Ep 290: How to Be an Ally to Your LGBTQ Child

Andy Earle: You're listening to Talking to Teens, where we speak with leading experts from a variety of disciplines about the art and science of parenting teenagers. I'm your host, Andy Earle.

Many parents are caught totally off guard when their teenager comes out as lesbian bi, gay, trans...

And often, parents instinctive initial reactions to their teenager coming out are exactly the wrong things to say and do.

This can cause a lot of damage that sticks with kids for many years.

What do we need to know to be able to support our teen as they engage with the process of coming out?

We're here with Heather Hester, the founder of Chrysalis Mama, which provides support and education for parents and allies of LGBTQIA+ young adults. She's also the creator and host of the podcast, Just Breathe.

And she's the author of the new book, Parenting with Pride.

Heather, welcome to the Talking to Teens podcast. Thanks so much for coming on the show today.

Heather Hester: Thanks for having me, Andy. I'm so happy to be here and I am so happy to have this conversation. This is so much fun.

Andy Earle: You are a pro at this. You've got your own podcast where you share all kinds of tips and ideas for parents.

And you get real about sharing your own experiences. I am excited to talk with you about all of that and also about your book, Parenting with Pride: Unlearn Bias and Embrace, Empower, and Love Your LGBTQ+ Teen.

How did you get started on this journey to writing and talking and speaking and coaching other parents about this?

Heather Hester: The simple answer is my son came out as gay about seven years ago and completely changed all of our lives for the better. When my oldest, he's the oldest of four.

He was 16. My other kids were 13, 11, and nine at the time. Very differing developmental times of their lives. And we did not see it coming. So it was very much of a shock. And not in a shock, oh my gosh, I can't believe my kid's gay. But, oh, wow. Okay. I totally didn't see that at all. And highlighted so many areas that we needed to learn. So many things we needed to unlearn. And I always like to clarify this, saying unlearn, I think can be a little bit like, Ooh does that mean that she thinks that we're bad? It's a word that can put you on alert.

But I use that because we all need to unlearn. We all have biases. Things that we either grew up with, or we heard and picked up somewhere that no longer serve us. And so we have to unlearn them. So that was part of our initial process too.

But we found that we couldn't find what we needed. We couldn't find the one on one support that we needed. We couldn't find the information to really guide us through the different things that Connor was experiencing once he did come out. And so that is what led me to initially start the website, Chrysalis Mama, but then piggybacking on that a year later, starting the podcast, Just Breathe.

Andy Earle: There's so much to dive into in your book. It's got all kinds of different topics. You've got these four different pillars and steps inside of each pillar.

But one thing I found powerful is your own story and you talk about this moment of your son coming out and how it was a shock to you and what your reaction was. Looking back on it and knowing what you know now, why do you think that "are you sure" is the worst question that you can ask when your teen comes out?

Heather Hester: By the time that our children come out to us they've thought about it for a really long time. It is not something that they are on a whim being like, I'm going to try this on and throw it out there. It's not, I think that I'm going to try tacos today because I've never really tried them. They have thought about it, they have wrestled with it. And this is across the board. It doesn't matter how open, accepting, loving of a home they are in or community that they are in.

Because our society as a whole is still very heteronormative, cisgender, anything that is outside of that is something our children wrestle with. Because even though they are seeing themselves represented so much more, there still isn't a ton of it. So there's a process they have to go through to come to terms with it before they say it out loud.

So by the time they do say it out loud to us, they're absolutely sure. And it is such a knee jerk reaction for a parent to say that. Like, we totally asked that question. And now we know that it wasn't a good question to ask, and we know why.

I don't want anybody, if you've ever said, that to feel like, Oh my gosh, the world is over. It's not. But that's why it's not a question that you do want to ask.

Andy Earle: What are what are some of those other questions that are not good to ask as well, or not good things to say.

I feel like not knowing what to say and just trying to say the first thing that comes to your mind. But a lot of times the those things that come to your mind are not super helpful.

