I am Chef Dave, a straight, cisgender man.
I’m also a local chef in the Madison area who opened my first restaurant 13 years ago and named it Liliana’s after our first-born child. Seven years later, we opened Charlie’s on Main in Oregon, WI and named it after our son Charlie, and then three years ago, I founded a nonprofit called Little John’s after our youngest.
My introduction always used to be that I named my restaurants after my children. Well, now Charlie’s on Main closed because of COVID-19, Little John’s is in the fundraising stages of building a 25,000 square-foot production kitchen to end food insecurity (but we have a lot to go for fundraising to get the building completed), and my oldest came out to us as non-binary and has changed their name to Ollie Joy. I now find myself the owner of ZERO restaurants named after my kids, and I could not be a prouder dad.
With Ollie’s approval, I announced their coming out as non-binary and their new chosen name on social media, it was shared hundreds of times, and local news stations even did stories about them. What we saw afterwards was both wonderful and sad at the same time. So many people reached out to Ollie, me, and Tiffany (my wife/Ollie’s mom) saying how amazing it was to see someone that was like them in the news, and how great a mom and dad Ollie had for accepting them. With every 15 wonderful people sharing love and compassion, there was one asshole spewing hate. It is always hard when you see so much love, but a couple people spoil it with hatred and negativity.
Since then, I have been contacted by many parents who have questions since their friend, or their child, and they are having similar conversations.
It is funny to me that the first question so many people ask me is, “How hard was it to have your child come out as trans/non-binary?” For me, the answer is so simple. “It wasn’t.” I love Ollie no matter what their name is, no matter what their pronouns, gender, sexual orientation, or faith turns out to be. I. Love. My. Child.
It is so hard for me to understand that this would even be an issue for someone, but I know after talking with Ollie and other adults who have lived this journey, just how horrible it can be for so many. Many trans people face bullying, assault, beatings, verbal abuse, and more just for trying to express who they are.
Some of the most common questions or struggles I’ve heard parents working through when their child comes out:
1. “What will people/neighbors/friends/church/community think about this?”
2. “What if this is just a phase? If I encourage it, will I lead them down a harder path that they might not have without my support?”
3. “What if this is just a sign of a mental health problem?”
4. “I know who my child is, and they are definitely a HE/SHE, their minds are just being warped by their peers, or by someone else. I know who my child is better than anyone.”
5. “They are too young to know what their gender or sexual orientation is, they are still growing, puberty has not hit them yet, they are just discovering who they are.”
I know that there are so many more, but I personally have heard these many times from the mouths of neighbors, family, community members, and friends.
Before I address any of these questions/statements, I want to make one thing really, really, really, really, really clear. If your child has come out to you, this is not just something they are taking lightly, are just kind of thinking about, or have not already made up their mind about. Coming out to a parent can be incredibly hard and scary for a child, even if they think that their parent will be receptive. So just know, that no matter the actions you take, it will only impact your relationship with your child, it will not change who your child is.
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s look at each of the previous questions and really talk through them.
“What will people think?”
My answer: “WHO CARES!!!” If you had to make a choice, between your child and anyone else on the planet, I am hoping you are like me, and would choose your kid. If someone chooses not to love or respect your kid because they are who they are, do you really care if they are your friend? If you however do value the opinion and judgment of someone over your family, then I guess I just feel sorry for you, and for your child.
The other question I have for you is, if what I said earlier is true, and your child will be who they say they are regardless of your input, what will the road before them look like with you by their side vs. walking the path alone. It may be easier for you to distance yourself from the choices your children make when talking to others, but what difficulties will your child face going through that alone. How will your neighbors act differently knowing that the entirety of your child’s family supports them vs. a child that is alone.
“What if it is just a phase?”
My answer: “Does it matter?!” If it is a phase, then they will continue to change, and when they get to the other side of it, they will look back at parents who never stopped loving them no matter what. Parents who were there for them no matter what.
If it is not a phase (and let me just tell you that often, it’s not a phase) don’t you want to be there for your child to help them navigate through it? Don’t you want them to know that although the world can be a scary, mean, and hurtful place, that they will always have you there to support them and go to bat for them?
“What if this is a sign of a serious mental health issue?”
If you are worried about this, here is something off the wall!!! Talk to your child, or help find a great therapist for them to talk to. Even if there are no mental health issues related to their coming out, therapy is great for EVERYONE.
Your child’s gender identity or sexuality is not a mental health crisis. Your reaction to it could cause one.
“I know my child best! Better than they do!”
You don’t. You might know them better than other family, friends, or strangers, but no one knows your child more than your child does. Ask yourself this. Who knows you better now as an adult, you or your parents? I am guessing if you answered this honestly you picked yourself. I know that some of you will retort with, but they are just a child, how can they know something of that magnitude at that age??? And to that my response always is “did you know your gender identity as a teenager?” I feel like many feel confident we did, and would have been traumatized if forced to live presenting as a gender we didn’t identify with.
“They are too young to know who they are!!”
My answer: “You are wrong” Very rarely do you hear of people who reverse course on gender identity or sexuality. It happens, because we are all learning and growing, but it’s rare.
Most of the time people have always known since a young age who they were and who they loved. In fact, children are usually much more in touch with who they are than adults are. By the time we are adults, we have societal pressures telling us more and more who we need to be and listen so much less to who we are.
To sum up this whole experience, the advice I would give any parent, family member, guardian, or loved one is pretty simple: Love your child, love them unconditionally, and support them no matter what. It is a far easier road to travel with the support of those you love. We all take a while to come to understand something different and new. My advice is to process with your partner or a trusted friend separately to discuss any feelings of doubt, grief, or worry, but always, always, always be there and support your kid no matter what.
I’m Ollie Joy Heide, I’m in eighth grade, and I’m 14 years old. My favorite hobby is art, I love to draw and paint. I’m the oldest sibling, with two younger brothers who are both really unique, kind people. Our family is also a foster home for kids who need to stay with us until they can go home to their birth parents. I have a rescued guinea pig named Totoro that lives in my room. The funniest part to me is that we were told Totoro was a girl and quickly discovered that he wasn’t, which made it seem like he was just the right pet for me.
My family has always talked about things a little differently than most of my friends’ families. We practice a lot of critical thinking. I was an atheist by preschool and a vegetarian by age five or six.
I was raised with my parents talking about “sweetheart feelings” to talk about romantic relationships. There has never been any pressure for any of us kids to grow up to be in heterosexual marriages. When I started to have romantic feelings towards people of the gender I used to identify as a few years ago, we openly discussed that I was gay, and we keep talking about it as my feelings of gender identity and romantic attraction have evolved as I’m growing.
I came out as transgender a year and a half ago. I came out as non-binary to my parents who responded immediately by asking which pronouns would be comfortable, and by making me feel safe. I am really lucky to have such a supportive family. I realize not everyone has that experience, and coming out isn’t always celebrated as it should be.
If you need to look for a community outside of your family some ways to do that are by finding a group you know can trust like your school’s GSA or rainbow club, by finding a trustworthy group of peers, a school counselor or social worker or by contacting one of the great organizations like Briarpatch or The Trevor Project.
You are not alone, and there are so many people who will be there for you.