‘There’s a sentence every mother dreads hearing. My heart started thudding with panic as Nakita, my teenage daughter, shuffled up to me nervously in the kitchen and said: “Mum, I’ve got something to tell you.”
Her face was ashen. This was the big one. Drugs? Pregnancy? Was she in trouble with the police?
Nothing could have prepared me when she finally blurted out: ‘Mum, I’m gay.’
My reaction surprised even me: ‘Oh, thank God for that,’ I said. ‘I thought it was something terrible!’ Nakita gave me a puzzled look. ‘I thought you were going to hate me and be ashamed of me,’ she said as she began to cry.
I hugged her, as the words sunk in. Initially I was relieved that my daughter wasn’t in trouble, but I can’t pretend that her coming out to me three months ago wasn’t shocking.
Fear of rejection
Nakita’s just 13, the eldest of my six children from two marriages, and I’ve always been very protective of her. While I’m aware that many mums would think their child was going through a phase, I knew that she wasn’t.
The clues had been there during the previous six months, which had been so stormy I’d dreaded Nakita coming home from school each day.
There was no friendly: ‘Hi, Mum,’ like I’d get from her siblings. Instead she’d stomp up to her room without a word. And that was on good days.
On bad days, the rows would start as soon as we set eyes on each other. Nothing I did was right. She’d tell me how much she hated me and she’d often turn on her stepdad, my husband Matt, 37, shrieking that he wasn’t her real dad if he dared chastise her.
Of course, I blamed myself. I felt as though I was a failure as a mum – clearly there was something wrong but she couldn’t confide in me.
Ironically, I spend hours every day as an online agony aunt advising other mums on health and family problems. My website – The Real Supermum – gets 22,000 hits a month.
I also organise regional meetings for mums around the UK to come together, socialise and discuss their problems. I write advice columns on everything from dealing with addiction to self-harming.
Now, here I was, daggers drawn with the daughter I adored, but just couldn’t understand.
Something happened in February this year that I’d kept in the back of my mind. I’d come across two letters she’d written while I was tidying her room.
They were lying face-up in a drawer I was about to close. One was addressed to a female teacher, the other to a schoolgirl friend. I wasn’t snooping, but I couldn’t help myself from reading them.
Both letters spoke of feelings she had for the recipients that she didn’t understand. Stunned by what I’d read, I never said anything to Nakita. What I’d seen was private and not for my eyes. Besides, for all I knew, they could have been meant as a joke.
But in the following weeks, Nakita’s mood swings grew worse. I spoke to her father – my first husband Christopher, 42, a landscape gardener – and asked if he would have her to stay at his for six weeks. She left our house without saying goodbye.
I felt desolate, as if I’d failed her, but we both needed space to calm down. Happily, Nakita was soon texting and emailing me. Gradually, we rebuilt our relationship and things began to improve.
At the end of her stay with her dad, Nakita returned home and made that announcement in the kitchen one Monday night after school. She’d been trying to work out how to tell me for months.
The instant she said it, all the problems with her behaviour, her reluctance to go to school on some days and those secret letters, made sense. And I truly was relieved that her confession wasn’t something awful.
A drug-taking or pregnant 13 year old would have been a nightmare. But a gay one? I was sure I could handle it even though I did think she was very young, and I hadn’t heard of children coming out at that age before.
In a way, my composed reaction stole her thunder. She was prepared for a big fight, but I gave her my support instead and didn’t rubbish her feelings, which I believe are genuine.
She’s always been a tomboy and different from other girls of her age. When she had friends for sleepovers and they experimented with make-up, she’d watch, but would never join in.
Her usual choice of outfit is tracksuit bottoms and a football shirt. She’s never liked pink or girlie things, even as a small child, whereas I love them and my two younger daughters – Casey, 10, and Kia, four – adore pretty dresses.
But my accepting her sexuality was only the first step in quite a minefield. She was terrified of telling her dad and asked me to do it for her, which I did.
