Struggling with your sexuality can be a confusing and difficult time for anyone, and that can extend to parents and grandparents as they react to the news too.
Whether a grandchild has recently come out as gay, or an adult child has struggled to feel accepted in society due to being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT), Starts at 60 readers have shared their own experiences, and offered advice to others who are struggling with their conflicting feelings.
While one reader admitted feeling “astounded” by the news, others said it came as no surprise to discover their grandson or granddaughter was in a same-sex relationship. Another shared their worries that their nephew will never find the courage to come out, and one man admitted his “protective instincts” kicked in when he discovered two of his sons were gay.
While it can be huge news for family members, it’s undoubtedly a turbulent time for that person themselves, particularly if they’ve been confused in the past. One reader shared her own story, after being “shunned” by her family in 1970 for being “different”.
She explained she later came out as transgender, and has since gone on to take in other “gay and transgender souls” who have been kicked out of their families, as well as campaigning for LGBT rights.
“I went on to do well in life having two beautiful boys who turned out not to be gay or transgender and I love them unconditionally!” She wrote
For many families, hearing their son or daughter is gay won’t come as too much of a surprise – but for others, it can come completely out of the blue. While many happily show strong support from the start, they may also harbour secret concerns for their child – no matter what their age.
One reader admitted feeling “astounded” when her youngest son came out aged 20, mainly because she thought they had an open relationship and could speak about anything – and he hadn’t given her any clue until then. While she insisted it didn’t change how she felt about him, she added: “I was concerned for him because being different is always harder than following the traditional path.”
She said some friends had claimed he may not be gay, but “just experimenting”, which ultimately amused her – and she branded it “ridiculous nonsense”.
One father said his “protective instincts” kicked in when two of his sons came out, and as a single dad at the time, he eventually sought advice from a local group called PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays).
“We always have opinions about most things, but it is important to listen to them and try not to judge them,” he wrote.
Elsewhere, one reader revealed her 19-year-old granddaughter told her she had a girlfriend over a coffee a few months ago, and while she admitted she initially felt “a little sad” by the news, she added: “I love this darling girl more than life itself, and while I was momentarily surprised, I just asked questions about how they met, what the girlfriend was like, etc., and told her I was very happy for her.”
Of course, getting parents’ and grandparents’ approval and support at any age can be very important to people, so what happens when one parent struggles to come to terms with the news more than the other?
One mother revealed her daughter, now aged 45, had come out to her at the age of 17, and while she didn’t suspect anything at the time – her husband did.
Speaking honestly, she said: “I guess we always hope we will see our children walk down the aisle with the opposite sex one day but it was no big issue for me at all. My husband, unfortunately, was not so happy but has come around although still does not really agree with gay marriage.”
Their daughter went on to marry as soon as it was made legal, saying ‘I Do’ on December 30 last year.
Discovering that a close relative is gay or bisexual may be a shock to some – but others will have expected it for some time. In fact, one reader shared a very difficult dilemma as she’s long suspected a close relative is gay, but knows he’ll never have the confidence to reveal it to his “Alpha male” father.
She explained: “Personally I think my brother sees homosexuality as a blight on society.”
Time’s have undoubtedly changed, particularly over the last few decades, and what was once seen as a ‘crime’ and punishable in public, is now not only accepted, but celebrated in society. Australia finally passed the same-sex marriage vote last December, and it has seen countless couples tie the knot at last, without judgement of their love.
Another grandparent expressed relief that their gay son was born “in their era” and not in the sixties, where it may have been more difficult for him.
Others who have never found themselves in the situation personally shared their views on it, and many insisted they’d be nothing but supportive for their relatives.
“If my child or grandchild announced they were gay, [I] would like to think and truly do believe it would be a case of so what, if they were happy and decent human beings that is all we can ask for in this life,” one wrote, while another 71-year-old male reader added: “If anyone says that they would not love a grandchild because he/she was gay then I’d have to think that person was not a grandparent. We know the wonderful unconditional love we have for our grandkids. My advice…don’t judge, just love.”
Susan Berland is a personal coach for parents and relatives with LGBTQ kids of all ages, and said it helps to speak about your concerns to a professional, so they don’t add to the worry of your relative at what is often a difficult time. She admitted: “When I learned my son is gay, my very first thought was ‘He won’t make me a grandmother’. When I look at this question today I realise that question is asked by parents every day – whether their child is gay or straight.”
Meanwhile, one reader insisted: “Personally, I wouldn’t give a s**t! Child or grandchild, you love them because of who they are, not their sexual orientation”, adding: “Whether you are a man that is drawn to another man; whether you are a woman who is drawn to another woman; whether you are born in a body that you don’t feel should be yours – just own it and know that those who love you will always love you.”