To Filipino parents tempted to change their gay children
I was ready to ignore the latest show of soft bigotry in Philippine media. I was content to let the Philippines’ lively rounds of Twitter and Facebook backlash render the anti-gay article, “Being Gay,” invisible.
I had never heard of Tintin Bersola-Babao, and I did not know she hosted a talk show on a national network. I had never heard of Dr. Camille Garcia, and I did not understand why the caption under her name called her a “noted psychologist.” But I was horrified by the danger of their message:
Some parents go to great lengths to explain to the child the consequences of being gay, so that the child can think, then make a choice.
Explain that he is a boy and therefore, as boys, they grow up as men and their partners are women.
Remember you can have effeminate ways, but you never desire men.
Remember, since child rearing and proper parenting are part of one’s holistic disposition, the lifestyle and preference he will choose is considered to be part of what a parent has nurtured and instilled in him.
I saw in the article’s comments section that most Filipinos rushed to the impassioned defense of the gay children the author warned about. This made me sigh with relief.
But the second comment made me gasp.
“Any recommendations for lesbianism? To parents?”
The commenter was plaintive in her brevity. But I could sense her frantic worry about her daughter.
Another comment made me gasp again.
“I can totally relate to this since I have my concerns about raising my son correctly especially since I notice some effeminate gestures and mannerisms in him... I just feel that raising my son as a man is just the way God intended and I need to guide him the best way I know how.”
I don’t want to spend any more time on Tintin and Dr. Garcia’s clumsy, unscientific arguments.
I want to talk to the Filipino parents who read these arguments.
I want to try and reach the commenters who are looking for guidance. I want to talk to the Philippine parents who suspect something about their children and feel a sense of anxiety and shame. Who believe the arguments that their gay children are choosing to sin.
Parents, I am sorry you feel so worried that your children may grow up to be gay like me. I am sorry that Tintin Bersola-Babao and Dr. Camille Garcia’s voices are the ones you still hear and absorb so intensely. I am sorry that these voices, and the voices within the Catholic Church, still haunt you with their reprimands, however politely formulated. I am sorry that within the family unit – that most vital and powerful center of Philippine life – you still have so few models as to how to incorporate LGBT children. I am sorry you believe that to be LGBT is to be lonely. That to be LGBT is to be unhealthy. That to be LGBT is to be forever incapable of forming a healthy, loving family. Too many voices in power have reinforced these myths for you.
As a lesbian woman with a Filipina mother, may I provide a different voice for you?
I suspect you are afraid because, ultimately, you feel beholden to God. I suspect you believe that these messages from TV hosts and inaccurate psychologists and priests are reminders, directly from God, of your mission as a parent.
As the parent of a gay child, you have indeed been gifted with a mission. But your mission is not to correct the homosexuality in your child. You have a mission far richer than that.
Dear Filipino parents, start by reminding yourselves of this: There are no lesser, immoral sexual orientations. The Creator does not section us into groups meant to remain outside the sweet protection and potentials of the human family. Only humans do that.
You are not required to demand that your child make invisible what God is making visible in her.
Some clergy and psychologists may give you a script, when you first notice something unique about your child. Steer your son away from dolls. Have your daughter dress in skirts. If puberty arrives, and you notice the differences more and more, sit your son down and tell him the role expected of him. If he goes against your wishes, fall into a disapproving silence. Let your openly lesbian daughter know that she is obliged to feel ashamed.
Parents, I understand why, in the context of your society, this course of action may feel correct. But I want to tell you how dangerous it is.
If a psychologist recommends that you instill a sense of shame in your gay child, do not give that psychologist one centavo further. Do not attempt to change your child’s sexuality. Take your gay child’s hand and leave the clinic immediately. That psychologist willfully and perilously ignores information developed over decades, with countless studies, in the field of psychology: that homosexuality is a normal and positive variant of human sexual orientation.
For you to believe otherwise is to risk your child’s life.
I wish I were exaggerating on this point. Truly, dear Filipino parents, I wish I were lying to you. But I cannot overemphasize the harm you might inflict on your gay child, with your rejection of his attributes.
I assure you – whatever difference your daughter senses inside herself, she does not want to remain willfully outside of your safeguarding. She does not want you to abandon her. She does not want you to hurt her. But she does not have any choice but to live what is intrinsic to her.
I assure you, too, that God does not intend for you to alter, rebuke, and harm your gay child.
