Vicki Finlay’s pride in her children radiates not just from her words, but in the way she works to help other kids whose parents haven’t been as accepting that their children were not who they wanted them to be.
At 17, Findlay’s daughter Margaret came out as gay. Later and also at 17, her son Sam came out as transgender. Both revealed themselves through letters left on the coffee maker, giving their parents time to come to terms with their own initial feelings. But true acceptance took longer, with Finlay having to overcome her fear of community judgement and worry for her children’s futures to realize that her love for her children trumped her constructs. Findlay’s acceptance turned into advocacy and she’s worked hard to ensure her shop in downtown Red Deer, Juntiques, is a safe space for LGTBQ youth to ask for help or just be open about who they are.
Margaret’s revelation that she was gay actually came as somewhat of a relief to Findlay. “I always felt that there was something I was missing in my daughter, a part of her I didn’t know. After she came out, she blossomed, she became her complete self. I finally saw what I was missing, she didn’t have to hide her true self anymore.”
Acceptance didn’t come as easily when her son Sam came out as transgender and self-blame quickly turned into self-pity. Findlay admits that learning that your child is transgender can be one of the hardest things a parent can hear. “We told our son that it was going to take a bit to wrap our heads around and that he needed to give us a little time. We also told him we needed to ask him a lot of questions.”
She says her strong faith helped her find eventual understanding and even purpose. “I feel that God communicated to me that having these two queer kids was a blessing and not a punishment. That is when I was able to start to accept and move forward.”
Findlay’s children’s revelations made her realize that including pride merchandise in her store, proudly displayed at the entrance, could play an important part in helping others.
“Having the merchandise at the front of my store, in the light, gives everyone of all ages, families, grandmas, the opportunity to buy the merchandise for themselves or someone they love without feeling hidden or ashamed.”
It’s also lead to her often being the first adult that teens have opened up to. “I am so blessed everyday by the people I meet and the stories I hear. I have cried with and for more people than I can count right in front of the Pride section.”
While a child coming out can be a difficult transition for parents, she has advice to help ensure their children feel supported and loved.
1. Always remember that they didn’t have to tell you, they could have instead decided to hurt themselves or hide this part of themselves from you. Most important thing to remember is that they are the same kid that they were five minutes before.
2. Don’t react before you think, don’t say something you can’t take back. Listen, don’t talk, hear don’t judge. Consider, don’t dismiss. Consider the courage that it took them to tell you and don’t brush it off.
3. We asked our children to tell us when they were ready to tell family members and how they wanted to do it. When they decided it was time, we called them up as a family and told them together.
4. Be there, listen, don’t judge. Learn what you can from other sources but ask them a lot of questions. Go at their pace. Don’t out them until they are ready and don’t start to believe this is about you and not them.
5. Parents should know that sexuality and gender are fluid. They may change and may not always be the same day to day. Be patient and don’t judge.
She suggests the following resources for those seeking help or information.
CAPS – Central Alberta Pride – www.centralalbertapride.ca
TANAS – Transgender and Non-Binary Aid Society – www.tanas.org
RDQCA – Red Deer Queer Community Association – www.rdqca.org
She also recommends considering family counselling sessions, which her family participated in and found helpful. Vantage Community Services provides counselling services free of charge and Shalom Counselling provides a sliding fee scale for counselling services.
This article appeared in Summer 2021 Prairie Living.