When issues concerning gay, lesbian, and transgender individuals arise in our personal and professional lives it can be tough to find the right balance in attitude. Often it’s hard to know what to say, what to do, and in some cases, even how to think.
If you’re a lesbian, gay, transgender, or queer individual, finding a way to be comfortable in your own skin and be surrounded by like-minded, accepting people can be a challenge.
For parents it’s often unfathomable trying to deal with our children – especially when their views are often directly opposed to what was taught to us by our parents, and the views we ourselves may hold.
“Understand that sexuality is as wide as the sea. Understand that your morality is not law. Understand that we are you. Understand that if we decide to have sex whether safe, safer, or unsafe, it is our decision and you have no rights in our lovemaking.” Derek Jarman
Attitudes are generational
The reason we respond in a certain way, and the manner in which we understand issues, is largely dictated by the time period we are born into, and the attitudes and views of the people raising us.
The sociology of generations, a theory espoused by sociologist Karl Hannheim, explains this phenomenon well. In western society, we are largely influenced by early our socio-historical environment – essentially, the circumstances in which we grow and develop during our youth. Because generational groups grow to adulthood at roughly the same time, they have shared experiences in their formative years.
In particular, major events with far-reaching consequences, such as World Wars, or 9/11, have a phenomenal impact. These shared experiences lead to the formation of social groups which, in turn, actively impact on events and influence future generations.
“You don’t sit down and write a wish list about the person you are going to fall violently in love with. It just doesn’t work like that.” Stephen Fry
Attitudes towards the LGBTQ community have been growing increasingly less judgemental and more supportive with each passing generation for over a century. The statistics on Same Sex Marriage make this abundantly clear, but here’s a rundown:
The GI Generation (born 1901-1926), were born into an age of repression and puritan control. Many were extremely uneducated and inexperienced in terms of sexuality, yet there was an unseen underbelly of sexual deviance catering to those who wanted to explore their sexual desires. Homosexuality was illegal. This is the first generation to experience a World War, the effects of which were so devastating they are often referred to as the ‘lost’ generation.
The Silent Generation (born 1927-1945) were raised by parents who came from this culture of ignorance and silence where sexuality was concerned, and the mentality that sexual experimentation or difference was inherently deviant behaviour. They went through their formative years in the post-World War I era, their parents and nations still recovering from the shock and loss of the Great War. The second World War compounded these issues, and while they shared in the suffocating conformity that was the legacy of the Victorian age, they were also the first generation to see first-hand what happens when society dictates what is acceptable in a human being. The Holocaust was a defining event for this generation, and they enjoyed the post-WWI celebrations of peace, love, cars, and the beginnings of Rock ‘n Roll. As a result they were more sexually progressive than their parents but still struggled with notions of homosexuality and difference. Homosexuality was still illegal.
“Many lesbians were so far in the closet they were in danger of being mistaken for garment bags.” Rita Mae Brown
The Baby Boomers (born 1946 to 1964) are generally split between revolutionary mindsets born of the 60s and 70s, and hard-core careerists born of the 70s and 80s. This is the generation that began to accept homosexuality and become more lenient in its opinions towards individuals with alternative lifestyles, but the Sexual Offenses Act was not changed in Britain until 1967 – meaning the entire generation of Baby Boomers was born in a time when it was illegal to be gay.
Generation X (born 1965 and 1980) is the entrepreneurial, individual generation who first began to truly accept alternative lifestyles. This is the generation that really got a lot of the individual rights movements (including Gay Rights, Women’s Rights, and Race related movements) moving. They are the first generation to be raised by parents who were divorcing in ever increasing numbers, and many of them had extreme careerists as parents. As a result, they were more lenient on their own children, but they were also living in a time when AIDS was spreading like wildfire and there was a general fear of homosexuality, even among those who understood and accepted it. They were late to marry, often cohabiting instead, and quick to divorce. Many are single parents and they are the first generation to face the challenges of raising children born into a modern world increasingly accepting of difference.
Millenials (1981-2000) and the Boomlets (2001+) are the young adults and children we are still raising. They are often very open minded when it comes to sex and gender issues, and the LGBTQ movement has come on leaps and bounds during their lifetimes. Unlike previous generations they have grown up in a world where homophobia exists, but is generally seen to be the offensive behaviour. This is in stark contrast to the attitudes of previous generations in the twenty and twenty-first centuries, who saw homosexuality as deviance and what we now consider to be homophobia as a pure and morally correct attitude.
