So you just found out your teen is gay? Rule one: don’t freak out

Guest post by Stephen Claybrooks
By: illuminator999CC BY 2.0

My parents “discovered” that I might be gay when I was 14. I left a Yahoo! chat conversation with my first mutual crush open, and my mother (being the vigilant snoop that she is) happened upon it. Now, don’t get me wrong — I absolutely think monitoring your children’s online activities is an ok thing to do. However, based on my own experience with my parents, I recommend calmly discussing any “questionable” behavior instead of attacking your child when they are expressing their inherent sexuality.

My parents spent two hours lecturing me on the evils of “lasciviousness,” masturbation, and (of all things) premarital sex with girls — because surely this whole “gay thing” was just a phase. Well… it turns out it wasn’t. When I think back to coming out to my parents, I can summarize the entire ordeal (and it was an ordeal) into five simple points.

Don’t freak out

If you have been open and honest about sexuality with your child (which my parents were not, obviously), and the appropriate ways to express sexuality, then that’s half the battle. I’m an African-American from a very religious and socially-conservative family, which combined makes for a sort of programmed response. Of course, many progressive parents vow to never have a programmed response to an announcement like this. That’s wonderful, but pre-planning your hypothetical response is only part of it.

It can be challenging: you don’t want to make your child feel bad or dirty, and you also don’t want your child to feel odd or out of place. You certainly don’t want your kid to feel like you believe being gay is this huge overarching label of otherness that he or she now has on their forehead. Being gay is a big part of who your child is — but it’s not the only part.

Reassure your child

As a parent, you have to reassure your child that these feelings are perfectly natural — because they are. When my parents found out I was gay they gave me books to read that talked about “overcoming” homosexuality. Coincidentally, these books were written by an “ex-lesbian” who oddly enough met her life partner at an “ex-gay” ministry meeting. I also wasn’t allowed to go certain places or sleep over at friend’s houses because they were afraid I might “spread the gay!” We all know that’s impossible, but even the most well-intentioned parent could treat their child’s potential crushes as if they were nuclear waste because of society’s norms and the reactions of other parents.

If you tell your child that their feelings are perfectly natural, you have to be consistent in the way you respond to future discussions about these feelings — especially when he or she tells you they want to date someone. Maintaining consistency is incredibly important when you have more than one child — the guidelines for dating and/or hanging out with friends should be the same for all siblings, not different for “the gay one.” Sleepovers can get tricky, but again — if you’re open and honest when talking to your kid about sex, you can handle it.

By: WendyCC BY 2.0

Talk about coming out socially

It should be 100% up to your child when he or she comes out in a social context — at school, among friends, or wherever. Your child should decide who to come out to and when. Ask your child if he or she has come out to anyone else, or if they want to come out to only family members. Your child may want to come out to a few friends, or he or she may want to come out to the entire school or town.

It’s understandable to worry about teasing and bullying, but engaging in regular conversation with your child can help you stay abreast of these situations. When it comes down to it, your kid most likely has a better idea about what the attitudes toward LGBT kids are in his or her school — they’ll know if slurs get tossed around and if there are consequences for those actions.

Remember that your gay teen is still a TEEN

Ok, guys: think back to middle and high school. Remember those secret crushes and furtive romances? Remember how earth-shatteringly important they were, and how no one understood (except for maybe your best friend and one other girl)? Well, imagine all that angst and no way to vent it — that’s what some LGBT kids are going through. That’s why it’s good for your child to have a core group of friend he or she can choose to come out to.

I didn’t come out to my mom and tell her there was a boy at school that I liked. I couldn’t tell anyone because I thought no one other than my parents knew. I didn’t meet my first boyfriend until the last month of high school. Middle and high school would have been so much more bearable if I had supportive parents who kept dialogue between us open. It’s not enough to just listen to your kid; your kid needs to feel comfortable enough to talk to you about what he or she is feeling. If you feel like you’re not quite up to the task, see if your child has a teacher that he or she can trust — someone who will keep an eye on him or her.

Get educated

The best thing to do as a family is to get educated and involved with your local LGBT community. Safe sex, gay rights, and even queer theory can all be topics you discuss together. The point is making sure your child sees positive role models that he or she can relate to — not just people they see every day on television. Lady Gaga is great, but it’s also good to see LGBT people in everyday situations leading successful, happy lives. Getting the entire family involved is crucial — this doesn’t impact only your LGBT child.

I’m happy to say my parents’ attitudes are slowly, ever-so-slowly, changing. They aren’t where they should be, but they are better than they were. It’s my hope that this will help parents with questions, fears, or concerns about what to do for and with your child if he or she comes out to you as LGBT.

Comments on So you just found out your teen is gay? Rule one: don’t freak out

  1. I am from a very strict conservative Christian household as well, so homosexuality has been drilled into me as a sin. So while I still believe the same Christian teachings as my parents, I am trying to prepare myself for anything that the future might bring, including the thought that my kids might want to express themselves differently then my belief system. Articles like this help me prepare myself to handle my children’s choices in a healthier way. Thank you for this

    • Ty for the article. My son came out to his mother 2days ago and she softened the blow by telling me. Today with help of his therapist he told me. Hardest part I had with it is the fact he was scared to tell me do to the fact I have openly disapproved of the lifestyle. I have always told him I would be there for him and thought he understood. Well karma just bitchslapped me back to reality. Honestly I don’t know how I feel about it and secretly I hope its just a phase. One thing I can say is 2weeks ago I spent 14hrs next to his bedside because he attempted to kill himself and the thought of losing him because he is scared of what his dad might think is a whole lot worse to me than whether his partners name is Jon or jan. Today he found out that dad has his back no matter what.

      • I wasn’t really privy to the details when my brother came out to our parents, because I was already on my own, and I didn’t really probe in my conversations with any of them. But one thing I do know is that despite their own thoughts on homosexuality, my brother knows beyond a doubt that they always have his back. Even now, as a young adult, he knows he has a place to go when life gets challenging (he says mom still gives the best relationship advice). I’m so proud of my family for making it work.

      • I feel silly replying to this, because I know nothing about your situation, and have no personal experience in these situations, but I just wanted to say to be strong and be open to change in your own mind. Don’t treat it like a phase, as much as you might want it to be one, because it’s trivializing it, and it isn’t leaving yourself open to change. I hope in your love for your son you find the ability to open up to him about your confusion, and ask him to help guide you and teach you. It is a wonderful thing to be loved by your parents, and I hope your son realizes this and never loses hope again. Good luck, and hugs!

  2. Thank you for posting this. Being a reader of this blog has really made me feel more confident as a future parent, especially when it comes to topics like this. I may have been raised to be accepting and understanding to LGBT, but others in my family/relations are not, or have never had to participate in the situation outwardly (i.e. they just ignore what is going on).

    I definitely appreciate these kinds of tips, from people who have gone through the experiences. I told my husband, if I don’t know about something that my child might be going through, I need to find a role model not only for my child, but for me.

  3. I think you are very brave to have posted this. My teenage daughter at one time discussed with my husband and I her thoughts on her sexuality (she’s realized she’s probably straight), and because we are both very pro-LGBT, it was an easy, natural conversation. But I remember it wasn’t like that for my sister with our parents, and it wasn’t like that for any of my friends back in the day. I’m sorry that your parents reacted like they did, but I love that they’re coming around and they’ve obviously succeeded in raising you to be a loving, strong person who can stand up and be who you are. Good luck and peaceful minds to the parents who will And do struggle with their LGBT kids. Parenting isn’t always easy, but we get through it as best we can.

