How to Understand and Support Your LGBT Teen
This is a very complex and possibly controversial topic. Hence, I would like to break it down into smaller chunks. It is easy to feel lost after your teenager opens up to you. This article is meant to show you how to support and become closer to your LGBT teen. After that, I will address some common questions that parents have. Ideally, you will want to be understanding and supportive, and want to have as much information as you can get. Let’s begin.
To start with, you should not try to “convert” your LGBT teen. They came out to you because they trusted you and felt that it would be helpful. So, honour that trust; don’t break it. Doing so will only serve to distance you from your teenager. Also, you must understand that there is no way you can change them. Being an LGBT teen is a part of who they are, or even a part of their genetic make-up.
Next, you need to understand why they came out to you. They probably came out to you because they need a shoulder to lean on, or they just felt tired of “sneaking around”. Whatever the reason, you need to figure it out. If they came to you because they need help, offer them help. If they came to you for the latter reason, then be understanding and act like a mature adult.
Let them know it is OK to be who they are. Nothing hurts more than being a disappointment to your parents. If you don’t let them know that it is OK, explicitly, than there is a very real chance that they will think they are a failure- even if they aren’t. If you aren’t OK with them, then don’t say so. If you do, you risk causing undue psychological damage. Remember, there is nothing you can change. So, if you telling them that you aren’t OK with their sexual identity isn’t going to help anyone, and is going to serve no purpose, then why do it? In fact, it is going to hurt more than help.
Understand their sexual identity. While you may think you know all about their identity, you’d be surprised about how much you don’t know. Did you know that gender can differ from sex? Gender has to do with your identity, while sex is the gender you were assigned at birth. Did you know that homosexuality occurs in nature? Homosexuality has been observed in over 450 animals, while homophobia has only been observed in humans. If you are having a difficult accepting your teenager’s identity, understanding their identity is the first step to acceptance. Let me give you an analogy. Let’s say you come home to see someone drilling into the side of your house. Flustered, you start yelling at them to stop. When they do, you give them an earful, not allowing them to give their side of the story. What you don’t know is that they are drilling a wire into a box at the side of your house and upgrading your internet cable for free. When we have more information, we are naturally more able to be accepting.
Understand that their identity isn’t hurting anyone, because it isn’t. It’s their right to decide how to live their life, and being gay or transgender or really having any other sexual identity is not going to kill anyone. I don’t mean to be harsh, but the sooner you understand this, the easier you will find it to be accepting.
Don’t treat them any different. Treating them different would mean that you see them differently, which shouldn’t be the case. All they did was let you know something that you hadn’t previously known about them. They haven’t changed. If you treat you LGBT teenager differently, it might send a message that your relationship has been negatively impacted, and they won’t like that.
Have a mature conversation. Some people find it easy to get things straightened out by having a conversation after your teenager comes out, just to ask any questions. Generally, questions you might want to ask are, “When did you find out?” and, “Do you have a partner?”. You should respect their answers, as well as their right to privacy. If there are questions they don’t want to answer, don’t push.
Allow them to participate in the LGBT community. Understand that it will be healthy for them to associate with people who they can relate to. Being a part of a community of like-minded people who share an interest in hobbies or past times can be helpful for a lot of people. Sexuality is no different. Having a minority sexual identity can be confusing, and it is easy to feel alone and unsupported. Being an active member of the LGBT community can solve both of these issues. Having people to share your experiences and worries, and receive unbiased feedback in return, can be helpful on so many levels.
Don’t talk about their sexual identity behind their back. No matter how liberal you think your friends are, blabbing to them about you teenager’s sexual identity is betraying their trust. Likewise, If you are freaked out or think negatively about your teenager’s identity, and are going to your friends with the primary goal of venting, you need to either find a different outlet, or learn to be more accepting. It is extremely hurtful to find that your parent or parents have broken your trust. Even if you think your teenager will never find out, what if they did? Is it really worth risking your relationship because you need someone to vent to? Remember, teenagers are very resourceful and observant, just like adults. They aren’t kids anymore.
Don’t get worried. Some people fear that being a part of the LGBT community is a slippery slope to dangerous behaviour. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. LGBT people have the same amount of sexual partners as heterosexual men and women. Drug use is not more prevalent in LGBT teens than in heterosexual teens. Where this misconception came from, I’m not completely certain. I believe, however, that this is another myth cooked up by people who are biased against the LGBT community.
Why did they complicate our relationship by telling me?
Most likely, they didn’t want to complicate your relationship. Instead, they were most likely seeking to improve your relationship with them by coming out. That, and they wanted your support. Actually, in a lot of cases, they NEED your support. By giving them your support, you will better your relationship and make their life easier.
Why did they keep this from me for so long?
Practically the polar opposite of the previous question, this too is quite common. The reason they didn’t want to tell you their sexual identity is because- yes, you guessed it- they didn’t want to complicate your relationship. Often, I hear LGBT teens tell me it is just easier to keep their sexual identity private. They are probably afraid of parental rejection and wish to simply keep that part of their life to themselves. They weren’t trying to be dishonest, they were just scared.
Did I do something wrong?
In short, no. Being LGBT isn’t a fault. The only reason some people view it as such is because of religion and the fact LGBT people lie in the minority. Both of these can be ignored (look at the next section for an explanation). How can you have done something wrong if nothing bad happened?
My religion condemns being LGBT. Does this mean I will have to change their sexual identity?
Not at all. Ultimately, this comes down to you. Your teenager can make a lot of decisions themselves, and religion is one of them. You no longer have the right to enforce your religion onto them. That being said, how you treat your LGBT teenager IS your decision. Many people are choosing to ignore the sections in their set of religious doctrine that condemn homosexuality because they believe it was written in a time with very different customs and views. Basically, the sections in the bible or any other religious text that oppose homosexuality simply aren’t relevant in today’s society. With this in mind, do you really want to treat you teenager poorly and make things difficult between you, when you can choose to support them, help them, and keep a great, sustainable relationship?
I hope this article will help you and your teen grow closer after they come out. The real key to making things work is understanding and acceptance. If you accept them for who they are, your relationship will be an awarding one.
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