“… and I don’t believe her. I do not believe that my daughter is gay.”
Okay. Hold on for a second and take a big, deep breath.
I don’t know if your daughter is gay. I don’t know if your daughter is “just experimenting,” or if she is bisexual. One thing I DO know is that your response to her recent disclosure is critical. If you show anger, hurt feelings, sadness, or disgust… this will have a negative impact on your beautiful “child.”
All teens go through a period of sexual identity formation. All human sexuality exists on a spectrum. In other words, most people are not 100% gay or 100% heterosexual. There is a lot of grey area here. You went through this process, and so did I. This is simply part of being human. If you are heterosexual, you may not even know that this was something you went through. But, you did. You figured out your preferences, your attractions, and your “type” for dating.
This is exactly what your teen is going through. She is exploring what type of person she is attracted to, why she is attracted to that kind of person, and she is trying to figure out what the appropriate response is to each of her attractions. She may be questioning if she is gay, confused about if she is gay, or she may know she is gay. She has chosen to disclose something very personal to you, and this is a big deal. Many teens do not talk with their parents about sexuality at all, so be happy she came to you!
If you tell your daughter that you know she is not gay, and that you know she is “just experimenting,” or that she is confused or ridiculous, please know that your response has the potential for devastating (and long-term) psychological and emotional impact. The most common side effect of parental rejection is low self-esteem and complete distancing from parents. Your part in this can easily be prevented. Your response will help her move through her confusion (if she is in stages of identity confusion or identity comparison) or it will help her realize that she is okay, she is lovable, and she is not the only person out there who is gay. Take-home message: DO NOT SHAME YOUR DAUGHTER FOR DISCLOSURE.
Many kids know they are gay between the ages of 7 and 9, and choose to not come out to family until the age of 13 and older. Kids are often taught that being gay is “wrong” or shameful to the family. Because of this, they hide or try to change their sexuality. Much research shows that trying to change a person’s sexuality is damaging and ineffective. We cannot change our children’s sexuality more than we can change whether or not they have natural talents in math or gymnastics. We do not control our children and who they become at all.
I cannot tell you if your daughter is gay. I can tell you that this is not for you to figure out. This is her journey, and she has come to you telling you that she is gay. Please support her in her process. Please do not try harder to get her to fit in with her heterosexual friends (if your daughter wants to try harder to fit in with gay/bi/queer friends). She will see this as rejection of who she is. This will also prevent her from connecting to a community (and resources) that will include her and help her understand her sexual development. Teens who do not gain support at home are much more likely to have depression, attempt suicide, use chemicals, and are at much higher risk for HIV and STDs.
Follow your daughter’s lead. If you feel fear, sadness, anger, shame, worry that you will be judged, please do not try to work through this with your daughter. Work with a therapist who has knowledge about gay/bi/queer/trans populations. Talk through this and work out your own emotions so that your daughter does not end up needing to worry about your feelings about her sexuality. Her sexuality is for her to figure out, just as your sexuality was yours to figure out.
Be kind to your daughter and kind to yourself.
All my best to you,
**Source: Ryan, C. Supportive families, healthy children: Helping families with lesbian, gay, bisexual & transgender children. San Francisco, CA: Marian Wright Edelman Institute, San Francisco State University, 2009.