Understanding and Supporting Your Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Child
The adolescent years are filled with physical, social, and emotional development. Teens begin the task of figuring out who they are, including determining their sexual orientation. Some may not have a clear grasp on this until adulthood, while other may start to question and explore during their adolescent years (or earlier). Every child is different, but regardless of your child's sexual orientation, they are still the same person you have known and loved all these years. People come in all shapes, sizes, races, and ethnicity, and everyone needs and deserves our acceptance, respect, and support.
Understanding sexual orientation and gender identity
There are various opinions when it comes to understanding and defining sexual orientation. Many medical professionals, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, feel that sexual orientation is determined by a mix of biology, psychology, and one's environment.
Sexual orientation is determined by a person's romantic, emotional, and/or sexual feelings and attraction towards others.
Gender identity is the inner sense of “being” male, female, both or neither. Some people find that the gender identity they identify with is different from their biological gender.
It is important to remember that sexual orientation is who you are attracted to while gender identity is what you call yourself.
Here are some terms that are helpful when trying to understand and discuss sexual orientation and gender identity:
• A homosexual is defined as a person who is attracted to people who identify within their same sex. Females who are attracted to other females are often referred to as “lesbians,” whereas males who are attracted to other males are commonly referred to as “gay.” The term “gay” is often used as an umbrella term for all homosexuals regardless of gender. It is important to ask what someone prefers to be called before assigning them as “gay,” “lesbian,” etc., as some people find these terms do not fit their personal identity.
• A heterosexual is defined as a person who is attracted to people of the opposite sex. For example, males who are attracted to females or females who are attracted to males are called heterosexuals. Heterosexuals are often referred to as “straight.”
• A bisexual is defined as a person who is attracted to more than one gender or sex, regardless of their own personal gender identity. For example, a man who is attracted to both men and women could be referred to as “bisexual.”
• A transgendered person is defined as any person who transgresses gender norms; often referring to someone who does not identify fully with their biological gender. This may include someone who dresses in clothes that society deems appropriate for the opposite gender. A transsexual can fall under the definition of transgendered but refers to someone who lives full time as the gender they have transitioned to or self-identify as. This can also include people who have undergone medical procedures to transition to a different gender.
• The term questioning refers to those who are still trying to determine their sexual and/or gender identity preferences
• An ally, in this context, is someone who is advocates for and supports equal rights for the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Questioning (LGBTQ) community. This is typical someone who is straight but might also include, for example, a self identified lesbian who supports transgender right.
Supporting your LGBTQ child
Be supportive of your teen and always communicate. Talking with your teen about sex or sexuality can be uncomfortable. As hard as it may be for you to hear that your teen's sexual orientation is different than you expected remember that it was probably even harder for them to discuss this with you. Be open to listening to their perspective without judgment. Your child’s sexual orientation is only one part of his identity. Your child is still a teen and they want enjoy their usual activities, hobbies, and spending time with their friends.
Don't treat your teen any differently. Even if you're not entirely comfortable with your teen's sexual orientation, they still need your acceptance, love, and support. Your teen is still your teen and that has not and will not change. Remember that it probably took a lot of courage for them to “come out” to you, so reassure them that you will love and support them no matter what. It's okay to acknowledge that you might need time to get used to the new information and be sure to keep the lines of communication open between you and your teen. No matter your teen's sexual orientation, you should still have the same conversations around sexual health and dating.
If you make a mistake, it’s OK! Sexual orientation and gender identity is a very personal matter and can sometimes be confusing for those not accustomed to discussing it. No two people are the same thus their personal identity can differ from others who may share their same sexual preferences. The most important thing is to educate yourself, stay informed and ask questions instead of making assumptions. If you are unsure of someone’s identity- just ask! They will more than likely be happier to explain what terms they prefer rather than having to correct you later. And if you make a mistake- don’t panic. Try not to dwell on your misstep or overly apologize. This can make the situation more awkward and alienating. Instead, listen to the correction, learn from it and move on.
Find support for yourself, too. There are many resources and information out there for parents, too, and many find it helpful to connect with other parents of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and questioning teens. Gaining a better understanding of your child's sexuality can help you feel more comfortable discussing it with your child. A good place to find out about groups in your community for parents and teens is a Gay/Straight Alliance at your child's school. If you can’t find a group at their school, try reaching out to local colleges or universities. Many higher education institutes include LGBTQ student groups. There may be a local chapter of Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) in your community. Below are some links that may help you find a support group.
Be accepting of others and teach your teen, too. As children discover their sexuality, they may struggle with their friends and peers having a sexual orientation different than their own. Remember, and remind your child, that even if they are attracted to different people than their friends are, the basis of their friendship hasn't changed. Encourage your child to base their friendships and relationships on common interests, values, and traits such as loyalty and honesty.
For more information on terms and definition and ways to find support groups check out these resources:
Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) helps to inform and connect family and friends of the LGBTQ community. You can find links to your local PFLAG chapter here.
The Network la Red: A survivor-led organization that fights to end partner abuse. A list of helpful terms is available in English and Spanish.
Advocates for Youth:This site is devoted to discussing all aspects of reproductive and sexual health. Here you can find resources for parents as well as young adults.
Raising My Rainbow: Blog from a mom who is raising a “fabulously gender creative” 6-year-old. She discusses her struggles and triumphs parenting a child who, at a very early age, has already transcended many of society’s gender norms. This is a great resource for parents who are trying to find ways to support and encourage their child’s gender and sexual awareness.
Revel and Riot's list of basic terms and definitions.