But where do overseas studies on homosexuality leave you, dear Filipino parent? In a Catholic country filled with heterosexual families, with few legal protections or official recognition of your gay child, where do you go? What are you supposed to think? What are you supposed to do? None of the studies I am linking to address conditions in the Philippines.
This is your mission, Filipino parents. You must create, in your family, and in your home, the welcoming, loving environment that does not yet exist for your child.
The Church and inaccurate Philippine psychologists have offered you a familiar script. I would like to offer you a new script. I want to offer you a course of action that will work toward your child’s overall physical, mental, and spiritual health.
I want to offer you methods that will strengthen, not threaten, your family.
First, you must begin to believe what international health organizations have confirmed for years. Opposite-gendered behavior in your child is not a trait to be stamped out like a moral toxin. Effeminate behavior is not a repudiation of your son’s manhood. It is simply his style of being a man. To call your son less than a man for exhibiting feminine qualities is to imply that he is less than equal in his dignity, less than human in his bearing. Please do not choose to damage your child with this message to him.
Read, too, the short instructions at this link. If you still have questions, keep seeking answers. Keep clicking and clicking. Keep reading. But take care: do not turn your confusion and blame on your child. Measure your own fear against your own capacity for compassion. When you are guided by the former, you are almost certain to cause harm.
Remember, too, that a boy’s sports-playing pugnacity is no guarantee of his heterosexuality. Know that your demure, makeup-wearing daughter has the equal potential to fall in love with a woman. Performance and behavior and clothing are not always predictors of identity. But fearfully rejecting the unique qualities of your gay child is a certain predictor of his future suffering.
If you notice your son playing with dolls, do not rush to take the dolls away. Know that your anxiety, not his sense of play, is what’s unnatural here. Have, instead, a small moment with your son. Join him and play with the dolls too. Talk to him. Hear what he is thinking. Make sure he knows you’re always listening.
If your daughter feels inclined to wear pants and play with power tools, let her wear pants and play with power tools. If she wants to play basketball and soccer, shoot hoops and dribble with her. Let her know you’re always game, always present.
When puberty arrives, you might notice your daughter’s silence, when the rest of her classmates are discussing crushes or dates or dances. If you sense she is afraid to tell you something, give her time. Mention, every once in a while, the lives of happy, healthy LGBT people in your life.
Make sure you have happy, healthy LGBT adults in your life. If you don’t have any gay friends yet, befriend some.
Let your son know, through your choices and your loving words, that he has nothing to fear with you. Let him come to you as he is.
If you can tell that your teenaged daughter’s classmate is likely more than a friend, open a conversation with your daughter. Ask many gentle questions. Listen closely to her answers. Be steady. Do not panic that you have failed. Know that her moment of openness with you means you have triumphed as a parent. Then, address her as you would any child who begins dating. Educate your daughter on what a healthy relationship looks like. If you aren’t sure how to say it, you can start here.
Be, for your child, the open heart and the safe place your Church and your government still refuse to be.
You might observe that your child feels stressed out and afraid of the future. It’s true—being different can sometimes feel dangerously lonely. These are the moments when you will be required to remind your child of the rich possibilities for someone different.
Your child could become a psychologist.
But when your child becomes an adult, your mission is not finished. You daughter may tell you of a deeper commitment she is building in her life. She may bring home a partner. If your daughter is fortunate enough to love and be loved for a long time, you must call her partner what she is, without ashamed euphemisms. You must accept her as a part of the family unit you’ve already so lovingly built.
You must not believe the myth that gay men make inherently unhealthy caretakers. You must welcome the children your gay son may choose to have and nurture.
Dear Filipino parents, you will have so much to celebrate. But you must choose to make room at your table.
I am not pretending your mission will be easy in the Philippines. But that is the nature of a mission. A mission is a difficult undertaking that changes you, first, before it changes the human family around you. You may feel unprepared for it. It may feel radical. It may feel terribly painful.
But if you have an LGBT child, your mission is not polite shaming, silencing, and erasure. Your mission is what God intended with that first act in making the world, after all. Your mission is radical love – open, public, unapologetic love – and all of the creation and pride intrinsic to that kind of love.
Dear parents of the Philippines. For God’s sake – for the sake of the children you’ve already created—for the sake of our very lives – please. Accept your mission. Shut out any voices who might urge you otherwise.The new world you make will overwhelm you with its beauty. Your children will survive there, and thrive. — GMA News