Though shocked, he promised to be supportive. Matt was also very good about it. And, with her dad on side, Nakita relaxed a little – and the awkward questions about sex with girls began.
It wasn’t long since we’d had a talk about boys. Now she was asking about gay marriage and how lesbians made love. Hiding my embarrassment as the talk turned to oral sex and sex toys, I tried to answer her questions honestly.
There were no manuals on how to deal with this and so I responded as I would if another mum was asking me for advice.
I had to stress that just because another girl could not get her pregnant, it didn’t mean she could have a gay sexual relationship under 16. It was still against the law.
‘You have to wait, like everyone else, and school always comes first,’ I said. I told her I was nearly 17 before I lost my virginity in a long-term relationship. She assured me that her sexual experience had so far not gone beyond kissing.
In my opinion, that’s as far as it goes while Nakita’s under age. While she’s always had friends sleep over in the same bed as her, I’ve now laid down new ground rules. Girl friends still yes, but girlfriends definitely no. It’s about respect and trust.
I’m just so happy to have my daughter back. Gay or straight, she is still Nakita and I love her and am very proud of her.”
Nakita says: “It’s not easy saying this, but I’m a lesbian and I’m proud. I know people will think I’m going through a phase, but I know what I am. I like girls not boys, and I have done since I was 12.
Although I’m too young for a sexual relationship, I have kissed girls. It was an experiment at first and I know other girls have done this to practise kissing. But to me it meant more than that.
When I watch my favourite Twilight DVDs with my mates, they go on about how gorgeous Robert Pattinson is. But I can’t take my eyes off Ashley Greene and the other female actors.
When I first started developing feelings for a female teacher and became attracted to one of my friends, I found it very confusing. I wrote the letters my mum found, but I was never brave enough to send them.
I know girls develop crushes on teachers and other girls. My mum’s told me that she kissed a few girls at my age. But this is not something I will grow out of as it’s already had an effect on my life.
Six months ago I was depressed and angry. I thought if I told Mum I was gay, she’d love me less or wouldn’t believe me.
I used to think gay people were disgusting. So it’s been a shock to realise I’m not like my mum or my best friends.
I still want children when I’m older – I’ve even asked Mum if she’ll carry a baby for me if I can’t have one, and she has said she would. I realise it won’t be straightforward, but I do know now that being gay feels normal.
It’s just not that easy coming out when you’re only 13. While girls at school have generally been great and told me that they still like me for the person I am, boys have become much more difficult to deal with.
Recently, one boy came into the library while I was there and shouted out nasty things about me being gay. Everyone stared at me. I looked down and said nothing, but I cried my eyes out when I got home.
Most of my brothers and sisters are too young to know what it means to be gay, though I have tried
to explain to my sister Casey and brother Cameron, nine, that I like girls instead of boys. They are fine with it. I just hope that they don’t get bullied because of it.
Although it’s difficult, I know not coming out would have been harder. Eventually, I’d like to bring a girlfriend home to meet my mum. I feel I can get on with enjoying my life and things are better at home. I love my mum and all my family so much.”
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‘It’s not unusual to come out at 12’
Alex Drummond is a cognitive behavioural psychotherapist who specialises in gender and sexual diversity issues. He says: “A generation ago, people had to wait until their 40s to come out. Now, most come out in their teens, which helps them lead more open and honest lives. I don’t think 13 or even 12 is too young.
Most people become aware of their sexual orientation around the time of puberty, and with puberty occurring at an increasingly early age – at age nine or 10 in some girls – this is something parents should take seriously.
Dismissing your child’s sexual orientation as ‘just a phase’ may help you pretend it’s not happening, but it will only create a great deal of anger within your child, who will most certainly be experiencing very real feelings.
I commend Emma for how she’s handled this. Nakita’s main fear was clearly being rejected, but by being sensitive and respectful Emma reassured her daughter that she is still normal and still very loved.”