These are our children.
And as parents it’s often incredibly difficult to know how to help them, how to deal with them, how to react to their increasingly varied natures . Millenials and Boomlets are generations of individuals, they’re also generations of the digital age, a time when information is shared at an ever-increasing rate.
We’re living in a world of progress, growth, and change, all of which is positive and good.
But it also raises some issues …
Problems that are more common than you think…
Many of us were raised to believe that being anything other than straight was wrong.
We were taught to hide our differences, to conform, to bury our feelings, and to feel shame and guilt for anything that fell outside the realm of ‘socially acceptable’ behaviour.
When you teach a child that something is wrong, and should be hidden, it doesn’t matter what it is, the message they take away from it is this:
- When you do something wrong, hide it.
- When something bad happens to you, hide it.
- People will not love you for who you truly are, pretend to be something you’re not.
- You’re un-loveable.
- You’re worthless.
There are certainly exceptions to this, but many Baby Boomers and individuals from Generation X who felt in some way different were forced to hide their true feelings.
These people entered into straight relationships, settled down, had children…and then the world changed.
Suddenly it was okay to be who they were.
Nobody was judging.
They could follow their hearts, their true passions.
Suddenly, there was this thing called the internet, that connected them to like-minded individuals in a way that had never been possible before.
The LGBTQ community as we know it was born, and everything changed.
“We have different experiences, but trans women have experiences that do parallel with the whole fabric of what womanhood is. Embracing trans women, listening to their stories, enriches what womanhood is. It expands it and makes it even better.” Janet Mock
Now, both men and women are faced with spouses leaving them for people of the same sex. Children are growing up with parents who are not only divorced, but suddenly in same-sex relationships. And parents are having increasingly difficult conversations with their children concerning feelings of sexual and gender difference.
It’s all good, it’s all progress, but it’s all so very hard.
The psychological impact of your response if your child (regardless of their age) ‘comes out’ to you, will be with them for the rest of their lives.
Likewise, the impact of telling a spouse of years that you’re gay – or even that you’re bisexual – will have lasting ramifications for them, not only in terms of your marriage, but also in terms of their own psychological health.
Many woman are discovering that their husbands are gay, have always been gay, and that the relationship they have built their lives around is not the solid foundation they believed it to be. Many other women are finally accepting their own lesbian or bisexual nature, and finding themselves unsettled in a straight relationship. Still more individuals are facing the realisation that they long to be the opposite gender to the body they were born into, or finally finding themselves in the position to actually do something about a long held understanding that they are the wrong gender. Women are dealing with husbands who now openly long to be female, men with women who feel they are truly male.
All of this upheaval has resulted in some women finding themselves alone as they head into retirement, while their former-husbands embark on new and exciting relationships with men, or new and exciting lives as women.
Others are struggling to adjust to same-sex dating and relationships which they desperately want, but don’t know how to navigate. And they’re experiencing a different kind of prejudice, from women who have never hidden their true natures and struggle to accept them into the LGBTQS community. Women who have always been openly gay are entering relationships with women who have ex-husbands, children, and friends who are very unhappy about the relationship.
The ILGA (International Lesbian and Gay Association) stated in their 2015 report that ‘LBTI women face even higher risks of being subject to violence and discrimination on various levels’.
Society may be progressing in its acceptance of the LGBTQS community, but it is still transitioning, and that transition takes a toll. The result is people in these situations often suffer from depression, anxiety, social isolation, and even PTSD.
But the damage to people denying their own identities is equally catastrophic.
There is no easy answer, no cut and dry excuse. Leaving will hurt someone you love. Staying is slowly killing you.
You may have very strong views on the morality of LGBTQ issues, and be horrified at the notion of having a gay child. You may be incredibly supportive of difference, and have a child who is ashamed of their own feelings. You and your child may have no issue accepting their identity, but others are proving to be a problem.
You may not always agree with the choices your family make; you may not like them… you may even hate them. But remember, you have a choice too… you can choose rejection, hurt, misunderstanding and judgement, or you can choose love, understanding and acceptance… and doesn’t everyone deserve those things?
Mannheim’s Sociology of Generations: An Undervalued Legacy’ by Jane Pilcher