My Love For You is Unconditional, As Long As You Comply
Imagine your kid coming home and telling you they don’t love you anymore because you are too fat or bald or they don’t like the colour of your hair or your skin. They don’t love you because of the body you were born in…
Imagine they told you they do love you - but the political party or religion you follow, or the friends you have bring shame and embarrassment amongst their friends, so they would have to cut all ties with you. They can’t accept they lifestyle you choose. That would just be ridiculous wouldn’t it!?
I don’t profess to be mother of the year. I love my kids, both of them, the world over. I love their uniqueness, their zest for life, their ‘this is me’ attitude. Of course I have days like any other mother where I could quite happily swing for them.
I try not to judge others, I pride myself on my ability to attempt to understand things from another person’s perspective, to appreciate their viewpoint. But what I can’t understand, what just won’t compute in my head, is how a parent can turn their backs on their kids because they identify as a part of the LGBTQ+ community.
Thousands of young people in the UK can’t go home tonight, or can’t be who they were born to be, because their parents’ unconditional love doesn’t quite stretch that far. Imagine that!? Stonewall statistics, (2017) tell us that most one in five LGBT people (18 per cent) have experienced homelessness at some point in their lives. We know from MIND , that LGBTQ+ people are at a higher risk of developing mental health issues such as anxiety and depression - these are generally linked to harassment, bullying, discrimination, and rejection or hostility from friends and family. The Guardian reported in 2017 that hate crimes on people from the LGBT community have surged by 80% over the last four years.
I held a deluded solace in thinking that my daughter had a fairly straight-forward coming out story. In the middle of revising for a history exam she looked teary eyed and distant – the history curriculum can do that that to a 15 year old! Therefore, we thought this was a day like any other, all sat around the kitchen table doing our own thing. It was evident something was playing on her mind, which I assumed was the pending history exam. It was clearly bothering her so I asked her to spit it out – and spit it out she did!
“I’m not sure how this is going to go but I need to say it anyway, I like girls as well as boys” (this in fact wasn’t true – she really only likes girls, she just felt she needed to add a buffer to soften the blow. Sad that, isn’t it!)
Was it expected? No. What is the shock of the century? No.
We had a chat, told her we loved her, we wanted her to be happy, which means that she can love whoever she loves as long as they respect her and she respects herself. We also told her that we wanted her to pass her history exam! So a few tears (from her – relief I think) and hugs, from all of us, later, she cracked on with her revision.
I am not going to try and repaint this as one of those things I casually boxed off in my head. Of course my mind raced as I flicked through an array of thoughts. She is 15 for god’s sake how does she know what she is? She’s had a boyfriend! Is it because she doesn’t think she’s pretty enough for boys? Has she developed an infatuation with one of her friends, who she looks up to? Does this mean I won’t get to be a grandma? OMG – the challenges she is going to have to face! I wonder what my mum will think. Has she kissed a girl – and liked the taste of her cherry chap stick? Actually, come to think of it – that obsession with Jessie J was quite intense! She has always dressed different to the other girls in her singing group. Is she doing this for attention?
I am embarrassed to write some of those things down, but I decided this was going to be a warts-and-all account. The point is, I am not going to preach or pretend to be righteous, and in the same light I am unapologetic for processing this new-found information in the way I did. I genuinely don’t think there is anything my kids could say to me that would make me stop loving them. When you have this notion in your head of how your child’s life is going to be and that changes, you need time to process that change: that’s ok. Allow yourself that, but don’t allow your fears, your ignorance, or a religion, tell you how you should love your child. Don’t let their build-up of them telling you one of the most important things in their life turn into a slanging match. Don’t let them walk out of the door thinking they have done something wrong. Don’t let them think you don’t love them. Step up, be the parent you promised your bundle of joy you would be. Love your kid for who they are. It really is that simple.
It is widely acknowledged that humans don’t like change. Often when something deviates, specifically if it is unexpected, our innate fight or flight response can create a negative reaction. People are generally scared of the unknown – so get to know! Work with your child to understand how they feel, what it means to them, what support is out there for them and for you – this is your journey too! Your child has to face a lot of challenges and will need their support network around them. You need to process, accept and embrace this and be their biggest supporter, advocate, and campaigner.
Earlier I referred to me having a deluded notion that my daughter had it easy – I have recently learned how difficult it actually was for her to come out. She had been ‘outted’ in school since year 7, prior to her telling us in year 11. This kills me. The fact that she didn’t feel she could come home and tell us what she was going through. We are an affectionate family who have always been accepting that love is love. It is one of my life’s regrets that she didn’t feel able to talk to us. She has since told me it was just ‘hard’ to do. Some of her so-called friends turned against her, she was bullied, she was unhappy. School tried to be supportive but were ill-equipped. A boy from her class spat on her! Can you believe that? Spat on her for being a lesbian. This was 2014 for goodness sake!
Four years later, my daughter is now working as a Teaching Assistant in the same school she attended. Here, she is an ambassador and has been instrumental in setting up an LGBTQ+ group for the young people who identify as part of this group, or as allies. She is able to draw upon her experiences from her time in school to offer much needed support to the young people, and training and advice to the staff.
When I stood side by side with my daughter at Manchester Pride in August, I genuinely couldn’t have been more proud. Proud of her as a strong young woman, proud of her using her experiences to support others, proud to be an ally of this fantastic, vibrant and diverse community. Proud of the progress in attitudes of many, but not oblivious to the work that still needs to be done to change attitudes, accept diversity and embrace culture. Educate yourself today.
“To put the world right in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must first put the family in order; to put the family in order, we must first cultivate our personal life; we must first set our hearts right”. Confucius, Chinese Philosopher.
(She got a C, by the way, in History, in case anyone was worried!)
There is plenty of support available, where you or your young person can get information and support.
For young LGBTQ+ people:
For parents and carers: