Are you worried that your son or daughter might be LGBT+? Many parents and grandparents today were raised in an era where certain behaviors, mannerisms, body types or activities that don’t fit into traditional male/female gender norms were a sign that someone is probably gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. And some of these parents may inadvertently cause harm by projecting these beliefs and biases onto their kids, whether they are actually LGBT+ or not. If you suspect your child may be LGBT+ its easy to get carried away with concern for their future, their health, their safety, and their social acceptance – and ultimately, fear of what people might think of you as a parent.
If you suspect your child may fall on the LGBT+ spectrum, some of the following tips and suggestions may be of help:
Try to set aside your religious beliefs, social expectations and fear of the unknown and focus on your child’s needs.
Try to develop trust with your child so they feel safe to talk to you, even about difficult topics. The best thing you can do is demonstrate a safe and accepting home environment where they know they will be loved, even if they don’t fit into the binary gender and sexual orientations. If you were taught that homosexuality or bisexuality or being gender queer is a sin because of your religious upbringing, it’s important to realize that your child cannot help the way they are or the way they feel. Trying to “fix” them, lay guilt on them, or express your disappointment is the worst thing you can do. It will destroy trust and create tremendous mental conflict for your child that could last for decades. Try to display an open mind and heart and hopefully your child will come to you if and when they are ready. Don’t let your fear of other people’s judgement affect your relationship with your child. Even if you don’t understand what they’re experiencing, if your child’s needs are your top priority and if you absolutely accept them for who they are, your relationship will undeniably grow stronger.
Let your child come out when they are ready – don’t push them.
Repeatedly asking your child if they are gay, lesbian, bisexual or otherwise, or constantly offering them counseling or unsolicited advice and support because you suspect they are LGBT+, could backfire. As many LGBT+ people who have come out before will tell you, the person in question has to come to terms with it themselves before they’re ready to come out to others. They have to have that “aha” moment in their own heart and mind – then they have to figure out on their own terms what they want to do from there. Tell others? Stay in the closet? Wait a while? It has to be up to them. Suggesting to someone else that they are LGBT+ before they are ready to acknowledge it themselves can put pressure on a person who may already be struggling to figure it out, or it could create a very uncomfortable situation for a person who is actually not LGBT+ at all. If they identify with a particular label, they will know on their own time, which will be greatly helped if their school offers comprehensive education in LGBT+ issues. If their school does not offer comprehensive sex education, there are lots of great resources online. It’s an act of love to educate your child about all issues regarding human sexuality so they can enter the adult world armed with accurate information to support their health, no matter whom they choose to love or engage with intimately. It also helps if they have friends to talk to who are aware of the different varieties of sexuality and gender. On the other hand, some people don’t like to be labeled at all and pushing them to label themselves can rob them of their individuality and dignity. It’s important to respect their personal privacy and their wishes.
Watch and wait.
There are always the supposed “signs” that a person is LGBT+, such as girls being tomboys or boys being effeminate, but really that doesn’t mean with absolute certainty that they are LGBT+. Even dressing in gender nonconforming clothes doesn’t automatically mean they are transgender. It’s common for children to try different styles – particualrly clothing and hair styles – when they’re discovering their individuality and sense of self. Other people coming up to the parent or grandparent and asking if their child is LGBT+ based on their choice of toys or their hair or clothing doesn’t help – it only puts pressure on the family and the child to “figure it out.” The process simply cannot be rushed. Just love your child and enjoy them for who they are as a person and allow them to explore a wide variety of toys, games, activities, styles and experiences. Even with all of this, they may not have everything figured out until well into their teens or even their adulthood.
When societal, religious, and family beliefs and upbringing are removed from the equation – all the things we are taught to believe – we get a much clearer picture of who we really are. Human sexuality and gender fall along very diverse continuums, from male to female and everything in between, and from gay to straight to bisexual and everything in between. The best gift you can give your child is the time and space needed to do the reflection necessary to come to terms with who they are, on their own terms, in their own time. No matter who they are or what label they ultimately identify with, there is tremendous hope at this time in history. Attitudes are shifting more and more towards love and acceptance with each new generation.
Want to learn more about the basics of gender and sexuality? Watch this helpful episode of Bill Nye the Science Guy who explains it in simple terms:
More on the latest research regarding the science and the diversity of human sexuality and gender:
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