Dealing with Parents and Other Family Members
- Challenges Faced by Gay People
“As the twig is bent, so grows the tree.” We are all products of not only our genetic heritage but of our upbringing; while sadly this leads to difficulties for many fellow humans, gay people have perhaps more difficulties than most. Though in the present day some fortunate children are brought up by enlightened parents, aware that sexual orientations can differ, this has not been the case for most of us. Outcomes can include a sharp discrepancy between who we think we should be in terms of the extremely important compelling desires of sexuality and who we actually are. Further gender roles also exhibit many other aspects of culture based behaviors in addition to the core issues of sexuality itself – how we dress, how we walk and talk, our political affiliations, our interest in sports and the interest and likelihood of children and grandchildren. Our sexual orientations tend to affect vast areas of our lives.
This particular Salon focuses particularly on how and why gay people interact with parents and other family members both during their formative growing years and in adulthood. This further topic is how these interactions can be best handled -- not only, if we are being less selfish, for ourselves but for our family members and for the welfare of the larger society and particularly other gay men and lesbians. Attention to the difficulties and issues of other family members is not only significant in itself, as it concerns those for whom we also most care and need, but because how well we handle these issues with family will affect not only their response to us but the culture and politics of the larger society in which we and other gays and lesbians must live. With regard to this issue of the wider ripple effects of how we interact with family members, we mention that perhaps the most important factor in the improving conditions of life for gays and lesbians in the U.S. and society, at least in the West, has been the willingness and ability of gays and lesbian to “come out”. If we do it well, our families, as well as friends and workplace colleagues, become aware in a positive way that among those they love and esteem are those of a different sexual orientation than their own.
So for this Salon we plan to share some of our widely varying experiences and our perspectives about “what happened” to us and for others we know -- and how to do it well both for those growing up today and for ourselves as adults with our family members.
Questions for possible discussion
For “icebreaker” dyad or triad discussion:
• What have been your central experiences growing up as a gay (or bisexual or transgender) person, first as a child and later as an adult, with your parents and other family members?
For small group discussions:
• How have your (and others whom you know) experiences as a young and then adult differed – or been the same – if you compare experiences with parents to that with other family members such as siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles.
• How have the interactions changed over time and what was important in the nature and causes of these changes?
• What worked well for you?
• What worked not-so-well?
• Are there other gay (or other minority sexual orientation) members in your family? And if you have encountered other gay growing children or adults in your immediate or extended family, how has that played out?
• If you could go back in time for yourself (or give advice to other growing persons of a minority sexual orientation), what would you say – and why?
• Should gays come out to their families – and if so, when and how?
• If “they” repulse or “disown” us, how did we, and how best can we, and others handle such rejections or criticism – and what might be done to alter these rejections or deal with these criticisms? Or should we just reject them even more forcefully?
• How can gay men who become aware of their orientation during childhood or teen years best handle interactions with family? What about those who come out late after a seemingly heterosexual period ,perhaps including marriage and children, handle family interactions? – with their adult family members and sometimes with their own still young or grown children?
• What can we as gay adults do politically or socially to help the process of family interactions for gay youths – and adults? What can we do to be helpful to others – or ourselves – as an outcome of tonight’s discussion?
And also for the full plenary group wrap-up at the end of our Salon:
• What can we do to be helpful to others – or ourselves – as an outcome of tonight’s discussion?