by Lori Rentzel
An event most people are totally unprepared for is the discovery that someone close to them is gay. Whether the confession of gayness comes from a son or daughter, husband, wife or a close friend, the reaction is often the same: "What do I say to them now?", "How can I help?" and sometimes, "Could I be partly to blame for this situation?"
Dealing with Homosexuality in a Close Friend or Relative
Perhaps the most traumatic way a person can encounter the issue of homosexuality is by learning of the gayness of someone close. Yet, this is a common occurrence in families today: a son or daughter comes home from college and tells their parents of their involvement in the gay lifestyle or a married businessman with children confesses to his wife that he's been actively homosexual for several years. Every situation like this is different, yet there is one thing in common: the person hearing the news is faced with some choices of how they are going to respond to the gay individual. Whilst recognizing the confusion and bewilderment that can overwhelm someone at this time, here are a few guidelines on "how to respond" to the person who has informed you of their homosexuality.
Remain as calm as possible - The discovery of someone's homosexuality usually sets off an emotional reaction of panic that makes you think the whole world is falling apart. It's not. At this point, it helps to focus on the question, "What does this person need from me now?" This initial disclosure is not the time to dwell on your own fears and insecurities. There will be plenty of time to deal with those things later.
Communicate acceptance - Don't reject the gay person! This individual needs your love and acceptance at this point more than they've ever needed it. You may be feeling totally bewildered - as if that lovable, familiar person who you thought you knew so intimately has suddenly turned into a monster. Rest assured, they haven't. With as much acceptance and grace as you can come up with (prayer is essential here), re-affirm your love for this person. They don't need rejection or harsh, angry lectures.
Love unconditionally - You are probably wondering, "But isn't homosexuality sin? Don't I need to tell him/her how wrong it is?" Yes, but we'll get to that later. The main thing you need to have your energies directed towards now is loving that person unconditionally. It won't come naturally in most cases, so you'll have to be calling on God and drawing strength from Him.
Demonstrate a loving confrontation - Most people would tend to put this step first, but substitute the word "angry" for "loving". That is why we stress the need for affirming our love and acceptance of the gay person. After you have successfully communicated your love and acceptance and the person knows that you are not going to withdraw your support, you are ready to share your own viewpoints. This is especially true if the person is a Christian. This can be done in a gentle way, taking care not to "beat them over the head" with Scriptures.
Instilling hope for change - Along with loving confrontation, you need to hold out an alternative to homosexual activity. It's good to have something concrete to give them: some counseling tapes they can listen to, the phone number of someone who has faced similar issues, or a brochure from an ex-gay ministry to gay/lesbian people.
Be part of a supportive community - The initial disclosure and response is just the beginning. The person with homosexual problems is going to need faithful, consistent love and support. The gay world is full of change, instability, unkept promises and broken relationships. You can provide a listening ear, a place of warmth, security and wholesomeness. Practical things you can do include verbally telling them you love them, writing letters of affirmation, phoning periodically, or inviting them into your home.
Dealing with your own Reactions to Homosexuality
When another person tells you of their gayness, it may seem that the uniqueness of their situation causes your own problems to seem rather inconsequential. However, your first encounter with the subject of homosexuality may result in some distressing and confusing reactions on your part. Don't feel guilty for having problems of your own. Most people do have some difficulty dealing with the confession of gayness by someone they care about. Here are a few tips to working through these reactions:
Don't take it personally. This is a common reaction. Sometimes a gay person will disclose their past with the intent to hurt you or get you to share the blame for their current situation. However, this is not usually the case, and it is just as likely that the person shares with you in an attempt to become closer. Either way, try to look at their homosexuality as a simple fact. It is not something intended to hurt you, incriminate or embarrass you, or to be a statement about you in any way.
It is amazing how Christians who wholeheartedly believe in treating alcoholics, prostitutes and even murderers with the love of Christ will see a couple of gay people walking down the street and say, "Look at those two poofters!" What is even more amazing is that these Christians will feel completely justified in having this attitude! But such an attitude towards those with homosexual issues is NOT alright with God. God does judge and condemn homosexual acts and the gay lifestyle, but Christ never treated those caught up in sexual sin in such a debasing way. Consider how Christ treated the Samaritan woman at the well and the woman caught in adultery. While the Pharisees, the religious men of that time, looked on such people with contempt, Christ forgave them. Although He confronted them with their sin and in no way condoned it, He was more concerned with meeting the needs of their hearts and setting them free to live productive and fulfilling lives.
