Chris Rice Cooper
*Italicized quotes highlighted in brown are from Telaina Eriksen’s website (http://www.telaina.com)
*Highlight in blue are excerpts from Telaina Eriksen’s book UNCONDITIONAL: A Guide to Loving and Supporting Your LGBTQ Child
UNCONDITIONAL A Guide to Loving and Supporting Your LGBTQ Child
From A Mother’s Heart
Telaina Eriksen and her husband lived the typical family idyllic life in Michigan –a Catholic family who had their two children attend Catholic schools, attend Catholic mass one to two times a week, and dreamed of having their children Casandra and Matthew have Catholic weddings. But that dreamed ended in 2009 when their daughter Casandra at the age of 12 told them she thought she was gay.
"In seventh grade, my now 20-year-old daughter came to my husband and I and said that she, “might like girls.” Unlike made-for-television movies, I hadn’t known or secretly suspected that she was gay. Even though I have many family and friends who are gay, including my sister who identifies as lesbian and my niece who identifies as bisexual, I still was taken by surprise and had immediate concerns and questions about parenting a child who was “different.”
That was the moment that Eriksen began to mourn the death of the dream she had for her daughter; but two things Eriksen never mourned were the lessening of the love she had for her daughter and the lessening of her expression of that love for her daughter.
I knew that sending a message of un-
conditional love to my daughter was even more important than that particular (and unfortunately deeply homophobic) way of expressing my religious faith.
And part of sending that message was to live a life of learning how to continue to love and accept her daughter even amongst a world of homophobia. Soon this project of sending a message turned into her book Unconditional A Guide to Loving and Supporting Your LGBTQ Child.
“This book is a combination of our story, other parents’ stories and research as well as anecdotal evidence showing the strong need for familial support for LGBTQ children to be successful and emotionally healthy in our still very biased world."
Unconditional A Guide to Loving and Supporting Your LGBTQ Child includes LGBQT history; a Dos and Don’ts at the end of each chapter; personal testimonials from people who identify has LFBQT and from parents of LGBTQ; resources; the medical scientific data on LGBTQ; and how to fight against the bullying and ostracizing of your LGBTQ child.
Most bullying happens out of teachers’ sight, in hallways, cafeterias or on school buses, where teachers are outnumbered. Sometimes teachers don’t recognize the indications of bullying. Take the example of the girls at Casandra’s Catholic school who would exclude her at the lunch table. The teachers probably didn’t notice. A whisper of, “you’re fat, you smell, you’re a faggot, you’re weird, go die” probably won’t be heard in the noise of the hall even with the most vigilant teacher listening.
1) Direct intervention. A bystander tells the bully to
2) A bystander takes the victim out of the situation
and invites the student being bullied to come and walk or sit with them.
3) Showing verbal support after the incident, offering
a smile a brief talk, or hug.
But more importantly parents of LGBTQ, individuals who identify as LGBTQ, and readers can trust the testimonials in UNCONDTIONAL: A Guide to Loving and Supporting Your LGBTQ Child.
Tara Morse (my sister), Colorado
I was scared of my mother. My coming out was textbook how to do everything wrong. My mother, mentally ill and abusive, took it as an affirmation that she had in fact given birth to a distasteful monster, and she threated to kill me and my girlfriend. She would appear at my softball games going to great lengths to say shitty stuff. “Your hair is so short I don’t want to look at you.” But sitting with rational people in the stands, they would think she was a caring parenting parent, cheering her manly daughter on. She liked the idea of people applauding my great plays, and then after the game would say, “gay slut” under her breath. A lot of it was what would people think of HER, that she gave birth to a freak? Parents’ biggest mistake is making it about them, their own shit and beliefs, and not really hearing or acknowledging the huge step their child has taken. There’s a moment there you can never get back. That moment is when acceptance and love is everything. Some parents can pull it off and some parents cannot. When coming out, some of the consequences could include being put out and disowned and even threatened with death (as I was). One of the pitchers on our softball team, only a sophomore in college drove her Tercel into an oak tree after trying to come out to her parents, who were ministers.
I never really had to tell most people I was gay. It’s obvious by my appearance. With no hips, large muscles, and short hair, an immediate (and correct) assumption is made. But never did I feel like I was a guy trapped in a woman’s body. I’ve always been happy being a lesbian. Now that I’m older, I realized that my “different” manly body has served me well despite having taken a beating.
It was hard back in the 80s, living rurally, to find books and information. Thankfully there was a small bookstore in Ann Arbor; tucked away in the back behind every new age book on crystals was a shelf with sex manuals and Rita Mae Brown novels, Holly Near albums and the comedy albums of Lea Delaria (sorry Orange is the New Black fans, she’s been around forever).
Being okay with it personally and being free as a person is what coming out is about. Families can leave huge scars and do irreparable damage. Hopefully your family grows along with you. Your family accepting you goes a long way in your accepting yourself.
