Should Being Gay Be a Family Secret? Why is it hard for some parents to accept their child's true identity?

An Italian film currently in theaters, entitled "I Am Love", features the shocking upheavals in a family, one of which involves the college-aged daughter who reveals to her mother that she has fallen in love with a woman. The daughter keeps her relationship a secret from her father, whom she believes won't understand. But her mother, although stunned at first, is lovingly accepting - and shares in her daughter's joy at having found someone to love. How common is this mother's reaction?

While much progress has been made in the last several decades with regard to accepting homosexuality as part of the human fabric, homophobia still exists within families and society at large. Sadly, too many children and young adults still don't feel comfortable revealing their sexual identity to their parents. Keeping this part of themselves a secret from their family is an emotional burden no one should have to bear. After all, if we cannot reveal ourselves to those we're closest to, what does family mean?

The reality is that there are no clear cut demarcations defining heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual. While some may not want to acknowledge the fluidity of human sexual identity, the truth is that each person's sexuality falls somewhere on a broad continuum. Even those of us who define ourselves as heterosexual may have same-sex sexual fantasies or occasional sexual feelings toward persons of our own gender. And those who define themselves as gay may occasionally have sexual feelings for the opposite sex. Sexuality stems from our fluctuating emotions, which don't necessarily fall into neat sexual categories. So how can we rigidly define what is "normal"? And how can we fail to accept our child's true nature, even if others label homosexuality as abnormal?

We teach our children to be honest with others and true to themselves. And we claim we want to accept our children for who they truly are. Shouldn't we then assure them that they can feel comfortable being open about their sexual identity?
This is not to deny that it may be difficult for some heterosexual parents to learn that their child is gay. As much as we may want to be role models of tolerance and openness, we can get trapped by the desire to see our children in our own image, to expect them to be like us in certain fundamental ways. But, like the mother in "I Am Love," what connects us to our children on the deepest level is our authentic love for them-which then allows them to love others deeply and authentically.

- Dr. Ana Nogales (


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