Heather Hester: I think a lot of times we interject our own fears, our own life experience into what's being told to us.

And in that moment I think there are immediately a lot of, I'm worried for your future. Things that our kids haven't necessarily thought of and don't need to be burdened with. Because that's our stuff. So if you can step back for a moment and think about the things that might come up, that would be a reflection of what you're going through. I don't know anybody who's gay or lesbian or transgender. I don't know how to do this. I don't know how to parent you. I don't understand mental health. Are you sure you need a therapist? Why do you want to talk to people online? I don't feel comfortable with that movie or with that book.

When you start things with, I don't feel comfortable with, that's yours. And that's okay. That's a thousand percent okay. But that's stuff that you need to deal with. Either with, yourself, but preferably with, a trusted friend, your partner, your spouse, a professional. That's stuff that you need to work through, unlearn, but don't put it on your kid.

They've got enough stuff going on that they don't need our unlearning process. What you can say is I'm working through my own stuff, kiddo. I'm, I am absolutely a thousand percent here for you.

And I'm doing my own work over here, FYI. So I'm going to screw up. I'm going to say dumb things. I did that all the time. And honestly, until Connor came out, I was so afraid of screwing up all the time. Like every time I would mess up, I'd be like, I have damaged them for life.

Like they're never going to be the same. And, and now I'm like, okay, this is like an opportunity for a conversation. So that's just one of the, one of the shifts. And then a lot of the questions.

Andy Earle: Are there any things that we really should be sure to say when our kids come out to us?

Heather Hester: I love you.

Thank you for telling me. Thank you for trusting me. I've got you.

We make it really difficult, really, honestly, like we make it way more difficult than it needs to be. We get inside of our own heads and we panic and we think that we should have this whole grand speech and really all they need to know is that we are holding space.

We are holding them. To be as messy as they need to be. And that, whatever they need, we're going to find, and we're going to get it for them. Like we are their fiercest ally.

Andy Earle: And what they're really worried about is that they'll be accepted or that it'll be okay with you. And just making that really clear. And I love affirming how, it's really difficult for them to open up about this and to tell you and.

Affirming that and validating that, you appreciate it or that they made the right decision by telling you.

Heather Hester: They did. Acknowledge their courage. That it took courage for them to tell you, and wow, are you so grateful for that? And how lucky are you that t hey felt they could come and tell you that. Holy cow. That's a cool thing. They need that validation. It's really important.

Andy Earle: You talk in the book about the inner movie roll and how it blows up a little bit during this period. What do you mean by that? What's the inner movie role and why does it explode?

Heather Hester: When our children are born, you start imagining what their lives are going to look like. And it can be based on any number of factors, from external, like where you live and things that you'd like to do and things you'd like for your kids to do to, what toys they play with, who their friends are, what their favorite color is, what books they like to read.

All of those things. And this is so subconscious. We don't really realize we're doing this, but you have this like running, and it's always running a few years ahead to like decades ahead. And because we still live in a society that's very heteronormative, cisgender.

The default is that they're going to marry somebody who is opposite sex, opposite gender. And when they come out to you it completely blows that up. Like In a million ways. Even if you are totally like on board or you saw it coming, you still have that moment where you're like, Oh, I need to adjust. So whether it's a tiny little explosion or it rocks your world for weeks, it comes apart. And that's okay. Like you need to absolutely let that happen. Grieve that.

And then embrace the new one. But it's important to allow yourself to see that's what has happened and to grieve all of that. That doesn't make you a bad person. That doesn't make you a bad parent. Because your child is doing the same thing. They have their own movie reel of their own things that they've created.

And when they step into their authenticity, all of these other things, they have to let go of. There's a grieving process for that. And that is okay. But that's what I mean. And the moment when I realized that. I said it is such an offhand thing, but since then I've been like, Oh my gosh, that is exactly what it is you can almost see like the frames, right, that you've created all along. And that whole thing just like totally in a million pieces.

What comes up after that is so amazing. So amazing.

