Growing up “Queer” in Southwest Michigan can be hard. Your parents may think it’s a sin or that you chose this. They may be concerned about your relatives or church members’ reactions when they learn of your identity.
Others of you may have really cool parents that embrace and celebrate your sexual and gender identity.
But it can still be hard.
Self-Care is important regardless of your age.
Too many unhealthy alternatives to self-care are easy to access: Binge drinking, promiscuous sex, or self-harm are some that many of us have struggled with. Talking with supportive people, getting out in nature, physical activity, and spiritual practices can be helpful.
Support with Other LGBT+ People
Some young people are afraid to go to a support group like the Adult Support Group at GIFT GR or a peer support group at the Pride Center. Gay-Straight Alliances (GSA’s) or similarly named groups may seem daunting, especially, if one is not Out to their peers or parents.
Often isolation and loneliness is a big part of despair. We need others. Even the most introverted person needs support. Sometimes when we are alone we can be our worst enemy with accusatory messages in our head.
Although groups are not for everyone, I highly recommend you try one out. You may fear further rejection but the members of these groups want you to join them. For many, GSA’s and LGBT+ support groups are immensely healing. Online LGBT+ youth groups and forums may also be a helpful resource.
Come out of the Closet when you are ready.
Think of someone who would be safe to tell. Consider how you could talk to them about who you really are. Many young people report that their peers are accepting but they are unsure about some family members who may react negatively to their revelation.
Jot down some thoughts before you introduce the conversation.
Assume and imagine the best but prepare for possible negativity. Make a plan on how to handle sharp words calmly. Engaging in a debate will likely not be helpful for you or them. Think of how you may want to react to negative responses. Calmly.
Be patient. Your family member or friend may be completely surprised or may have been denying the clues of your sexuality or gender. We need to allow parents and family members the time to go through their own coming out process.
I suggest saying positive, encouraging messages in your head as you press on.
Show your parents information from the Family Acceptance Project.
This resource provides information for helping parents who love their child but are not sure what they believe or believe that LGBT+ is not the right path for their child. This information will help them engage in healthy conversation with you, show the love they have for you, regardless of your identity, and how to help keep your family together positively.
Lastly, I highly recommend individual therapy with an LGBT+ affirming therapist or school counselor.
The Pride Center has a list of affirming therapists (including myself). I suggest discussing with your parents your desire to meet with an LGBT+ affirming therapist. I have found that the most effective therapy often involves parental guidance for part of the sessions.
Dr. Matthew Clark is a gay Christian, psychologist, advocate, writer, and speaker in Grand Rapids. Currently, he works on the faith subcommittee of the True Colors GR initiative to end LGBT+ teen homelessness and a book to help parents and LGBT+ people.