If your child has just come out to you as gay or transgender, you might feel anxious or unsure about what to do. Perhaps you want additional information on how you can best support your child.
Although it might feel scary or overwhelming right now, the fact your child trusted you enough to share this part of their identity with you is something to celebrate! Take this as a recognition that your child sees you as a safe person and an important, trustworthy adult in their life.
As you embark on your own journey as the parent of an LGBTQ+ person, we’ve compiled some important things that you should know and some steps you can take to support your child.
Understanding the rainbow of LGBTQ+ identities
Many different identities fall under the LGBTQ+ umbrella. LGBTQ+, sometimes abbreviated to just LGBT, stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning. The plus sign is used to indicate other identities that fall under the LGBTQ+ umbrella, such as intersex, pansexual, asexual, aromantic, and others.
Some LGBTQ+ identities refer to a person’s sexual orientation - or the types of people to whom someone is romantically and/or sexually attracted. This includes identities like gay, lesbian, bisexual, and pansexual. Other identities represent people who do not experience sexual and/or romantic attraction, including asexual and aromantic.
Other LGBTQ+ identities refer to a person’s gender identity - or their internal sense of their gender. This includes identities like transgender, genderqueer, nonbinary, two-spirit, genderfluid, agender, and many others.
It’s important to recognize that a person’s sexual orientation (who they’re attracted to) and their gender identity (who they see themselves as) are two separate things. A person’s gender identity does not determine their sexual orientation and vice versa.
Transgender meaning: What does it mean to be transgender?
If your child just came out to you as trans, you might find yourself searching for things like “transgender meaning” or other terms to help better understand what it means to be transgender.
A person who is transgender does not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. For example, if your child was born and the doctors said “it’s a girl!” but your child later tells you that they are in fact a boy, then they are transgender.
People who are transgender sometimes identify as male or female, but sometimes they might identify as nonbinary, genderqueer, or another gender identity that falls outside of the traditional male/female binary.
Nonbinary meaning: What is nonbinary?
If you’re just learning the term nonbinary, you might wonder “What is nonbinary?”
Someone who is nonbinary does not identify as either male or female. They might feel like their gender falls somewhere in between male and female, that their gender varies from day to day, or that they don’t have a gender at all.
When someone comes out as nonbinary, they might start to use they/them pronouns. Pronouns are the words we use to refer to people in the third person, and in English, pronouns differ depending on the gender of the person (ex: he/him, she/her, they/them). If your child asks you to use different pronouns than the ones you’re used to, it’s crucially important that you do so. Research shows that using a trans child’s preferred pronouns supports their mental health and well-being.
Is my child old enough to know they’re gay or transgender?
Yes, if your child has come out to you, they are old enough to know that they’re gay or transgender! Research shows that most transgender people have a sense of their true gender identity as early as their preschool years.
This doesn’t mean that your child’s identity won’t shift and change over the years, but one of the most important things you can do is to believe what your child tells you about themselves.
How to support your LGBTQ+ child
There are several different ways you can work to support your LGBTQ+ child. Consider taking some of the actions below.
Create a safe space
Create a safe space for your child at home and in their relationship with you as their parent. Affirm your child’s identity, including using the names and pronouns that they ask you to. Welcome your child’s dating partner(s) into your home just as you would if your child were straight. Also, consider finding support and resources from groups like PFLAG or The Trevor Project. If your child is old enough to pursue medical gender transition, reach out to their doctor or a mental health specialist for support.
Protect them from unsupportive adults
Even if your child has supportive and affirming adults in their life, they will inevitably also encounter unsupportive adults. Teachers, coaches, and extended and immediate family members may all display varying levels of support towards your child. With your child’s permission, it might be helpful for you to have a conversation with these people about your child’s identity. If you find that an adult in your child’s life is unsupportive, whether family or not, find ways to protect your child and prevent them from interacting with your child.
Don’t make assumptions
Your child may be the first LGBTQ+ person in your life. If that’s the case, you might feel like you have a lot to learn. That’s okay! Be open to asking questions and don’t make assumptions. Your child’s identity might change over time, and that’s completely normal. Also, don’t assume that your child’s gender identity and sexual orientation will align in ways that you expect.
Listen to your child
Sometimes being a supportive parent requires listening more than speaking. Create an environment where your child feels comfortable talking to you. Make it okay for them to process things with you, or to say things like “I’m not sure if I’m gay.” Being trusted to serve as a listening ear is one of the biggest honors as a parent. Above all, believe what your child tells you and make sure they know that you support them.
Along those same lines, be open to educating yourself and finding your own support. Reading articles, attending support groups, and connecting to groups like PFLAG are all great ways to pursue your own education.
Finding a therapist of your own can be a great way to have a dedicated space to process the many different emotions you might feel about your child’s new identity. At Westmoreland Psychotherapy Associates, we have therapists who are experts in LGBTQ+ issues, including experts in processing the complex emotions you might feel during this transition.
You don’t have to navigate this on your own. Reach out to us today for support.