Andy Earle: It's a really cool way to think about it. So much of when there feels like a disconnect between a parent and a teenager, the teen feels like you're not getting me, or you're not understanding me, is when there's too big of a divide between your movie role of their life and their own movie role of their life.

And you need to bring them back together. And coming out is one of those major moments where, you start to realize, wow, I'm way over here, picturing this path for you and you're way over here, picturing this path. And you can reset and and bring yourself back to what they see for themselves or what they want for themselves.

Heather Hester: And that is exactly it. I was talking to somebody the other day about how, those of us who are parents now our parents generation, like we grew up very much where our parents were like, you should do this. This is who you need to be in the world.

This is your thing, right? Like we were told who we were to be. And so we were very much an extension. And that's how that generation was or is. And this is such a great example of how our generation of parents are shifting into seeing our kids for who they are. So that allows them so much space to explore. And even though it's messier, and we're not dictating what they are going to do and be in the world, it's also so much more amazing and beautiful and authentic and allows them to step into who they are now. Not 20 years down the road after they've been through 15 years of therapy.

So it's this great gift that we have to be able to see. That's the cycle that we're breaking. And even though it's super uncomfortable and we want to be like, I know better than you do, right? I have life experience. That doesn't mean that you can't say here's my life experience.

I'm just offering my lived wisdom, take it or leave it. We're like the bumpers, to get them through. They're going to use us more as bumpers than as you're doing this.

Andy Earle: And also I think you do a good job of presenting models for things or breaking things down into kind of chunks or pieces. One thing for me I found interesting is that I tend to think of coming out as like a event, a thing that happens one time you come out and you tell people, Hey this is who I really am.

But. You talk about it as being a process and being there's six stages to coming out and I found that really interesting. How could there possibly be more than 1 stage? What would that look like?

Heather Hester: Honestly, learning about that was so incredibly helpful for me. Because I so desperately wanted to understand what Connor was going through.

And, as we know, being parents of teenagers they don't often like to share a lot of details with us. So there's a lot left to us trying to figure out with clues. And I still remember the day that this therapist that we were seeing at the time was like, Hey, I want to teach you about this.

It's a model that's been around since the late seventies. So it's a tried and true model that has just been shifted with wording over time, but the basic tenants are the same.

When our kids actually come out to us, that's usually in the second or third stage. The initial stages are denial. They are like, no. And then there's, okay. Maybe I'm getting used to this idea. But again, these are still internal, right?

This isn't necessarily when they've said it out loud yet. And then they try it out. They say it to you or another trusted friend. And then it moves into, okay, this is who I am. I am standing in my awesomeness and I am mad at the world and I'm just going to be mad at everybody.

So there's this whole stage that they go through of hating everyone. Everyone else is wrong. And that's really uncomfortable. I remember sitting at our dinner table and the anger, coming out and just being like, Oh, that's a lot.

There was a lot of kicking going on under the table between my husband and I. At what point are you like, maybe not appropriate dinner time conversation for your 10 year old brother. There's a lot of give and take and trying to figure things out. But they have to go through that stage.

That's really important for them because they're trying to figure things out. And anger is an informational tool. So it allows them to start figuring out what's really important to them. And then they move into the final stage is they realize that being gay or lesbian or transgender or non binary is a piece of who they are.

It's not the whole thing. It's just one beautiful piece.

And so those are the stages and I go into great detail, but I just found it so fascinating and so helpful for me to be able to provide the support that he needed. And then coming out is something that they do over and over.

So that's the other kind of point to your question is that it's not a one time thing. Every time they change location or change schools or change jobs it's done again, whether or not they want to do it or choose to do it is completely obviously up to them. But, so there's that.

Andy Earle: Also, it goes back to what we were talking about earlier with the question, "are you sure" when they're coming out. And realizing that this is already a process that's been happening internally for a long time now. They've already gone through wondering if they're sure and questioning it themselves and arriving at this. And by the time they're actually telling you It's not phase one anymore.

