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You Think You’re Ready to Be the Dad of an LGBTQIA+ Kid — Until You’re Not

It’s OK to be confused — you’re not alone

Raised child hand with rainbow LGBTQ pride flag tattoo
Getty Images

Drew Armstrong was genuinely surprised when he found Tyler, his 3-year-old, inside a bedroom closet, cutting off his hair.

“Well, Dad,” said Tyler, who was born a girl, “I want to be a boy. I want to be a prince.”

“That was a shock,” remembers Armstrong, 51, who lives with his family near Salt Lake City. Indeed, he resisted the gender issue at first, assuming that Tyler was simply a “butch lesbian.” But he soon learned to accept and take a back seat to his child’s needs and desires. (Though Tyler is not his given name at birth, it’s his chosen name and the only one his family uses.) Today, Armstrong has a strong, loving relationship with Tyler, who’s now 20 and on hormones. 

It’s easy to tell ourselves that we’re prepared for any parenting challenge. But all that confidence can evaporate when you’re raising a child who identifies as LGBTQIA+.

The disorientation is hitting Generation X dads hard. Even those of us who consider ourselves progressive, who marched in gay pride parades or raised money for AIDS organizations back when doing so was less socially accepted, can get tripped up by what feels like a new world of queer empowerment, with its own set of rules, goals and language.

That’s why Armstrong cofounded Dragon Dads, a private Facebook group dedicated to supporting and educating fathers of LGBTQIA+ children. Sometimes they simply don’t know what to say to their kids. Other times, they’ve inadvertently offended them, and they’re trying to repair the relationship. Often they just don’t get what’s going on.

Armstrong’s first advice: It’s OK to make mistakes.

“Sit your kid down and say, ‘This is a little difficult for me because it's new,’ ” he suggests. “ ‘But I understand, and I'm going to do my best, and we'll get there together.’ Most of the time, the effort and the fact that you sat down with them are all they need.”

Just be careful not to throw your emotional baggage on them. “They're going through enough at this point. They don't need to be worried about your hurt feelings on top of it all,” Armstrong says.

“A lot of times, kids are testing you to see how safe you are when they're first coming out,” Armstrong notes. “Don't do or say anything that you're going to regret 10 years down the road.”

It’s imperative to follow your kid’s lead, according to several dads interviewed for this story. A lot has changed, and no one can become an expert overnight. 

Here’s a breakdown of evolving lingo, since you’d hardly be the only person confounded by the term LGBTQIA+. While the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender lettering are well-known, “Q” can mean queer or questioning, the “I” stands for intersex, “A” can mean asexual or ally, and that plus sign indicates ever-broadening inclusion. 

“Today, gender is nuanced and sliced finely. And everyone seems to have a specific way they identify,” says Murray Coffey, 58, a lawyer in Dallas with a nonbinary child who uses they/them pronouns.

Meanwhile, terms like “tranny” and “fag hag” that were once freely thrown around in a seemingly positive spirit, including by gay and trans folks, should probably be shelved.

For those dads who remain stubbornly uncomfortable with their kids’ sexual preferences or gender-bending, Armstrong likes to flip the equation. 

“At what point did you decide that you're heterosexual?” he asks them. “And they're like, ‘What are you talking about? I've always been heterosexual.’ Well, guess what? For these kids, it's not a choice. Just like it was never a choice for you to decide that you liked girls.”