Tips for Parents of LGBTQ Kids by Judy Bolton-Fasman

Dannielle Owens-Reid (left) and Kristin Russo

Dannielle Owens-Reid (left) and Kristin Russo

Dannielle Owens-Reid and Kristin Russo love to tell the story of how they founded their website, everyoneisgay.com. “The short answer is that it began as a joke,” says Owens-Reid, 29. In 2010, Owens-Reid, an actor and comedian, had started a comic website called Lesbians Who Look Like Justin Bieber. “I was getting a lot of flak about stereotyping lesbians, and I felt that was unfair.” She mentioned her dilemma to an acquaintance, Russo, 33, who also has a theater background but at the time was studying for a master’s in gender studies. In response, the two women decided to launch a website that addressed Owens-Reid’s negative feedback while also fielding advice questions from the larger lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning community. That idea evolved into everyoneisgay.com, their website and organization aimed at helping LGBTQ youth. To support their cause the women tour schools, give advice weekly from their Tumblr account, and offer support to families through a companion site, theparentsproject.com. They estimate that over the past four years they have answered more than 50,000 questions, ranging from what happens when “I fall in love with my best friend” to coming out to religious family members. Owens-Reid and Russo’s most recent project is “This Is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids: A Question & Answer Guide to Everyday Life.’’

Q. What are your coming out stories and how have they influenced your work?

RUSSO: I was home on Thanksgiving break from college in 1998 and was working through feelings I had for a woman from high school. Yet I was unsure about identifying as gay or homosexual. My parents had been asking me since I was 13 if I was gay. When they asked me again at the Thanksgiving table that year, I unexpectedly came out. My parents shaped the moment for me. They told me that they loved me. But my dad worried about discrimination, and I struggled with my mom who was raised a very religious Roman Catholic. She was taught that being gay was a sin, and anyone who acted on those feelings would go to hell. Because she loves me with every bone in her body, she couldn’t accept that I wouldn’t join her in heaven. Luckily, my mother never stopped challenging herself and revisiting those feelings.

OWENS-REID: I’m from South Carolina and was raised in a very proper Southern way. But when a girl kissed me in college, I came out almost immediately after that. My dad has always put my happiness before anything. Nothing fazed him about my sexuality. All he wanted to do was help and that was very comforting. My mother has had a few struggles. It wasn’t an easy road for the two of us. She would say things like, “You’re so pretty. Don’t you want to get married?’’

Q. Can you talk a little about how the coming-out process works its way through families?

RUSSO: “There’s so much benefit in allowing parents to go through their own [coming-out] process. A woman came up to us the other day on our book tour and told us that “you saved my relationship with my daughter. She reads your work and you told her that I need to come out as well.’’ It’s giving permission to everyone involved to assess the moment.

OWENS-REID: One of the most meaningful things that we write in the book is for kids to think about the process of the person they come out to. Your mother or father has to tell family members, the people they work with. It’s also important for parents and kids to understand that the first reaction to a kid coming out will not always be perfect. People have to work through the news and not talking about it is one of the worst things you can do.

Q. Should parents refrain from directly asking their child if he or she is gay?

RUSSO: My mother asked me about my sexuality when I was 13, and the question confused me. I wasn’t aware of my identity yet, and I thought that she was asking me because people perceived me as gay. Also, if a kid is not ready to tell a parent he can panic and say he’s not gay. In addition to tackling the coming-out moment, he feels as if he’s lied to his parents. Even in a particular situation where your child is leaving hints, it’s not the best idea to ask. Instead, make a welcoming environment in which you love and accept all people regardless of their identity.

OWENS-REID: A cool thing you can do as a parent to make it easier for your kid to come out is to ask if she is interested in someone at school. Give your child gender-free triggers.

Q. In the book you condemn the words “choice’’ and “fault’’ when discussing sexual identity. Why do those particular words concern you?

RUSSO: I find conversations troubling when parents say that “homosexuality wasn’t my kid’s choice.’’ It implies that if you could choose you wouldn’t be the person that you are. Sexual identity is not a choice, and I don’t feel that I was born with a particular sexual identity.

OWENS-REID: Fault and choice are terrible words. Nothing in particular makes your kids gay. A television show or a piece of clothing does not influence sexuality. It doesn’t make any sense. When people assign fault or blame they imply that there is something wrong, that there is a negative air about gayness.

