The ‘coming out’ of LGBT persons is a complex process that is often considered long, bumpy, challenging but liberating. More often than not, the process is a positive experience for LGBT persons. Yet, depending on the circumstances and the persons involved in the story, it can also get tricky and pose some risks.
Moreover, ‘coming out’ may go wrong if it takes place at a moment that is emotionally charged due to stress, anger or fatigue, or when those involved may not have healthy enough relationships to discuss the matter calmly. It is no wonder that LGBT persons choose carefully with whom they come out first: a good friend, maybe a sibling, then one of the parents throught whom they get enough support to tell the other.
On the other hand, the coming out of LGBT sons or daughters is often a challenging experience for the parents themselves. The news may trigger within them a varied range of reactions and emotions that send them onto a journey comprising different stages: shock, grief, denial, guilt, blame, disappointment, pain, shame, decision-taking and acceptance. In some cases, parents might even react in opposite ways to the same news, resulting in big arguments between them. Some parents also speak of a loss, as they realise they have to let go of their fairy tale image of their child’s future and bury their deep-set plan for him or her.
Kahlil Gibran’s famous words about parenthood can’t be more true: “Your children are not your children... They come through you but not from you, and though they are with you yet they belong not to you. You may give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls.”
It is imperative that the Church does not get stuck but keeps moving forward while engaging in the story of her LGBT children
At this point, the parent-child roles are often reversed for a while, with parents feeling the need to learn from the experience of their child.
This process invites both sides to be respectful, compassionate and sensitive towards each other. The LGBT person is invited to be realistic and patient with his or her parents as their struggle to come to terms with the ‘new’ reality within their family may be daunting. He or she must allow them some space to adjust and express their feelings and questions. On the other hand, when parents experience shock or turbulent sentiments with the ‘coming out’ of their child, they are invited to journey through any negative reactions, appreciate the disclosure of their child and be thankful for his or her trust.
The Church is one big family, the People of God. She is also a mother and her pastors are called ‘father’. Over the past few decades, the Church has experienced the ‘coming out’ of a number of her children as LGBT persons. Like most cases of ‘coming out’, this experience is complex and challenging. We see members of the faithful struggling with the shocking news of this ‘new’ reality; we witness those who react in opposite ways, while others move onwards along this process; we also encounter those who successfully arrive to the point of complete acceptance. It is normal for the Church – as one big family and mother – to go through these movements and stages. This is a natural process.
Nonetheless, it is imperative that the Church does not get stuck at one stage, but keeps moving forward while engaging in the story of her LGBT children. In this way, the ‘coming out’ of her children will reveal itself as a liberating experience even for her.
Fr Kevin Schembri is a lecturer at the Faculty of Theology and a member of staff at the Ecclesiastical Tribunal.
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