Michael Whelan, Colorado
I don’t really have a “coming out to my parents” story, because I was never really “in.” In kindergarten I joined the girls in chasing the boy I had a crush on, on the playground. I played with Barbies. I wanted to have long hair. My non-binary gender identity didn’t leave much room for speculation, nor did the fact that I didn’t try to hide it. I still didn’t understand that there was something
“wrong” with me.
“wrong” with me.
From ages eight to fifteen my mother took me to see over a dozen therapists. But they always turned us away when they realized she just wanted them to change me.
My parents made everything into an opportunity to change me. They took away my dolls so I started to hide them like the forbidden contraband they were. They buzzed my head, wouldn’t allow me to have hair longer than an inch until I was in my late teens. They always tried to pressure me into liking girls.
“She’s pretty, isn’t she?”
“I saw the way you were looking at her you should go ask her out.” I was nine.
They wouldn’t let me have friends who were boys over, just girls. It became clear to me by the time I was fourteen that they were hoping for something to happen – like it would change me.
I think a lot of parents would be horrified if their 14-year-old son got a girl pregnant, but not mine. They would have been relieved – like it was the goal the whole time.
My mother went to a PFLAG meeting one time, but she never told me. I guess he was scared I would have thought she finally approved. I found out later and it was whispered to me by someone else, like a dirty secret.
My dad didn’t fully come around until I was in my thirties. My mom never will. Which is weird to me, because they knew who I was since I was a toddler. I never had to come out, because I was obvious and oblivious to it being something to be ashamed of. I’m grateful I never though of being gay as something “wrong” because my parents would have only been too happy to set me “right.”
When I was thirty years old my dad came out to visit me and my husband. It was the first time he had visited me – ever. He wanted to apologize and he did. I had already forgiven him years ago, for me, not for him. And now it was for him. He told me he didn’t know how to handle “my problems.”
I’m not a parent though I hope to be one day, but it isn’t this parenting in a nutshell? Not having a clue. I think as long as you love and accept and try – you’re good. But my dad back then he didn’t even try. People would say things like “Your mom/dad is doing the best she/he can,” but that isn’t accurate. Doing the best you can requires effort.
Charlie Bondhus, New Jersey
It took me until my sophomore year of college to finally admit I was not straight, not bi, but gay. I was watching Edge of Seventeen, a cheesy coming-of-age flick set in the mid-‘80s where a twink sings along to “Hey Mickey You’re So Fine” and still manages to shock everyone when he comes out as gay. About 30 minutes in, the “Hey Mickey” twink goes to a hotel with one of his coworkers and the two share a hot, shirtless kiss before the scene fades to white. That kiss was the sexiest thing I’d ever seen. The moment I realized that, it was – “Whaoa. I’m gay.” No doubt.
I managed to keep it from my parents for a while, but from time to time they hinted that they knew. The kitschiest moment was when I was getting ready to meet a guy I was secretly dating and nonchalantly said, “I’m going to see Adam” and my Mom said sadly, “I just wish it was Eve.” All that skirting and veiling ended junior year of college, when Mom found in my room a business card for an LGBTQ youth center. There were more traumatic/humorous attempts to straighten me out, including a trip to a priest and my mother pointedly commenting on every attractive woman we passed. (She gave that up when I lisped, “Oh yes; she’s SOOOO statuesque!”)
It took them the rest of my college years, but they finally came around. In their way. Dad shocked me by telling me that he’d respect any boyfriend/husband I ever had as a son-in-law. Mom scandalized some of the women at church by saying she felt there was “nothing wrong” with gay men becoming priests. My (now ex) husband came to all our family gatherings and was treated well; ditto for my current partner. And even at the worst moments, I never had to worry about being disowned. It was hard, but I know I had it easier than some queer kids.
But here’s the thing; on the one hand, I respect my parents’ working through their limitations to reach a place of decency. But that’s just it. It’s decency. They don’t deserve medals for learning to treat me and the person I love with the same outward respect that they treat my brother and his wife with. However, holding onto my resentment is far more damaging to me than it is to them, so I try not to do either.
Writing as an almost 35-year-old, I think my parents and I have come to recognize that our lives and values are quite different, and it helps to keep the peace if we pretend that we fully respect each other. There is, for a variety of reasons, a considerable gulf between us – three days visiting with my parents is my max – and it’s hard for me to look at their, in my opinion, very limited lives without feeling critical. Likewise, things they’ve said and the general vibe they give off tells me that they don’t “get” my life and, as a result, find it suspect. I don’t doubt they would turn me straight in a heartbeat if they found that proverbial magic wand. But again, that’s more a function of their limitations than it is outright selfishness; they likely genuinely think that my life would be better if I was more like them.
My current therapist tells me that one of the best markers of mental health is not letting your parents’ anxieties become your own. It’s also important to individuate from your family. I’ve made a lot of progress in both areas, and even though my parents can’t exactly get behind my life, I can be thankful they at least no longer try to stand in my way.
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