Q. Do you think parents of LGBTQ children feel they have more to worry about than those whose children are not?

RUSSO: Parents of gay children may struggle a little more because they don’t have a clear picture of what LGBTQ lives look like. The best thing that parents can do is gather information and figure out what throws their picture of the future into disarray.

OWENS-REID: Parents worry. It’s in the job description, and they would also worry about their heterosexual child finding a good partner. Talk to your children. We have learned so much from the LGBTQ young people we meet. They know things and want to talk about them.

Interview originally published in the November 18, 2014 edition of the Boston Globe

Advertisements

Trust Women–Reclaiming Abortion Rights by Judy Bolton-Fasman

TrustWomen

My abortion was a secret that I kept for almost 20 years. When I decided to terminate my pregnancy in 1995, I was happily married and the mother of a six month-old baby girl. I was also dealing with post-partum depression and knew that I could not handle two children fifteen months apart. I also knew that having an abortion was a human right that my grandmother didn’t have. She had tried to abort a pregnancy by ripening her cervix with olive oil and taking scalding baths. Abortion wasn’t a medical procedure that Katha Pollitt’s mother was entitled to either. “I never had an abortion, but my mother did…it was in 1960, so like almost all abortions back then, it was illegal,” begins Pollitt’s new book, “Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights.” [(http://www.powells.com/biblio/1-9780312620547-0)%5D

I’m part of a striking, even comforting set of statistics. Three in ten American women have had abortions by the time they reach menopause. Most of these women are not victims of rape or incest. Six out of ten of them are mothers like me who have elected to have an abortion because they cannot have a child at that moment.

In Pollitt’s view, these women are making a reasonable and even a commendable decision. Pollitt, a prolific essayist, poet and longtime columnist for The Nation, has laid out cogent arguments for normalizing abortion and viewing it as a social good. Abortion, she writes, is an “essential option for women—not just ones in dramatic, terrible, body-and-soul destroying situations, but all women—and thus benefits society as a whole.”

Her book, a compendium of pro-choice opinions, puts forward three main arguments. The first asserts that “the concept of personhood, as applied to the zygote, blastocyst, embryo, and, at least until late in pregnancy, fetus, makes no sense. It’s an incoherent, covertly religious idea that falls apart if you look at it closely.” In her recent appearance in Boston, sponsored by the Jewish Women’s Archive and Harvard Book Store, Pollitt noted that Judaism implicitly recognizes abortion’s legitimacy, emphasizing the health of the mother over that of a fetus. According to rabbinic interpretation, a person is not a person until she draws her first breath.

Pollitt’s second point bluntly claims that “the absolutist argument that abortion is murder is a mask by which people opposed to the sexual revolution and women’s advancement obscure their real motives and agenda: turning back the clock to an idealized, oversimplified past when sex was confined within marriage, men were the breadwinners and heads of families.” As Pollitt points out, only 7 to 20 percent of Americans want to ban abortion completely. A vocal minority has politicized and even criminalized abortion for the rest of us.

But it is her third argument that resonates most with me. Pollitt calls for “reframing” the way we consider abortion. “There are definitely short-term advantages to stressing the anguish some women feel when facing the need to end a pregnancy, but in the long run presenting that as a general truth will hurt the pro-choice cause: It comes close to demanding that women accept grief, shame, and stigma as the price of ending a pregnancy.”

I have been somewhat defensive about my own abortion. In an essay that I published over the summer about my experience, I wrote, “Sometimes I wish this story had a cinematic ending. But I did not jump off the table, holding the back of my gown together, walking away backwards saying, ‘This is a mistake.’ Saying, ‘I’ll keep the baby.’” [(http://themanifeststation.net/2014/07/14/the-abortion/)%5D

Yet I don’t regret my abortion. My decision was for the baby I already had, for the baby boy I gave birth to three years later. After the essay went live, I heard from women—many of whom I had known for years—that told me their abortion stories for the first time. Like me, they were ambivalent about the experience. Almost two decades later, one friend still mourns on her due date. But all of the women who reached out to me, including her, said that it was not the right time to have a child. As Pollitt puts it, that should be reason enough.

After my essay came out, I told my 20 year-old daughter about my abortion. She was gentle with me. Maybe her empathy was due in part to the fact that she was born well after Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. After all, abortion has always been her right.

I’m also sure that my daughter instinctively knows how true “Trust Women”—one of the mottos in the pro-choice movement—is. I think she understands that I’m not always wise and I’m certainly not clairvoyant. She simply trusts that I made the best decision I could in a difficult situation.