by Kahlia Meeuwsen, Relationships Columnist
Published in Relationships on 1st November, 2018
In recent years, humans have begun to explore and expand new ways of existing. We've begun to realize that as people, we don't need to fit into the boxes that can exist with genders, gender roles, attractions and a whole lot more. Consequently, more people than ever before are coming out at members of the LGBTQ community.
While this would once have been viewed as controversial, many of us recognize that it allows people to exist and present themselves in ways that match who they truly are. That said, it is still a new concept, which means that it can be worthwhile to reach out for information on making those with new or budding identities feel accepted and welcome.
No one likes being judged or treated poorly for who they are. It's a terrible feeling, knowing that people can be so quick to disassociate, disown or belittle you just for having certain personality traits, hobbies, styles, or even opinions.
For the most part, we all just want to be able to be ourselves and know that those around us will love us regardless. This is especially true with family members. The family unit is one that should be comprised of people who accept and love each other unconditionally. For some, this turns out not to be the case.
People are people. Regardless of who they love, what gender they identify with or if they identify with a gender at all. While it may be a situation that is new to your family, it's one that doesn't need to be a source of drama. When you get right down to it, your LGBTQ family member isn't typically asking for you to raise them onto a pedestal or give them constant praise.
They just want to be loved and accepted for who they are, the same as you. However, problems can arise when family members become invalidating of their identity.
Imagine that you're sad. Maybe a family member, friend or beloved pet has passed away, and you just aren't feeling quite yourself. It's absolutely normal and even expected to feel this way in such a situation. Now imagine that you have family members telling you that you aren't actually sad. "I saw you smile yesterday," they say "you can't possibly be sad. I can see otherwise."
This, essentially, is invalidation. It's denying your feelings, thoughts, or even identity. Otherwise, it can be making light of them, or telling you that you don't deserve to feel them.
In this way, it's rather the same to asking someone with depression what they have to be depressed about.
There are a number of ways this kind of invalidation can show up when it comes to LGBTQ family members. One of the common ones is the idea that it's "just a phase" or that some outside force made the person change.
It can be easy to get wrapped up in this kind of thinking, but it negates the fact that regardless of where you might think their changes come from, they still need your support. Phases may come and go, if that is the case, but the knowledge of whether or not you've shown yourself to be a supportive force is going to remain in their minds forever.
Sometimes it can be easy to focus on the person existing outside your ways of thinking, and forgetting that the person is just that, a person.
Those who struggle with accepting LGBTQ family members have a spectrum. There are those who are simply going to be unwilling to be supportive at all. Though this is unfortunate, it can be better to avoid spending energy or time on them.
However, other family members may simply not fully understand, or may be new to the experience of having an LGBTQ family member. It's important to keep in mind that this is absolutely not an excuse to be invalidating, nosy or otherwise abrasive to the situation.
Instead, take a moment to put yourself in the position of that family member. Think about how you'd want to be treated. Chances are, you'd find that you would just want to be treated like everyone else, accepted and loved regardless of differences you may have.
For some, learning how to accept their identity can take time. As a result, some can be well into their 30s or after before they feel safe enough to come out as a different gender, sexuality or even just as being uncertain about some aspect of the identity they've held for years.
There are aspects about this that can make the change a little more complex. When you've known for someone years and years as one identity, and suddenly they make a large change, it can take some getting used to.
That said, it's extremely important to remember that in these cases, that family member is finally able to be who they feel they are. Imagine feeling like you've had to pretend to be someone you aren't for years of your life, and finally being able to be yourself. It's a huge success, and in many cases, these individuals can feel a lot of relief.
However, it can also be scary because they don't know how friends and family members might react to their change. By being supportive and welcoming, you show them that you love them regardless of their outward identity. This can mean so much more to those who might need a little more reassurance than you can imagine.
We all know that children are in the process of developing their identities as a whole. It's only natural that this would also include developing their gender identity, orientation and other related aspects. It's exceedingly important to keep in mind that children rely a great deal on their parents and family members. The way you behave around and towards them directly influences their view of the world.
