Sexuality is fluid and there is more than heterosexuality when it comes to falling in love. By default, we should consider that our kids may fall in love with someone of the same gender. They may fall in love with all genders—yes, gender goes beyond the binary of male and female, but we can talk about that another time.
It would be nice if our kids didn’t feel like they had to come out to us, but most tweens and teenagers still feel nervous about speaking their truth to the ones they love the most. Here are ways you can support your bisexual or gay teen.
How a Parent Can Support Their Gay Teen
Do NOT Force Them Out Of The Closet.
Maybe you suspect your teenager is gay. DO NOT try to out them. As a queer person who was dragged out of the closet by my religious mother, do not take their coming out story away from them. Being LGBTQ is more than a label, it is an identity and a narrative, and it is your child’s right to tell you about it when they are ready. Feel free to maintain your stance on unconditional love, but even if you are trying to show with how supportive you will be if your teenager is gay, do not force them out of the closet. They will tell their story when they are ready.
Breathe and Affirm.
When your teen says “Mom. Dad. I’m gay,” know that they are likely nervous and scared. Your job as a parent is to not freak out. Almost every queer person I know can remember exactly what their parents said to them when they came out. Be sure your kid remembers words that are full of support. Immediately tell your child that you love them.
Hug them if that is something you know they would want. And as you look at your child, who has just lifted a ton of emotional weight off of their shoulders, try not to think about all of the potential negativity your child may face. You need to set aside your expectations for your child’s future, and breathe hope into your child’s present.
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News of your teenager’s sexuality may be new and confusing to you, but it is also very likely it is new and confusing to them too. Sexuality is fluid and your child may be trying to understand their feelings of affection and attraction to people in their life. You might want to label your child as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, but they might not be ready to do that. It may take a long time of self-discovery before self-acceptance can happen. Just listen. Your teenager has a lot going on in their head. Let them process without having to over-explain or over-simplify something that you may not understand.
Ask If They Feel Safe.
Depending on where you live, your town, community, and kid’s school may not be the most supportive of LGBTQ people. Ask your teenager if they have come out to anyone else. Do they have friends who accept and love them? Are there teachers in the school who your child can call allies? Without scaring them, or assuming it will happen, it’s good to make a plan with your child in the event someone tries to bully them for being gay.
Even the most supported, self-assured, and confident queer youth and adults can feel victimized, isolated, and lonely. Be aware that depression rates for LGBTQ youth are much higher than that of their heterosexual peers. Society still struggles to see queer people as “normal,” and your teenager knows this. Check in with your child and seek professional help if you are concerned about their mental health.
Offer LGBTQ Spaces.
You don’t want your LGBTQ teenager to feel alone. Sure it’s great that you support them, but they need to be around kids their age who have shared experiences. Queer youth need to be surrounded by other queer youth so they can be their uninhibited selves and feel unequivocally understood.
See if there is a Gay and Straight Alliance (GSA) group at the school or something similar. The local Pride or LGBTQ Youth Center will likely have teen group nights. And PFLAG offers support to LGBTQ individuals as well as to their family and friends. Don’t forget YOU need support too—PFLAG or online groups for parents of gay kids are full of supportive people who have gone through the same thing.
Alter The Sex Talk.
If you haven’t already talked to your child about sex, now is the right time. Please don’t leave these conversations up to the school health teacher. You want to know what your kid knows, and the conversations at school often leave out LGBTQ individuals and relationships. There really isn’t something specifically called “gay sex.” Gay people and straight people do a lot of the same stuff—this overlap just isn’t talked about much.
But if your kid is gay, he or she probably won’t be doing the whole penis meets vagina thing. Anything they are taught about that kind of sex will not apply. (Though if your kid is bisexual or is dating a transgender kid, depending on the sex of each of them, then penis may meet vagina so still have that conversation.)
Talk About Consent.
Then talk about protection from STIs. Pregnancy may not occur, but condoms and dental dams are barriers that should be used during all forms of sexual intercourse. This goes for straight kids too, by the way. There are lots of ways to have sex. And if you are able to explain this to your gay teenager it will take away the shame, fear, and any expectations they have on what they should do. Equipping them with knowledge will help them make healthy choices when they have sex for the first time.
The best way to support your gay teenager is to have raised them in a house of unconditional love that practices and preaches acceptance of LGBTQ people and their rights. Perhaps conversations about LGBTQ people and your opinions about us have not been discussed in your house. Maybe you have struggled with the idea that love is love is love. There is no room for anything but love and pride at this point. Your gay teenager cannot be their happiest and healthiest without your support. Be their cheerleader, their safety net, their rock, their soft place to fall when they are hurt. Always be the place your child can call home.
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Amber Leventry is a queer, non-binary writer and advocate. Their writing appears on The Next Family, Sammiches & Psych Meds, Babble, Ravishly, Scary Mommy, Longreads, and The Washington Post. They also run Family Rhetoric by Amber Leventry, a Facebook page devoted to advocating for LGBTQ families one story at a time. Follow them on Twitter and Instagram @amberleventry.