My daughter, June, was 13 when she came out to our family and her world. It wasn’t a total surprise to me as I had suspected it for a long time. We have great discussions about the additional obstacles gays face in America. We’ve been to gay pride parades together, and I could see the relief on June’s face as we gleefully celebrated when marriage equality became the law of the land.
We knew that since she was out and proud as a gay teen, and I was just as “out” as the parent of a gay teen, people were bound to say a lot of stupid things. But most of the questions come from a well-meaning place from people who have not had a similar experience in their life.
So whether you’re the parent of a gay teen yourself, suspect you might be, or are the friend or relative of one, let me help you understand these frequently asked questions.
“How could they possibly know already that they are gay?”
Because June is just 15, this is the most common question, and the one I find most irritating. Think of your first crush. I bet you were under the age of 12, right? Maybe 8 years old? Maybe 10? Yet no one even considered questioning you about liking the opposite sex because you liked “who you were supposed to like.” This response generally gives people perspective and a personal point of understanding — with a dash of snark.
Being the parent of a gay daughter also made me reconsider how we talk to kids about romantic love. Although I’m not sure why we ask children as young as 3 years old if they have a significant other, I’ve heard it a thousand times with my own kids from well-meaning adults who think it’s cute. If you just have to ask a child this question, instead of asking “Do you have a girlfriend?” try replacing that with “Do you have a crush?”
“Are you sure it’s not just a phase?”
Why the hell does it even matter? No matter what gender/orientation our children want to befriend, date, kiss, have sex with, or marry, if they have an emotionally healthy and loving relationship, let’s support it! So what if they switch up genders at some point — or like both — be excited that your child is experiencing life’s greatest joy: love. Let’s all hope our children’s generation will freely love and not feel stifled by our opinions or those of society.
“Aren’t you afraid they will get AIDS?”
Aren’t we afraid any of our kids could get an STD? AIDS happens to both genders, to people of all orientations, and so do most other diseases. While AIDS is a life-changer, it is a far cry from the only thing that could happen to our kids. Teach all of your kids about safe sex, STDs, symptoms to notice in a potential partner, and symptoms they could experience themselves once they are sexually active. If you want to be really cutting edge, have a supply of condoms in your home so they can always have access to protect themselves.
“At least you don’t have to worry about unplanned grandbabies.”
Sure, that’s a perk, but it is hardly enough to outweigh the dangers otherwise present. Although today’s culture and attitudes about gays are improving, having a gay teen is knowing that your child will be mistreated at times simply for who they love. Their daily emotional and physical safety is definitely a bigger concern than the slight chance they might get pregnant had they been straight.
June dresses more boyishly and has very short hair. People often mistake her for a boy. Instead of getting a chip on our shoulder, we have made it game of guessing which waiter or waitress will get it right. While I don’t have to worry about her needing the birth control pill or getting pregnant, I do have to worry about her not fitting into relationship or gender stereotypes and people’s responses to that.
“Do you think they’ll get married and have a normal life someday?”
I’m 46 years old, and I’ve got news for other parents my age — our children’s “normal” life is thankfully going to look quite different from the “normal” that was expected of us when we were emerging young adults. Marriage rates are going down and many of our straight kids will also not have the ideal “normal” life we worked so hard to obtain, thinking it was our only option. Societal expectations are broadening and being reframed more and more, and it’s about damn time!
My “normal” wish for June and her brothers is that they do something for work that fills their souls and not just their wallets, love someone who fills their hearts and not just their beds, and fill their minds with a range of experiences, so they can fill the world around them with compassion and open-mindedness.
That’s really all a parent could ask for.