This is the attitude we need to take in ministering to those with homosexual issues. If you don't have such an attitude, and you are overwhelmed with feelings of fear and repulsion, be honest with yourself and God! Bring these things before God in prayer, asking Him to give you a change of heart. He'll do it! It may take time though. Be patient with yourself and persistent in prayer, and you will see changes.
Dealing with the Grief Process
Some (not all) experience the gayness of someone close as a devastating, traumatic experience. The reasons why it hits some individuals this way and not others are not clear-cut. The fact remains that for some, this is an experience that can leave as great (or even greater) an impact than if a close friend or relative has died. In fact, it is not uncommon for a person to go through the same grief process that occurs when someone dies; the sense of loss can be that great. This is actually what triggers the grief process; the realization that something or someone of extremely great value has been irretrievably lost to you in some capacity, maybe forever.
To give you an overview of what is involved in working through these emotions, here is a brief look at each step in the grief process.
1. Shock, Denial and Disbelief - When we desperately wish something were not true, we may subconsciously refuse to acknowledge it. A person may minimize someone's confession of homosexuality: "It's not such a big problem, it is bound to go away in time. Let's just forget about it and hope they never mention it again. It's probably just a stage.", or even, "They're not really a homosexual".
2. Emotional Release - Once reality begins to hit, there may be many tears and overwhelming emotions. The best way of coping with this is to let yourself feel these things and express them, but try not to unleash them on the gay person. It would be better to tell the person what you are feeling than to shriek at them or tearfully accuse them.
3. Depression and Isolation - These symptoms are pretty self-explanatory and are usually accompanied by self-pity over the loss, which leads to feeling cut off from others.
4. Physical Symptoms of Distress - These can be most perplexing and highly varied, ranging from extreme headaches to chest pain, nausea, and difficulty in breathing. One woman complained that her "teeth itched", another walked around for a year feeling like she had swallowed a lead golf ball. You won't die though. You just feel like you will.
5. Panic - When you can think of nothing else but the loss and can't concentrate, you are in the "panic" stage. A mother who found out her son was gay said she felt like she had the word "homosexual" going around in her head like a broken record.
6. Sense of Guilt - Basically, this is where you review in your mind all your previous contacts with the person thinking, "Where did I go wrong? Where did I fail them?" This can be fruitless unless you ask, "What can I do now?"
7. Anger and Resentment - "How dare they do this to me?" This question hits us after the initial sorrow wears off. Actually, it is a sign that we are healing. When a sick person is recovering from a prolonged illness, they begin complaining when they start feeling better. This means the road to recovery is under way. It can be a healthy sign, as long as we don't dwell on it and become bitter. Get it out and move on.
8. Resist Returning to Normal - Here is where you realize that "life goes on and so must I". Still, there is a hesitancy to leave the problem behind and move on. Grief has been like a blanket, a form of security. It's not easy to abandon it.
9. Hope Comes Through - One day you wake up feeling better. Usually, it is more like you notice that several days have gone by since you noticed the pain. Maybe you've been so busy with other things that you haven't had time to notice the loss. This is the key sign; your focus now turns outward instead of inward. The problem is there, but the personal hurt is gone.
10. Struggle to Affirm Reality - Life is back to normal for the most part. From time to time, the memories or realizations will sweep over you. In the case of homosexuality, the person is probably still around and there may be occasional crises to deal with, but it's not the same. Everything has receded to a much more rational perspective. You have somehow (thank God!) got through this thing.
In his book Parents in Pain (IVP), John White writes about “knowing when to let go - the art of relinquishment.” Here are some helpful points he makes:
Relinquishment does not mean that we abandon the person or neglect our responsibilities towards them.
It does mean forsaking the right to be proud. We can't demand that this person fulfill our dreams for them.
It does mean being willing to forego any repayment for what we have done for this person.
It does mean giving up our right to respectability. We can pray that gossip will pass us by, but we can't cling to our right to escape it.
Most important and most difficult of all, relinquishment means allowing our loved ones to face pain, tragedy and even death, and allowing them to accept the consequences of their own actions.
Be Prepared! God May Use You
The experiences you have been through will not be wasted.
No one is better equipped to minister in a given area than one who has "been there." If you remain open to God and are willing to be used, you will probably find many opportunities to "comfort with the same comfort you have received from God". In fact, the joy which comes from ministering to those in need can be the greatest tool God uses in bringing healing to your own life!