Furthermore, it also influences the way they see themselves. It can be all too easy to convince a child that something about them is "wrong". This is true of all children, but especially true for those who may already have concerns about their inner feelings and outer presentation matching.
As a result, it's so important to show LGBTQ children, or even those still deciding where they are on the spectrum that they are loved, supported and welcomed.
It really cannot be stated enough just how fragile children can be, and how important it is to support them. Those around them teach them how to behave, how to build confidence and how to handle themselves as people.
The issue with viewing an LGBTQ identity as a "phase" is especially prominent with children. While children and teenagers can have some prominent phases where they try out new attitudes and styles, it's not a good idea to handle LGBTQ issues the same way. This is a matter of a child developing an identity that they'll likely keep for many years, if not the rest of their lives.
In short, most of the time it's unlikely to be a phase. However, whether or not it's a phase isn't what actually matters. What matters is showing the child they have your love and support. Regardless of the identity they end up having, they will remember what it feels like to either be supported or invalidated by their family members.
That invalidation can run deeper than you may expect, resulting in children who become depressed, withdrawn and unhappy. In keeping with the concept of empathy, imagine yourself in their position, and think about how you would want older family members to react to you.
Sometimes, it isn't always easy to know how to behave, what to do or what not to do. People are complicated! To help you out, we're going to provide a few tips to help you with handling the situation gracefully and being supportive of the LGBTQ family member in your life.
There's nothing wrong with asking questions about the experiences your family member may be having. In fact, they may appreciate you making the effort to learn rather than making rash judgments or behaving as though you know everything already.
However, there are some questions that they just don't want to have to answer over and over again. They often don't want to be questioned endlessly about things that might be harder to understand. Many questions can be answered online, through books or by using other resources. Make use of them if you need help in understanding the situation!
Typically, when a family member decides to change their pronouns, they are trying to tell you who they are. While it can require some mental re-wiring, it's really a small thing to ask to refer to them as they ask you to.
When you know the correct pronouns and refuse to use them, you send the message that you don't accept who that person is. Regardless of how old they are, people need that acceptance. It's very invalidating and can be very damaging to continue to use pronouns that are no longer correct.
As stated earlier, people want to be loved and accepted for who they are. That includes using their chosen pronouns regularly, and catching yourself if the wrong one accidentally slips.
Regardless of who they love or what gender they identify with, your family member is still just that, your family member. They are still essentially the same person, and don't want to be treated much differently than they were before, aside from a pronoun change if that's asked for.
Generally, your LGBTQ family member doesn't want to be treated as if they are somehow abnormal, or placed on a pedestal. They just want to be accepted for who they are.
Some questions just aren't appropriate to ask, especially when it involves a family member. Generally speaking, you don't need to know how their intimacy works or whether or not a trans family member is going to go through the full physical transition.
Though it's natural to be curious, these questions are really personal and aren't things that the whole family needs to know. So before you ask these kinds of questions, it's important to take a step back and consider whether or not the question is necessary or appropriate. Remember that they have a right to their privacy.
This tip is one that can help with every aspect of your life. Rather than inserting your own theories or opinions, take some time to listen to your LGBTQ family member. Take into consideration what they've been going through and what their thoughts are. You can learn so much by choosing to listen over resorting to your own opinions.
This is also an aspect that feeds into the empathy aspect. The more you take the time to learn about their lives, the easier it can be to place yourself into the shoes of others. Consequently, you'll begin to have a deeper understanding of their experiences, thoughts and feelings.
We understand that sometimes it can be hard to challenge old ways of thinking that might clash with being supportive of an LGBTQ family member. There have been a lot of changes in recent times that aren't always easy to grasp, but keep in mind that this isn't an excuse to not make the effort.
Sometimes, you need your own support! Seeking out the help of groups either physically or online, or a professional can help you to untie the knots that might be holding you back. It's also a great way to allow yourself to grow as a person, which is beneficial for you as well as your family members.