03-02-2023 07:37 PM - edited 03-02-2023 08:21 PM
Did your teen have a difficult time at school because of their sexuality? How did you navigate this as parents?
"Yes, she had an incredibly difficult time, and unfortunately, because she was being incredibly private about what she was going through, I didn’t realise the extent of the bullying she was experiencing until much further down the track. One person in particular that she went to school with worked out that she might have been a lesbian, and they used this information against her in a horrible way for a long time. She didn’t tell me until it was too late, and it broke my heart that I couldn’t intervene and protect her. After she came out, we were able to navigate these things as a family, and having that open dialogue with your child means that you can help, because you can create a safe space at home where they can tell you what’s going on and what they’re going through.
Portia had a really rough time with her mental health in Year 12, and the idea of her coming out to her friends really scared me from that perspective. She was already struggling to keep her head above water most of the time – she was doing her HSC, she was being bullied for being smart, and she was struggling with OCD (which we also found out later) – so I didn’t want judgment about who she loved to be added to all that. There were no out and proud lesbians at her school or in our local community, and if you can’t see it, you can’t be it. There was only one other gay teen at her school, and lo and behold, she was one of the people that was bullying her. Unfortunately, Port’s friends reacted well, but ultimately didn’t stand by her after they knew who she was, and that was exactly the opposite of what I wanted to happen. However, it was the path she needed to take because keeping everything inside was suffocating her and she needed to be true to who she was at this point. It was always Port’s decision who to tell, and Matt and I were always very protective of her right to tell her story on her own timeline. It was really difficult for us to see the way that others responded and spread around her sexuality like gossip, because our immediate and extended family treated her coming out with such a deep sense of respect, and others simply didn’t respect her enough not to take that story away from her.
Before coming out, I felt like I could never reach Port, and I never understood why. A big part of me wanted to just say “I know, and it’s okay”, because I wanted her to be able to share everything that was going on for her. Eventually, she told me that she was finding some great solace on the internet, because it allowed her to connect with the queer community. She showed my a gay couple that she followed on Youtube named Rose and Rosie, and I was so relieved when I searched them myself. In all of this, she had positive role models online of what living a wonderful life as a queer person might look like."
03-02-2023 07:40 PM
You raised your LGBTQIA+ teen in a rural community, and continue to live in a regional area now. Do you think this has made your family’s experience more difficult?
“We have always lived in a small town, so we were used to how quickly word travels in a community like that. We didn’t care what other people had to say. I remember having a discussion with Matt and saying that if people have something negative to say about our daughter and who she is, that we know where we stand with them and that that’s it, and he agreed completely. If people didn’t accept her, then they don’t accept us as a family and we are done. We drew a line in the sand at that moment and have lived by that ethos ever since.
To us, Port is no different today than she was before she came out, but it’s hard when you’re in a community where there aren’t openly gay teens, or even adults for that matter. We sent our girls to a Catholic school, and we knew of gay teachers who lived together and had to hide their relationships to keep their jobs, and others who couldn’t tell anyone about who they were for fear of what might happen. This is not good for our kids, to have queer people feeling as though they have to hide who they are to keep living the way they want to. I remember when we moved to the city with our daughter, she asked me where all the lesbians were, because they were supposed to be here. Young people need that visibility to know that it’s okay to be who they are."
You have a straight daughter and a gay daughter. Do you parent them differently?
"No, I love them both equally. I parent them both in a similar way, and any differences in how I approach them has more to do with their personalities than their sexualities. When it comes to dating, everything is the same there too – I tell them both how I feel about the people they are dating and whether they are good for them, and I invited their partners into our home in exactly the same way, regardless of their gender. Creating a safe space at home was equally important for both of my kids, just for different reasons. I also worry about both of my kids in the same way now that they’re adults. They are both young women living in a city on their own, so their safety will always play on my mind, but I also probably worry about Port when she is out with her partner as well, since they are both young women and I don’t want people to give them a hard time. I guess you just worry about your kids, full stop."
03-02-2023 07:47 PM - edited 03-02-2023 08:22 PM
Did you know many LGBTQIA+ people when your child came out? How did you know what to say and how to support them if you weren’t particularly involved in the queer community?
"We didn’t really have many friends in the queer community. I knew a few people who we thought were likely to be gay, but people generally didn’t come out in our area at that point in time. I didn’t have a lot of reference points for what it meant to support a gay teen, but all I knew was that I needed to support Portia as a person, just like I would with anything else. I’ve always been the kind of person that says “this is who I am, you either like it or you don’t” and this is something that I tried to instill in her when she was going through this process too. The people who knew her and loved her would always be there, and the people that cared about her sexuality really didn’t matter.
