Coming Out, Coming Home: Helping Families Adjust to a Gay or Lesbian Child
Michael C. LaSala
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The discovery that a child is lesbian or gay can send shockwaves through a family. A mother will question how she's raised her son; a father will worry that his daughter will experience discrimination. From the child's perspective, gay and lesbian youth fear their families will reject them and that they will lose financial and emotional support. All in all, learning a child is gay challenges long-held views about sexuality and relationships, and the resulting uncertainty can produce feelings of anger, resentment, and concern.
Through a qualitative, multicultural study of sixty-five gay and lesbian children and their parents, Michael LaSala, a leading expert on this issue, outlines effective, practice-tested interventions for families in transition. His research reveals surprising outcomes, such as learning that a child is homosexual can improve familial relationships, including father-child relationships, even if a parent reacts strongly or negatively to the revelation. By confronting feelings of depression, anxiety, and grief head on, LaSala formulates the best approach for practitioners who hope to reestablish intimacy among family members and preserve family connections—as well as individual autonomy—well into the child's maturation. By restricting his study to parents and children of the same family, LaSala accurately captures the reciprocal effects of family interactions, identifying them as targets for effective treatment. Coming Out, Coming Home is also a valuable text for families, enabling adjustment through relatable scenarios and analyses.
limitations, the findings of this study provide additional insight into an important but understudied area of research. Hopefully, human service professionals will find these results useful in their work with this potentially vulnerable population of families. REFERENCES American Psychological Association. 2002. Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Codes of Conduct. http://www.apa.org/ethics/code2002.html. Retrieved September 26, 2009. Ammon, R. 2006. Gay Haiti.
it, so I didn’t accept it consciously. I didn’t see that at all. Even though talking to other folks in the extended family later on, they said: “We knew that.” I mean even his brothers were talking about it, but I didn’t [suspect before he told me]. Still, Franklin believed his father must have suspected: He’s pretty smart. I think he knew a lot more about me than I knew about me. Meaning I think he could tell, I think he knows so many things about me, because I just tell him. And he is able to
dinner’ or ‘Why don’t you go out?’” Perhaps because she was struggling to come to terms with her sexual feelings and was particularly sensitive, she saw this pushing as his attempts to make her straight, which made her resentful. In these families the children’s and parents’ anxiety seemed to generate a reciprocal pattern of parental pressure and youth resistance. Children might have been projecting feelings about societal disapproval onto their parents, while parents were projecting their hopes
upset—sad, not mad or anything, but just sad, being that she wouldn’t get married and have grandchildren. Wanda remembered the tension and distancing in her family. In talking about her relationship with her mother at the time, she recalled: I withdrew from her, and she definitely wanted to talk about it . . . and I just did not want to even think about it. No discussion. I didn’t want to answer questions. I just wanted to pretend like it wasn’t happening. I would see her eyes would be red.
say things were bad up until like three months ago when my mom finally started, like, reading up on homosexuality and educating herself by, like, going to the library and reading everything she possibly could while trying to go to work and being a mom. Then I started to realize, “Wow, she really is trying.” And things started to get better. . . . We had a little bit of fighting but overall we definitely strengthened our relationship if not exceeded the prior expectations. This next mother