  4. The sad part about reading this, is that the people who NEED to read it, most likely won’t. My daughter came out to us as a lesbian a few years ago, and we were like ‘oh, ok’. And she’s always felt comfortable enough to tell us what was going on, who she was crushing on etc. Even is she is by nature rather secretive. Her best friend however, came out to his parents and they all but kicked him out of the house. His other best friends boyfriend is homo-phobic so he’s not allowing his GF to be friends with this particular boy anymore. His Grandmother routinely prays to Jesus that ‘his demons will be cast out’ and as you can imagine, he spends a lot of time over here. It’s meant more to him, I’m sure, than we can know that there are a mom and dad over here who care about how he feels, encourage him and get outraged when he’s treated like shit. I cannot FATHOM how people could give birth, raise a child and then shun them because they don’t like an aspect of them. I’ve had so many gay friends whose parents don’t even talk to them anymore, whose siblings have to sneak to have a relationship with them. From the West Coast to the East Coast it’s the same. I want to punch every family in the face on behalf of those kids. But I can’t, I can only comfort and do damage control in my small sphere and hope it’s enough. Raise my other kids to look at the human inside rather than the plumbing, clothes, sexuality, race… And hope that other parents do the same.

    • That just breaks my heart. I can’t imagine turning my back on my sweet baby, that I love with my whole heart, just because he likes boys instead of girls. I’m glad your daughter’s friend has at least you and your husband to talk to, he is probably more grateful than you’ll ever know.

  5. This post made me smile. I am bi, or whatever, I try not to give my sexuality a lable because it changes from day to day, and so is my male partner. I didn’t really “come out” to my parents, but in high school I always had girl friends and boy friends so we were very open. I’ve always been able to tell my family how i feel and what I think and I think that is a huge part of who I am today. They even know that my partner is as queer as I am and they love us for it.

    If my son tells me he is gay I think he will be shoked at how ok I am with it. He is ALWAYS my kid and no matter what I’ll love him to death and my partner will too. I’m not sure how his father would react, but he has all the support he needs in us. And I’ll still embarass the hell out of him with the birds and the bees, or maybe just bees and bees in this case.

  6. “Maintaining consistency is incredibly important when you have more than one child — the guidelines for dating and/or hanging out with friends should be the same for all siblings, not different for “the gay one.” Sleepovers can get tricky, but again — if you’re open and honest when talking to your kid about sex, you can handle it.”

    This part rang true to me, but not because I was “the bi one.” Even after I came out to my parents (I had a girlfriend at that point), I was allowed sleepovers with girls (including the girlfriend) and we’d all even sleep in one bed. But I was never allowed to have a guy stay the night until I was 18. My little brother has been allowed to have his girlfriend over since he was 16 or so. This has caused a lot of tension in the whole family (especially since I’m now engaged to my high school boyfriend who wasn’t allowed to sleep over).

    My point is, this is SO important to keep in mind. Don’t treat your kids differently because of their sexual preferences or their gender. It’s not just going to make things tense between you and “the gay/girl/whatever one” but is going to be hard on the sibling relationship as well, not to mention on their partners.

  7. Thank you so much for sharing. I can’t imagine how much harder being a teenager would have been adding one more thing on top of the angst that is already there. I’m not homosexual but I was very much a tomboy up until my first year in high school. Literally I dressed like a boy all the time and only wore dresses to special occasions with the family. (Even then I would sometimes finagle something with pants haha.) One day my mom asked me if I was interested in other girls sexually and I’m pretty sure I almost shit myself out of shock. I was about 14 at the time. It actually really freaked me out that she thought I might be a lesbian just because of the way I dressed, but in hindsight I am really glad that she was open minded enough to even ask in a non-threatening way and that I was comfortable enough to talk about it with her.

    I hope I can foster the same lines of communication with my son and future children and that no matter who they choose to be, I will be able to support them honestly and in a positive way.

    I’m glad you parents are coming around!

  8. Excellent post!

    Another point to I’d like to make: no matter how young your kid is, take what they’re telling you about their sexual identity at face value. While some of us don’t come out even to ourselves until high school or later, some kids are coming out these days in middle school. I know many queer people who have said that they knew they were who they were from a very early age, so I think it’s not inconceivable!

    Yes, some of those kids will grow up to have opposite-gender partners, but that doesn’t mean that their identity was false until they came out. Sexuality can be fluid for some.

