(I first reviewed Let’s Get This Straight: The Ultimate Handbook for Youth with LGBTQ Parents several years ago for my newspaper column, but since “Throwback Thursday” is a thing around the Internet, I thought I’d post this again. It’s a great read for tweens, teens, and their parents.)
Let’s Get This Straight: The Ultimate Handbook for Youth with LGBTQ Parents (Seal Press, 2010), is an insightful, forthright new guide that should find a place in every home with children of LGBTQ parents. Part practical advice, part inspiration, and part workbook, it will also be an indispensible resource for libraries, schools, and youth groups.
Written by Chicago-based author and educator Tina Fakhrid-Deen, in partnership with COLAGE (the national organization for children of LGBTQ parents), the book offers advice for pre-teens and teens on dealing with a parent’s coming out, coming out about one’s family, dealing with teasing and harassment—especially in school—overcoming religious bias against LGBTQ families, being an activist for LGBTQ rights or other causes, and much more. It even includes a list of snappy comebacks to “clueless questions” about one’s family. Fakhrid-Deen gears her language to her young audience, but never talks down to them.
Fakhrid-Deen herself is the daughter of a lesbian mom and a straight father. She founded the Chicago chapter of COLAGE and ran it for seven years—but the book is not her story, or at least, not hers alone. Rather, it is the stories and perspectives of the more than 40 youth and adults whom she interviewed, all of whom have at least one LGBTQ parent. Her own story, she said in an interview, is “a drop in the ocean. I strongly feel that we are all the experts of our own experiences, and that there are a plethora of experiences and opinions from this community that need to be shared with the world.”
The individuals featured in the book come from families across the LGBTQ spectrum and a diversity of family structures. They range in age from eight to thirty-six. More than half identified as biracial, multiracial, or persons of color. One quarter said they were low-income, and almost one-fifth were “second gen”—LGBTQ themselves.
As a woman, as an African American woman, as a woman from a low-income background . . . it was very important for me to include as many diverse experiences and types of individuals as possible.
She was inspired to write the book after she kept getting asked many of the same questions and challenges by the youth she worked with and their families. There was no comprehensive resource to which she could direct them to find answers to their questions.
The closest previous volume was Abigail Garner’s excellent Families Like Mine: Children of Gay Parents Tell it Like It Is (Harper Collins, 2004). Fakhrid-Deen says Let’s Get This Straight is aimed at a somewhat younger audience, however—readers ages 10 and up—whereas Families Like Mine (to which she contributed) is for and about older teens and adults.
But the purpose of Let’s Get This Straight goes beyond merely answering questions. Throughout the book are quizzes and journaling activities to help youth assess their own feelings, their school climates, and to begin telling their own stories.
Fakhrid-Deen hopes the book’s numerous quotes, tips, and poems from youth with LGBTQ parents will serve as a catalyst. “What I’m trying to empower youth to do is to have their own voices. Stop allowing adults, stop allowing the researchers and the media and the politicians to say who we are. We know who we are, and if not, we’re learning. When we learn, we can speak up for ourselves,” she said.
She does not shy away from exploring many issues that may even make others in the LGBTQ community uncomfortable: What is it like coming out as an LGBTQ child of LGBTQ parents, in a community trying to fight right-wing assumptions that all our children will turn out that way? Why might children of LGBTQ parents find themselves using anti-gay slurs? How can we effectively address family problems, such as alcoholism, that have nothing to do with being LGBTQ but may be used by others as evidence that LGBTQ families are in some way defective?
“One of the things that I’m trying to get across in this book is that the problem isn’t our families,” she insisted. “The problem isn’t our parents. The reality is we still live in a homophobic society. Until we can eradicate homophobia, external and internalized, there will always be a need for us to have refuge, safe spaces for us to talk, connect, empower ourselves, and get out there doing the work of eradicating it.”
Fakhrid-Deen hopes the book will help provide that safe space and sense of community, especially for those living outside of LGBTQ-friendly states and without the means to go on R Family cruises or LGBTQ summer camps. “One of the main things that I heard across the nation was how isolated youth with LGBTQ parents feel,” she said. “I think that one of the most important things that COLAGE provides and that this book can provide is to connect us to each other.”
While the book is aimed primarily at LGBTQ youth, Fakhrid-Deen hopes LGBTQ parents will read it, too, and use it to support their children. She explained, “It’s about fortifying your child just in case, even if there are no issues. The hope is that there won’t be, but you don’t go camping without a flashlight. This book is that flashlight. Just in case you or your child needs it.”
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