With that being said, there were some things I didn’t know. I remember looking up gay clubs with Port when she moved to the city because she was desperate to meet other queer people and possibly start dating. I didn’t know where to find young LGBTQIA+ people any more than she did, but I wanted to help her as much as I could and was glad that she was finally letting me be a part of this side of her life. Having a gay daughter has meant that I’ve had to stay open to learning, because there are things that I don’t know. Port has educated me about what kind of language to use, the importance of pronouns, and lots of other ideas about gender and sexuality – listening to your kids and letting them educate you is a huge part of gaining their confidence. I also think it gives them their power back as well, so I always wanted to give her the space to tell me 'this is how I feel, and this is who I want to be'".
Lots of parents worry about their teens in the early stages of coming out and discovering their identity, as it can be a difficult time that impacts their mental health. Does it get better?
"In our situation, it certainly did. Sometimes I still worry about how years of bullying impacted Portia, but she’s very comfortable with who she is now, both with her sexuality and as a person more broadly. The more support your kids have around them, and the more diversity they are exposed to, the less they will feel as though they will have to have to hide themselves. Being honest helped with Port’s mental health, as conformity went against who she was as a person. I think that’s where shame and confusion comes in. It’s a very pure thing to love another person, and coming out is your kid standing in front of you trying to be honest about who they are going to fall in love with. If my child can find love in this world and if someone can love them back, that’s an amazing thing. Personally, I would have felt worse if Port had have experimented with guys and went out with boys that she didn’t want to date to try and fit into a box, because in my eyes, that’s more detrimental than anything she faced along the way.
I also think Portia’s pride in herself and confidence in who she is has come with age and maturity, as she’s had time to settle into who she is. I don’t ever talk about her as my gay daughter, she’s just my daughter. I always talk openly to my friends and colleagues about her girlfriend, but I never make her sexuality the forefront of who she is, just like I don’t introduce Bella as my heterosexual daughter. There have certainly been added burdens in Port’s journey because of her sexuality, but we navigate these together as a family."
03-02-2023 07:54 PM - edited 03-02-2023 08:22 PM
How do you show your support for your LGBTQIA+ child?
"I often think if I was any more supportive of my LGBTQIA+ child, I’d be a walking rainbow. I’ve done the little stuff like putting my pronouns in my work emails, and walking with Portia in Mardi Gras, which was a really special experience. But I think the larger and more important work of supporting her comes in just being her parent – loving her unconditionally and being there for her no matter what. For me, you’re the same parent from Monday to Sunday, you need to be your kid’s biggest cheerleader no matter who they are. When it comes to gay kids, you think about them and what they need from you, just like you would with anything else. Being part of a minority, LGBTQIA+ teens might want to talk to you about different things, and there may be some new ideas and information you need to get across, but at the end of the day, it’s still parenting. There is no rulebook when it comes to raising a queer child, but there isn’t a rulebook for raising any child. You will say the wrong things, and do the wrong things, but if you’re coming from a place of love and are willing to circle back around and learn from your mistakes, then you’re doing a good job.
When Portia first came out to me, and through everything that followed, she was looking for me to tell her that everything was going to be okay, so that’s what I did. I made sure that she knew we would get through whatever happens together, and that we love her unconditionally, and that she is our priority. I made sure that our home was a safe space and that when she came through those front doors of our home, she could be herself and she would be okay – our kids have to feel safe somewhere, and home should be that place."
What's your favourite part of having a queer daughter?
"To me, this is a hard question to answer, because my favourite part about Port is just that she’s my daughter, gay or otherwise. It’s all fun, and I’m the most proud just to be a part of her life and to share in these experiences with her. I look forward to the day that she gets married, and the day that I become a grandparent if she decides to have children. These experiences might look a bit different compared to other families because she happens to be gay, but this is what our life and our family looks like. It’s ours, and that’s what makes it so very special. I wouldn’t change a thing."
My Mum has always been my rock when it comes to navigating my mental health and matters of the heart. She has a special way of making me feel safe and comfortable to talk about what it's like to be a queer young person, and goes out of her way to make me feel seen and heard. She assures me that I am the same as everyone else in our family, while also honouring and celebrating my differences. I wish I'd told her about what I was going through sooner, but I'm forever grateful for the way she handled it and for her constant reassurance that I matter and I am enough, just as I am. - Portia
03-02-2023 07:58 PM
That's all for tonight folks! If you are looking for some extra support for your LGBTQIA teen, or have questions about how you can support them, here are a few resources that might be right for you:
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