  9. If your teen is in love, celebrate that love to the extent that you would a straight love. If you don’t do that as a family, fine (I guess), but don’t forget to be all “I’m so happy you found someone you love! EEe!” in the mix of “dealing with” their coming out.

  10. I’ve given this a lot of thought and the sentence “sleepovers can get tricky” made me wonder.

    I’m not even a parent yet, but I’m not sure I’d be comfortable with my (straight) kid having a sleepover with someone of the opposite gender once they reach a certain age -ok, you can start throwing things at me-. Following that, I wouldn’t allow my (gay) kid having a sleepover with someone of their same gender… right?

    I’m not even sure I agree with the no sleepover with “X” people rule, it’s just that I am confused… I don’t have any gay friends, and I don’t have many opportunities to talk about these subjects. But I certainly want to be ready to create an open environment for my future kinds in which they don’t feel like they have to hide or fear telling us about anything.

    • I think you sort of have to negotiate it on a case-by-case basis. Like, what kind of sleepover is it? Is it, say, your hypothetical gay daughter and the girl she has a crush on, alone and sleeping together in her bed? Maybe that’s questionable. But if it’s, say, 5 girlfriends sleeping in sleeping bags in the living room, painting their nails, watching a movie, and sleeping, maybe that’s okay. They’re not going to all have sex with each other (or unlikely).

    • This is a valid point but I’d also point out that I know quite a few straight women who experimented sexually with friends as young as elementary school. Kids are going to do that kind of stuff.

      As a queer person, I think it would also be hurtful to have your parents tell you that you can’t be trusted with people of the same sex since that’s one of the biggest assumptions made by bigots. I totally understand the ‘fair is fair’ idea behind it but it’s not so black and white, unfortunately.

      • Thanks for your answers! I was VERY afraid of offending someone with my question, I wasn’t sure how to phrase it 🙂

        I believe the “it’s not so black and white” phrase sums it all up perfectly 🙂

  11. I just wanted to point out that being a “strict” or “good” Christian doesn’t necessarily mean being anti-LGBT. I go to Mass everyday, carry my prayer beads from St. Catherine of Sinai in my purse, and believe that Jesus is the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. If fact, that is WHY I believe that LGBT people were also made in the imagine of God and that a relationship between two people of the same-gender can be life-affirming, loving, and in keeping with a Christian life.

  12. This is a wonderful article. It should be handed out in pamphlet form at middle school orientation. I told my mom I am bi, she threw a fit, told me there was no such thing, and we never spoke of it again. It especially hurt me because she had gay friends. It was ok for them to be gay, but not me.

  13. I agree with the person who said that it’s too bad the parents who need this the most won’t read it.
    One thing I’d like to add is that even if you’re being positive, it’s easy to overreact. Don’t ask a teenager, gay, straight, or otherwise, embarrassing questions about sex, it just makes things more tense. (My mother did this to my poor daughter, when daughter came out as bi to her.) Another thing I’d suggest is to be honest if it’s something you’re struggling with as a parent. Something along the lines of “you’re my son/daughter, and I love you, but give me time to process this information before we discuss it” – and then actually doing that – is undoubtedly better than either pretending everything is ‘just fine’ and never mentioning it again or saying something negative that will damage your relationship.
    Another major pet peeve of mine is telling teens that ‘everybody questions their sexuality, and you’re probably really straight’. It might even be true in a few cases, but I don’t think it’s helpful.

    • This! Be honest with yourself about how this would make you feel and be honest with your child if you need time to process the information. If you’re struggling with it, your kid will know and that can be damaging if you’re saying one thing and obviously thinking/feeling another.

  14. My parents raised me as a Christian, but they found out several months ago that I’m bi. They won’t support me by letting me go to Outreach meetings with my gay friend, and also won’t let me date another girl. It’s frustrating to me because they say they accept me, yet don’t seem to when looking at how they act about me being bi. I still go to church with them and believe in Christ, but I feel like this will forever divide us. If I have a kid and they ever question their sexuality, I’m never going to handle the situation like my parents have.

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