Understanding and Supporting Your Gay or Lesbian Child
The adolescent years are filled with physical, social and emotional development. Teens begin the task of figuring out who they are, and that includes determining their sexual orientation. Some may not have a clear grasp on these until adulthood, but other may start to question and explore during their adolescent years. Regardless of your child's sexual orientation, he is still the same person you have known and loved all these years. People come in all shapes, sizes, races, and ethnicities, and everyone needs and deserves our acceptance, respect, and support. Understanding sexual orientation and gender identity
There are various opinions when it comes to understanding sexual orientation. Many medical professionals, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, feel that sexual orientation is determined by a mix of biology, psychology, and one's environment.
Sexual orientation is determined by a person's romantic, emotional, or sexual feelings and attraction towards others. There are three main types of sexual orientation:
• A homosexual person is attracted to people of the same sex. Females who are attracted to other females are lesbians, whereas men who are attracted to other males are gay, although the term “gay” is often used to refer to homosexual people of either gender.
• A heterosexual person is attracted to people of the opposite sex. Males are attracted to females and females are attracted to males. Heterosexuals are sometimes referred to as “straight”.
• A bisexual person is attracted to both people of the same sex and people of the opposite sex.
Gender identity is a person's internal sense of whether they are male or female. Some people identify with the opposite sex. Someone may be considered transgender if their gender identity is different from their physical sex (male or female). For example, a person who is physically male may identify as female and may consider themselves transgender. It's important to remember that gender identity is not the same as sexual orientation. Supporting your gay or lesbian child
Be supportive of your teen. Talking with your teen about anything having to do with sexuality can be awkward. As hard as it may be for you to hear that your teen's sexual orientation is different than you expected, remember that it was probably even harder for him to tell you if he's letting you know that he's homosexual. Don't “come out” (reveal another person's sexual orientation) to others on your teen's behalf. Figure out how comfortable he is with his sexuality and take his lead. Help him find support and resources in his school and community, but only if he wants. Avoid making your child's whole identity about his sexual orientation. Remember, he just wants to be a normal teen and enjoy his activities, hobbies, and friends.
Try to avoid making assumptions. Some parents may assume that because their child has not grown up around homosexual people or does not “act” gay, their child could never be homosexual. However, there's nothing that you or your child did or didn't do that determines her sexual orientation. In fact, when your child is young, you should expose her to race cars just as much as dolls and let her play with whatever she chooses, or let her pick out blue shoes instead of the pink ones you like. This will only make her more well-rounded, knowledgeable, and accepting.
Don't treat your teen any differently. Even if you're not entirely comfortable with your teen's sexual orientation, he still needs your acceptance, love, and support. He is still your child and that has not and will not change. Remember that it probably took a lot of courage for your teen to “come out” to you, so tell him that you will love and support him no matter what. It's okay to acknowledge that you might need time to get used to the new information. Finally, no matter your teen's sexual orientation, you should still have the same conversations around sexual health and dating.
Find support for yourself, too. There are many resources and information out there for parents, too, and many parents find it helpful to connect with other parents of gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered (GLBT) teens. Gaining a better understanding of your child's sexuality can help you feel more comfortable discussing it with your child and therefore be supportive to him. A good place to find out about groups in your community for parents and teens is a Gay/Straight Alliance at your child's school. There may be a local chapter of Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) in your community. There is also some very good information on the internet, and that may be a good place to start.
Be accepting of others and teach your teen, too. As children discover their sexuality, they may struggle with their friends having a sexual orientation different than their own. Remember, and remind your child, that even if she and her best girl friend are attracted to people of opposite sexes romantically, the basis of their friendship hasn't changed. Encourage your child to base her friendships on common interests, values, and traits such as loyalty and honesty, and try to be accepting yourself of all your child's friends.
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