Lesbian Daughters, Straight Moms

Find tips on how to overcome the challenges that can arise when a daughter admits to her mother that she is a lesbian.

Most of the available information confirms that for a woman who is a lesbian, the most difficult personal task she faces is admitting that she is gay to herself and then her family—particularly her mother. The fear of rejection and loss of approval is uppermost in her mind. Anne F. Caron, Ed.D., and author of Mothers and Daughters (Henry Holt and Company, 1998), found that it is a circle of lesbian friends that finally helps a daughter gain the courage she needs to tell her mother.

Knowing when and how to tell their mothers, to lessen her pain and avoid her self-blame, is also of extreme concern to daughters. However, most parents do not think they contributed to their son or daughter's homosexual preferences. A national study reported in Homosexuality and the Family in 1989 found that the vast majority—87 percent of parents—thought their gay or lesbian son or daughter was born that way.

Woman to Woman

The number of women who are self-ascribed lesbians is small in comparison to the total number of gay men. A 1992 survey of women, conducted by the University of Chicago, revealed that 0.9 percent of the female population is lesbian and 0.5 percent is bisexual. Other reports say that nearly 4 percent of the female population is lesbian and 10 percent of the male population is gay. More conservative studies put the male gay population at 2 to 6 percent. A 1994 study mentioned in Newsday (August 18, 1994) cited figures of gays as 6.2 percent for men and 3.6 percent for women.

Mothers should be aware that most lesbian daughters deeply want to maintain a close tie with them, Carson maintains. Although that bond may have been strained or weakened during previous years under the stress of concealment, your daughter is not deliberately trying to be defiant when she confides her sexual preference to you. On the contrary, Carson sees this as an authentic attempt to reconnect and express her love by being truthful.

Accepting a Daughter's Sexual Preference

Studies by Sarah F. Pearlman, reported in the Journal of Feminist Family Therapy in 1992, describe how moms generally react to the disclosure that their daughter is a lesbian. Pearlman discovered that…

  1. Mothers worked through a specific sequence of emotions—infusion, devastation, loss, struggle with coming to terms, increased tolerance, complete acceptance, residual sorrow, and regret.
  2. Mothers who adapted most easily to the discovery (the author notes but always with that residual sense of sorrow) were college educated, socially and politically active, working women.
  3. The discovery was most difficult and painful for women who had no college experience, were not involved in social or political causes, and did not work. They were deeply wounded by the idea of not having a traditional daughter.
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