Queer Moms Discuss What It Means To Come Out to Our Kids

At the beginning of this month, Tig Notaro appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, admitting things were “weird” after Colbert wished her a happy Pride.

During the conversation, Tig admitted that her and Stephanie Allynne’s almost eight-year-old twins didn’t know their moms were gay. She recalled coming out to them during their car ride to school. “I was so stunned, because we’ve lived together almost eight years and I’ve been gay the whole time ― even prior!” she said. She went on to give a basic explanation of gay meaning “girls like girls and boys like boys,” since they were pressed for time.

“What do you think about what I just told you?” she asked. “Oh, I love my family,” her son said.

What was most interesting about the story was when she admitted she was “insecure” about how her sons would react to finding out their moms were gay. She used the word “insecure” more than once, which also fascinated me. But she made a good point: Her sons only know her and Stephanie as their moms, not as the lesbian icons they are. Despite seeing wedding pictures around the house and knowing they only have moms, the boys didn’t necessarily know what “being gay” meant. This is the only life they’ve ever known.

Hearing Tig’s words made me think about my own kid. He’s a little bit older than Tig’s boys, and he definitely understands what being gay means. But I thought back to when he was younger, and I definitely had similar feelings to Tig when it came to being worried he would feel differently about me once he knew I’m a lesbian.

Unlike Tig’s boys, my son has a dad. But we split up when my son was a baby, so he never saw us as a couple. I started dating women when my son was almost five. There’s one woman I dated who he actually got to meet, and after they met, I had to explain that mom liked her and we were more than just friends. One night, he and I laid in bed and I explained to him that girls can like girls and boys can like boys. At first, he didn’t believe me, but I Googled some pictures of same-sex couples and showed him.

After I told him I was queer, he was worried I would marry the woman I was dating and leave him behind, but once I explained that no one was more important to me than he was, he was like, “yeah okay, so you kiss girls. Big whoop.”

To this day, I’m grateful my son was still little when I told him. He wasn’t in school full time, and there was less of a chance he would hear anything derogatory about queer people in preschool. Having a kid who is school aged is incredibly stressful when you’re a queer parent — you don’t have control of what other kids tell them about queerness. And if you haven’t talked to them before they start school, it’s easy to understand why there would be some fear about their reaction. You don’t know if someone’s beat you to it and told them all the wrong things.

However, kids always have the ability to surprise you with their insight. My kid was cool with having a lesbian mom. Tig’s sons were cool with having gay moms. I’d wager to bet that most kids don’t feel differently about their parents after they come out. But to be sure and to get some other experiences and perspectives, I asked some other queer moms about their experiences coming out to their own kids.

Emily Withnall, who is a mom to kids aged 17 and 20, came out to her kids over a decade ago, so the details are hazy, but she shared a conversation she had with her oldest child before she came out that has stuck with her.

“My oldest, at age 6 or 7, was brushing their teeth one night and asked me how two women have a baby together. I was surprised because I was planning to come out to my kids when they asked this question but hadn’t yet. Also, I didn’t have any clue how this question had come up for them! I proceeded to explain the various ways that two women can have a baby, but I started with a man and woman (which I’d never talked about with them before this) so they’d understand the differences and different challenges. I remember being surprised and maybe a little nervous, because I wondered if I had waited too long to come out,” she said. “For the record, I came out to myself about 6-12 months prior to this conversation at age 28.”

My friend Ren is mom to three young kids and told me that because she’s known she’s queer for a long time, “I always tried to raise my kiddos with the view that not every family or relationship looks the same.”

She recalled an instance when her now five-year-old “was laughing at a particular episode of a television show he was watching when two men were dancing with one another because ‘that’s silly’ and ‘boys don’t dance together.’ I used that opportunity to say boys dance together and girls dance together and pointed out my female partner, saying ‘We dance together all the time.’”

His response? “Oh. Okay.”

Ren’s youngest child was born after she came out and started dating women exclusively. During her pregnancy, she talked to her big kids “about boys who have a uterus and families with two moms and no dads, and two dads and no moms.” She said that both of them “follow along just fine and are incredibly accepting of everything.”

For Kristen Mae, a mom of two teens, the coming out process was extremely emotional. She and her ex-husband told their kids together, and she told me she cried “so hard” during the conversation. But her kids were incredibly supportive; they told her “We love you no matter what.” The thing that made it hard for them was the news that she and her husband would be divorcing. “It was the most heartbreaking thing, kind of shattering their innocence like that,” she recalled.

“I was actually more worried about divorce than coming out,” Kristen admitted. “My biggest fear was damaging them or traumatizing them beyond repair. And it hasn’t been without hardship, and I don’t think I’ll ever be at peace with upsetting their lives the way I did, but I can honestly say, I really think that going through what they did has made them deep thinkers and more empathetic people.”

I believe that kids of queer parents have a different level of empathy because they know that their families aren’t like other families. Even if they don’t know exactly why, they understand that much. But even though we know how much our babies love us, it’s still really scary to think about them not accepting something that is such an important part of who we are. So if you are a queer parent who has yet to come out to your kids, your fears and insecurities are relatable and valid. But hopefully hearing these stories assures you it may be uncomfortable and hard, but it’ll all be okay.

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Sa'iyda Shabazz

Sa'iyda is a writer and mom who lives in LA with her partner, son and 3 adorable, albeit very extra animals. She has yet to meet a chocolate chip cookie she doesn't like, spends her free time (lol) reading as many queer romances as she can, and has spent the better part of her life obsessed with late 90s pop culture.

Sa'iyda has written 128 articles for us.

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