Second-Generation Queer: What It’s Like To Come Out to LGBTQ+ Parents
As more adults living their authentic lives in queer relationships have children, kids are navigating the unique experience of coming out to a parent who can relate to their journey.
In the late 1990s, when Britney Spears reigned as the Princess of Pop and the world was collectively preparing for Y2K, Coco Faria took her first trip to Provincetown, Massachusetts for Family Week, a seven-day camp for LGBTQ+ families. She was only 10 at the time, but the visit would become an annual pilgrimage, and the friends that Faria made there—all kids who had queer parents, just like her—would prove crucial as she learned how to navigate the world with two lesbian moms.
For Faria, Family Week was a home away from home—a place where she could be surrounded by other kids like her, if only for seven days. "The joke was that I would always be kicking and screaming going in, and kicking and screaming going out," Faria says. "Because I didn't want to go, but by the end of the week, I didn't want to leave!"
Provincetown, Massachusetts is something of a queer destination; for much of the year, the town is brimming with LGBTQ+ adults who come looking for a good time (unrelatedly, it also happens to be the site of the Mayflower landing, in 1620). But, for one week out of the year, Provincetown transforms into a haven for queer families, who, rather than flood the nightclubs on Commercial Street, partake in a slew of entirely wholesome activities fit for a kid's sleepaway camp.
Camps like Family Week provide kids of queer parents with an environment that contradicts their norm: the often judgmental world of compulsory heterosexuality that doesn't have room for anyone who defies the status quo. And they're particularly impactful for the kids who, separate from their parents, discover and embrace their own queer identity, too.
"It was just incredible—even the sex education that I had, and the education in general, that's definitely where I was radicalized," says Faria, who came out as queer in college. "We could all be together and just say, you know, we're not 'normal,' and that's OK. We had a whole year's worth of experiences that we needed to talk through and friends who we could call when we had to go back to our hometowns."
A generation ago, meeting a queer person like Faria who also had queer (and out) parents was exceedingly rare. Even today, the typical coming-out narrative usually involves straight parents. While coming out to a queer parent may help to avoid some more traditional conflicts, queer children and teens still want an experience independent from the one their parents had. The typical nuances of a parent-child relationship as the child comes into their own identity remain.
Coming Out Can Be Casual
Faria's moms met when she was 10—hence, the new tradition of attending Family Week—and her mom's coming out meant an adjustment for the entire family. But for someone like Sydney Boles, who grew up with two lesbian moms in upstate New York, her queer upbringing felt entirely normal—because it was all she knew.
"I think my mom made a lot of choices in the way that she raised me that must have come from her experience as a lesbian and as a feminist, but she never really framed them that way," Boles says. "It was just the choices that she made. Like, I played with a lot of blocks and not a lot of dolls. I was never really pushed into frilly dresses; that stuff was missing for me in a way that I think allowed me to have less unpacking to do as an adult woman and as a person."
When Boles came out, her stepmom gifted her a drill set, a handful of lesbian novels, and said, happily, You're one of us now! "I think the experience for a lot of young people is that there's a removal from your parents' experiences. And it's like, This is my own thing. I have my own identity. I'm in a culture that's different from you. It's a part of that adolescent separation from the parents that I think is part of a healthy coming-of-age story. It was very different for me; I felt a little bit robbed of that. My parents knew very specifically what it's like to have your first relationships and that sort of exploration phase and figuring out how to have sex and all that stuff—it was all very familiar to them."
The Identity Spectrum Has Evolved
While some experiences may feel universal—and thus, timeless—the queer politics of today are obviously very different from the 1970s and '80s, when the gay liberation movement was in full swing and declaring oneself a lesbian was extremely political, in every sense of the word. And while Gen Z is more likely to identify as LGBTQ+ than any generation prior, it's also more likely to prefer the term 'queer' as opposed to a word with seemingly narrower connotations, like gay or lesbian. It's a point of contention between generations.
"I remember explaining to my mom a couple of years ago that I preferred the term 'queer,' even though my experience was primarily as a cis woman who had relationships with women," Boles says. "'Lesbian' felt incomplete, and I felt like my queerness put me in community with other groups of people who also experienced marginalization in this sort of broader American society. And that political aspect of queerness was really important to me. But my mom was like, 'Yeah, that's what lesbian is,' you know?"
Society Assumptions Are Plenty
Apart from interpersonal dynamics and the politics of language, there's also society itself. There's a longstanding suspicion that gay parents beget gay children, as well as the belief that having gay parents is the ultimate utopia, at least compared to a more stereotypical upbringing in a cishet household. Obviously, neither assumption is true.
"Folks would always say, 'Oh, that's so cool that you have gay parents, it must be so easy for you as a gay person'—and in a way, it is, but it's also really belittling of my experience," Faria says. "My family has a lot of trauma and shit that happened, and it wasn't that great at times. If you're thinking, 'Having a gay parent must be rad'— well, it's not just rad. Parents are parents."
Faria's experience speaks to what we already know to be true: that no family is exempt from sometimes complicated dynamics, no matter how seemingly progressive or conventional they may appear. Growing up as a second-gen queer has the potential to be just as fraught—and joyful, and full of angst—as any other version of childhood.