They're a little bit into the process here. Yeah, they're sure. And also knowing that it doesn't just end here. It's okay, great. Now you've got it. But this is still maybe halfway through the process, or not even halfway through. There's a lot more journey to go in terms of grappling with this and coming to terms with this.

Recognizing that is helpful.

Heather Hester: It's really helpful. And I think, especially if you have a child who is struggling with it a great deal, it gives a lot of insight into why they might be struggling, where they might be stuck and need some support. And that certainly came, to be true for us.

Andy Earle: We are coming to the end of our time. There's so much to talk about and dive into in the book. There's exercises, journaling activities that people can do to really start exploring these things for yourself, and really a powerful framework. We touched on just a few aspects of it, but you really walk people through four pillars of how to go through this as a parent and get to a place where you can support your child.

It's really cool what you're doing. I highly encourage people to pick up a copy of Parenting with Pride: Unlearn Bias and Embrace, Empower, and Love Your LGBTQ+ Teen. Heather, thank you so much for coming on the show today and speaking with us about all of this. Can you talk a little bit about where people can find more about what you're doing or maybe follow your podcast or follow updates about other projects you're working on.

Heather Hester: So first of all, thank you so much for having me. This was a really lovely conversation. Really enjoyable. And there are a couple of ways. The book is wherever you buy your books, you'll be able to find it. And my website is chrysalismama, so it's C H R Y S A L I S M A M A dot com.

And that is where you can see all the things that I'm up to. My podcast is in there. It's called, Just Breathe: parenting Your LGBTQ Teen. All of my other projects that I'm working on. I do have this really cool free guide that I just put together about pronouns and other language, like we were talking about earlier. It's a primer on how to use pronouns. Everybody gets a little bit nervous about these words. So that's available on the website as well. And then ways that you can work with me. I do private one on one coaching.

I also do a lot of speaking within organizations. So lots of ways to connect with me.

Andy Earle: I definitely encourage people to check it out and engage and get a copy of the book. And congratulations. It's exciting to see that coming out.

We're here today with Heather Hester talking about how to be ready in case your teen comes out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and we're not done yet. Here's a look at what's coming up in the second half of the show.

Heather Hester: And one of my fun facts that I always love to share is that there are as many Intersex people in the world, as there are people born with natural red hair. So it's not particularly uncommon. I think it's like 1. 7%. So it is more common than you may realize.

Saying that substance use and mental health for LGBTQ kids are linked, doesn't mean that, your LGBTQ kid is going to have a substance use issue. It just means that these are things that I want all parents to be aware of.

I think a lot of times when any of our kids were struggling, we'd be like, but you're so good at this and you have this going on for you. And you're going to do this in the future. You're going to be so great down the road.

And when you say things like that, it makes me feel like who I am right now is not okay.

Andy Earle: Want to hear the full interview? Sign up for a subscription today. It's completely affordable and your membership supports the work we do here at Talking to Teens. You can now sign up directly through Apple podcasts. Thanks for listening and we'll see you next time.

Creators and Guests

Andy Earle
Andy Earle
Host of the Talking to Teens Podcast and founder of Write It Great
Heather Hester
Heather Hester
Heather Hester is the founder of Chrysalis Mama which provides support and education to parents and allies of LGBTQIA adolescents, teenagers, and young adults. She is also the creator and host of the podcast Just Breathe: Parenting your LGBTQ Teen. As an advocate and coach for parents and allies, she believes the coming out process is equal parts beautiful and messy. She works with her clients to let go of fear and feelings of isolation so that they can reconnect with themselves and their children in a meaningful, grounded way. Heather creates a space where growth and shifts can occur through education and empowerment, instilling the confidence that anyone can move through the coming-out process with understanding and love. She is also a speaker and consultant for corporations, teaching how to be better LGBTQ+ allies from the inside out. Heather is a writer and entrepreneur, married to her best friend of 28 years, the mother of four extraordinary kids (two of whom are LGBTQIA), and a student of life who believes in being authentic and embracing the messiness.
Ep 290: How to Be an Ally to Your LGBTQ Child
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