I make these suggestions for when the time comes to tell your children.
First: tell them in a quiet, confidential place, such as your home. Make sure you have plenty of time to talk – don’t do it when you know you or they have to be somewhere else, or if there’s a time constraint. Be prepared to listen to their worries. Decide exactly what you want to tell them, and how much. They may ask, for example, if you’ve had sex with another woman yet; decide in advance how much you want to divulge, so that you are prepared. Also, be prepared to accept that they may want to discuss it with other people. Make it clear to them that they can ask questions at any time in the future. Be aware that this will be an ongoing conversation. They may also ask if this has anything to do with their father, so it’s important to stress that your sexuality is yours, ie it wasn’t caused by him or by being married. Tell them that if they want to talk to anyone neutral they can ring ChildLine (childline.org.uk, 0800 1111).
The other thing to remember is that while you may have had some years to get used to the fact that you are gay, it could come as a great shock to them (or it may not, and they may have guessed – either way your confirmation may be shocking for them). So what they say immediately may not be how they feel when the news has been digested.
Remember, too, that children can take things literally. Remind them that nothing else has changed, that no matter what happens they will continue to live with you and that you love them.
They will take the lead from you – if you start crying when you tell them, and are too emotional, they will think that is the response required. Be calm and confident and don’t be apologetic. This isn’t something to be sorry for. You’re telling them you’re gay, not a mass murderer. That said, you can say “I’m sorry if this is a shock” or “I’m sorry you feel that way” if they react badly – but don’t be tempted to just say “I’m sorry, I’m sorry” in a random fashion. Be strong – they’ll need to know that you can handle it.