odd man out.

[This post is part of a series reflecting on my summer internship with The Marin Foundation.]

In addition to different community events and writing opportunities, the majority of our 9-5 work so far has been connected to the Parent Resource Initiative.  Over the years, it’s become apparent to the staff at The Marin Foundation that there’s a severe need for thorough, quality resources that address the specific needs of Christian parents with children who come out as LGBT.  Before we create something new, though, we wanted to explore everything that’s currently available and to listen closely to the experiences of parents and children who have journeyed through those circumstances.

I say “journeyed through” because, regardless of how supportive or non-supportive parents are of their child’s expression of sexuality, a coming out tends to be a difficult event in the life of any family, one in which relationships and perceptions and dreams change.  This may be even more complex within families aspiring to follow Jesus:  The disclosure raises big theological questions for everyone involved, and dissimilar convictions often result in conflict and hurt.  Church participation can either be a source of encouragement or disappointment, usually a mixture of both, and it’s sometimes difficult to evaluate how any particular church will react until a child’s coming out makes the issue decidedly non-theoretical.  And, in my opinion, much of our present church culture—in which we tend to idolize traditional nuclear families, marriage, and procreation as the epitome of human experience—makes coming to terms with one’s nontraditional sexuality much more complicated and burdensome than it needs to be.

In the best cases, a child’s coming out leads to deeper understanding, love, and commitment within a family, where the child’s openness either sustains or initiates an environment of vulnerability and trust.  This is the outcome I want to foster in Christian families of LGBT children, so I’m thrilled to help partner with The Marin Foundation as they begin work on resources that will make the journey easier for families.  So, as I mentioned above, we’re beginning by exploring what exists and listening to people’s experiences.

The “exploring what exists” involves parsing through various books, DVDs, websites, organizations, support groups, and other resources to get a good feel for what’s out there and what’s most readily available for parents who are searching.  We’re compiling a massive database, and as you can imagine, our personal opinions of the particular resources cover a huge range, from “I want every parent to read this” to “Do we have the authority to eliminate this website from the Internet permanently?”  Regardless of our personal opinions, though, we know different parents come at sexuality from different places, and we want to be able to point families in the direction of resources that will benefit their specific situations best.  In addition to familiarizing ourselves with resources for the sake of knowing what to recommend and what to reject, this research is also informing the resources we’ll eventually create—there’s no need to reinvent the wheel, so long as the wheels are carrying families to places of Christlike love and compassion.  (I use “we” loosely in this paragraph, knowing the work on this project will continue long after my summer internship has ended.)

The “listening to people’s experiences” involves interviewing large numbers of parents (and, when we can, their children in separate interviews) to search for common themes, thoughts, fears, feelings, expectations, challenges, and blessings among people who know from experience what it feels like to have a child come out.  (My last post on this blog was The Marin Foundation’s recruitment announcement for these interviews, which I’d still highly encourage you to spread around.)  I’m hesitant to share much here for the sake of confidentiality, but suffice it to say from my experience conducting these interviews that there’s really no set pattern for what happens when a child in a Christian family begins experiencing same-sex attractions or demonstrates gender-variant behavior—no pattern for whether the child gives prior indications or whether the parents suspect, no pattern for when the child comes out (or whether the child takes the initiative to do so), and no pattern for how the family handles the revelation.  While there may be no set procedure for how everything happens, the major overlaps in the different parents’ stories have already surprised me, especially when it comes to what’s most challenging and most meaningful for moms and dads.

One of the ideas I’d like to emphasize more on this blog is how LGBT issues are so much bigger than the individual lives of LGBT people.  In addition to the ways questions about sexuality raise much bigger theological questions with implications for all believers, the impact of a person’s coming out affects the entire community in which that person functions and may affect parents more than anyone else.  Behind the stories I’ve shared on this blog about my own experience are stories about how my being gay has impacted my own parents, siblings, family, and friends, and, subsequently, how God has worked in all of our lives.  It’s wonderful to be part of a team here in Chicago that recognizes the broader impact of coming out and that is actively seeking to provide support and resources for the people who need them.

Today, I am grateful for parents who are willing to endure hour-and-a-half long interviews with us and for moments of sharing and connection.

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