Parenting children and teens of any age can be really tricky. There’s already school, friendships, and siblings to think about. As they get older, romantic relationships might enter the mix. Taking everything that is already going on in a young person’s life, it makes sense that many parents feel confused, worried, or overwhelmed when their child comes out as LGBTQ+.
Coming out is a process that the entire family shares with your LGBTQ+ child, and parents play an important role in supporting a child who has come out. Find out more on how you can support your child, things to consider, and terminology explained.
Supporting Your LGBTQ+ Child
What Does ‘Coming Out’ Mean?
‘Coming out’ is when someone who is lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or non-binary tells another person about their identity. We usually think that coming out is something that happens at one point in an LGBTQ+ person’s life.
However, coming out is something that happens more than once over months or years. At first, many LGBTQ+ people choose to tell a small number of people who they trust about their identity. These people might be a best friend, parent, close family member, or trusted teacher.
Once an LGBTQ+ person has received the support they need, and feels comfortable being open about their identity, they might decide to tell more people in their family, their school or workplace, or more of their friends.
My Child Has Come Out to Me – What Now?
The first thing to remember is that your child or teen has probably spent a lot of time thinking about their sexual orientation or gender identity, and about how to come out to you. They have opened up to you because they trust you, and want you to support them. Now it’s over to you to handle this situation in the best way that you can.
Your first reaction might be to feel shocked or upset. You might feel like it’s not a big deal, or that you already knew. It’s important to take a moment to think about what you say and how this might impact your child or teen’s emotions.
Even if you’re not sure how you feel, it’s important to say something supportive to your child or teen. This way, they will feel more comfortable talking to you about their identity in the future. You can tell your child or teen that you love them no matter what, and that you are proud of them. You can also ask how they’re feeling, what they need at this time, and if they have friends they can also talk to about their identity.
Things to Consider
Remember that being LGBTQ+ is not a ‘lifestyle choice’. Your child or teen’s sexual orientation or gender identity is part of them. They are the same person, you have just learned something new about a big part of who they are.
Nothing you did, or didn’t do, made your child LGBTQ+. You can’t change how someone identifies, but you can support them and help them to be as happy and safe as possible.
Even if you feel this way, you should try not to tell your child or teen that you think they’re going through a phase, that they’re too young to know, or that you are disappointed in them. You should also try to avoid questions that might be hurtful for your child or teen, such as “Why did you need to tell me?”, “What did I do wrong”, or “What will people think?”. Even jokes that are well-meaning, like “So I won’t have grandchildren” or “What took you so long to know?”, can be upsetting for someone who has taken the brave step of coming out to you.
If someone comes out to you, remember that they decided to open up to you because they trust you. You should always ask your child or teen if it is ok to tell other people about their sexual orientation or gender identity, and respect their decision if they say no. They will come to you when they are ready to tell more people, or when they are comfortable with you telling others.
I Think My Child is LGBTQ+, How Do I Encourage Them to Come Out?
You may think that your child or teen is LGBTQ+, or is questioning their gender identity or sexual orientation. It’s natural to want to ask them directly about their identity. However, some children might feel scared or upset if you raise the suggestion that they are LGBTQ+. It is also important not to put someone under pressure to come out before they are ready.
Approaching the subject indirectly can be a good way to start. You could begin by talking positively to your child or teen about an LGBTQ+ celebrity, or a friend or family member who is out. This is a good way to show that you are accepting. Emphasise that you want your child to be happy and secure, and that you will always love and support them no matter what.
If you can show that you are at ease with your child talking about sexuality, and that you are open to and aware about LGBTQ+ identities, then your child may be more likely to talk to you about how they are feeling when they are ready.
Getting the Language Right
LGBTQ+ terminology can feel like a minefield when you have no previous knowledge, and terms change over time. Here is a list of common words to get you started, but remember that the best way to determine someone’s preferred identity or pronoun is to simply ask them.
- LGBTI+: Lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans+ and intersex people.
- Lesbian: A woman who is mainly attracted to other women.
- Gay: Someone who is mainly attracted to people of the same gender.
- Bisexual: Someone who is attracted to people of the same gender and also to people of other genders.
- Transgender: A term describing a person’s gender identity that does not match their assigned sex at birth. This word is also used as an umbrella term to describe some groups of people who transcend conventional expectations of gender identity or expression.
- Intersex: This is an umbrella term used to describe a wide range of natural bodily variations that do not fit typical binary notions of male and female bodies, for example, variations in genetic, hormonal, or physical sex characteristics.
- Sexual Orientation: Sexual and romantic attraction.
- Gender identity: Our deeply felt internal experience of our own gender.
- Heterosexual: Someone who is attracted to people of a different gender.
- LGBTI+ bullying: Bullying based on prejudice or discrimination towards LGBTI+ people.
- Pansexual: Someone who could be attracted to any person, regardless of their gender.
- Gender expression: How we show our gender through our clothing, hair, behaviour, etc.
- Cisgender: Someone who is not transgender or non-binary.
- Non-binary: People whose gender identity is neither exclusively woman or man or is in between or beyond the gender binary.
At Belong To, Ireland’s national LGBTQ+ youth organisation, we can help you to support that important young person in your life, during a time that can be challenging.
For more information on LGBTQ+ identities and supporting a child or family member who is LGBTQ+, visit www.belongto.org