Self-identity and sexual orientation both form slowly over time and in the context of life experiences. Sexuality is very fluid — how a person identifies today is not necessarily how they did so in the past or how they may do so in the future.
If you have started to connect some dots and are thinking your child isn't straight, the tips below can help you become an ally to them as they form their self-identity and sexual orientation.
What not to do:
1. Don't make assumptions. Exploring and deciding where we are on the spectrum between straight and gay is everyone’s right and responsibility. It’s okay to just ask.
2. Don't lead with "Even though…” when you tell them you love them.
3. Don’t get who they are as a person confused with their orientation. Sexual identity is a part of who they are, but it's not the biggest part nor the most important.
4. Don’t get squinched out by the images. Because it is a sexual preference, just by its very nature, when it is mentioned or referenced, it can conjure a visual. Just because the idea might make you uncomfortable doesn't mean it's wrong — it's simply a different experience.
5. Don’t neglect yourself. Resources for parents are just as important as those for your child — both in terms of self-care and education. Here are some places to start: ItGetsBetter.org, PFLAG.org, GLSEN.org.
What you can do:
1. Unpack your own bags. Part of self-care as a parent is to address our own biases — from class and race, to gender and orientation. Plus, this is good modeling for helping our children sort out where they are on that continuum.
2. In that same vein, be or create a responsible source of sexual education for them — because it does look different for non-straight kids.
3. Many of us have parents who are still alive and kicking and saying awkward things in the grocery store and at Thanksgiving — sometimes we need to be the translator or shield between our children and that generation twice removed.
4. Familiarize yourself with local laws and policies, and let your kid see you educating yourself and voting accordingly. Your support is important to them.
5. Don’t judge yourself for being scared, confused, shocked, sad, or for screwing a conversation up or feeling unprepared — coming out can be hard and stressful for everyone involved, but it's always ultimately beneficial.
Gay thoughts, feelings and even actions do not make you gay, but they can help us figure out who and what we are. I like to make sure that teens know that no one should feel pressured to label himself or herself until they are ready — but it is important to find someone to talk to about any thoughts and feelings that may be troubling to them.