While she was initially shocked when her 14-year-old son, Michael, confided that he thought he might be gay, Diane Jones* says that once she thought it over, “I realized that there had been signs all along. Nothing to say for sure, but I think I already suspected.”
And after the initial feeling of surprise “it became more like an acknowledgement of something we’d known but hadn’t discussed,” Jones says. “I felt sad, to a certain extent, because I think it means his life will be harder. But I felt comfortable about it. I knew, though, that his father would be a different story.”
With puberty’s hormones and peers showing interest in the opposite sex pushing kids to consider their own sexuality, some will begin to identify themselves as gay or lesbian by their early teens. Others will be uncertain about their feelings and want some support in sifting through the various kinds of attraction.
Cherie MacLeod, executive director of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) Canada, says that when a child “comes out” about his sexual orientation, it is “a moment parent and child will remember forever.”
“Even in an accepting home, most children approach this event with trepidation,” MacLeod adds. “They are fully aware that the statement can’t be unsaid, and have likely considered the various possible outcomes before telling you.”
*Name changed by request.
Tips for responding to teens
Here are some tips from MacLeod for responding to your child:
• Tell him you love him and support him. If possible, tell him you are glad he told you.
• Encourage him to tell his story. Ask at what age he first felt “maybe…” or ask how long he’s known.
• If your child is questioning her sexual orientation, wondering if she’s attracted to girls, boys or maybe both, tell her it’s OK and even normal. It even happens to adults. There’s no rush to come up with a label.
• Honour him by not challenging the truth of what he’s said. “Heterosexual children are never asked how they know they are straight,” MacLeod points out. Attraction is a simple concept, and a young teen can identify those feelings without having had any sexual experiences.
• Ask if she has told anyone else and what kind of support she’s gotten.
• Don’t ask her to keep it a secret.
“However, unless you have your child’s permission, don’t tell anyone else,” recommends MacLeod. “Your son or daughter will have to bear the impact of this news and should do so only when ready. If you feel you must tell a family member for your own personal support, discuss it first with your child. And if your child has talked to you about this, but not your partner, plan together how and when to tell your partner.”
Diane Jones’ son asked her if she would tell her husband. She and Michael knew that he saw homosexuality as “unnatural” and they both worried how he would react.
So Jones sat down with her husband and explained what Michael had told her. “He was initially upset, but he did all his ranting and raving with me,” she explains. “By the time he talked to Michael, he had thought things over and calmed down.”
MacLeod notes that “acceptance takes time. If you’re finding it difficult, address your fears one at a time. Find out what resources are in your community for your teen and yourself.”
Parents often struggle with questions about parenting a gay or lesbian teen. Jones says: “I had always let
Michael have friends sleep over in his room and never thought anything about it. Now I was confused. I mean, I wouldn’t let him have a 14-year-old girl share his bed for the night, if he was straight.”
Jones ultimately decided that 14-year-olds of either gender were just too big to be sharing a single bed, and Michael’s sleepover guests were provided with a cot in the family room.
“It’s important that parental guidance, curfews and boundaries stay consistent,” says MacLeod. For instance, she mentions that a BC study found many teens who identified themselves as gay or lesbian also had some heterosexual involvements and that a significant percentage of those resulted in pregnancy. “Your teen needs information about contraception and safe sex practices in general.
“At this age, your child is just growing into an awareness of his or her sexual identity,” MacLeod adds. “You might have a lot of questions, but your child probably will not have the knowledge or experience to provide you with helpful answers.”
Whether the announcement is a surprise or a shock to you, or something you were expecting, your calm and caring responses will help your child feel supported as he sorts out his feelings.