Dear Scary Mommy,
I am pretty sure my 11-year-old daughter is a lesbian–okay fine!–I read her diary. I know my daughter has a crush on a girl in her class. How do I let her know she can come out to me? Should I ask her directly if she likes girls so that we can get it out in the open? I really don’t care! I just want her to know I love her unconditionally.
Oof. I feel this on so many levels. We will get to the diary, but first let me address the fact that you are already on the right path to strengthening your daughter’s emotional security, which will buffer her confidence and happiness if she does identify somewhere along the LGTBQIA+ rainbow. Sadly, too many parents offer love that is full of buts and if-then statements. When it comes to a child’s sexuality, gender identity, or gender expression that doesn’t fall in line with heteronormative ideas, parents will either refuse to acknowledge their child’s authenticity, refuse to let them express it, withhold support and money if they don’t change, or kick them out of the house until they are “normal.”
I hesitate to congratulate you because all parents should be so conflicted about finding the best way to support their queer child, but I do want to thank you. Too many queer youth are not supported at home. There are an estimated 3.2 million LGBTQ youth between the ages of eight and 18 living in the United States. And up to 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ. The correct and easy-to-draw conclusion is that caregivers need to care more about their queer kids. It’s clear that you care. But, for the love of Jonathon Van Ness, do not confront your daughter about her sexuality.
I had a diary when I was a queer kid—my angsty, closeted self still feels the suffocation of living with a secret. I was full of shame for feeling and being something I knew my parents, family members, and community didn’t approve of. I knew then that I couldn’t come out because I would be a disappointment. This fear was realized when I was finally forced out the closet by my mother years after writing about secret crushes in my diary. I don’t think she read my diary (even if she had, they were written in code), I was just really gay and had never had a boyfriend. When my mother confronted me about my sexuality, she took away my story because she made who I was about her. Religion and fear were her motivation to change who I was through prayer and bargaining. It didn’t work, but it did hurt our relationship.
While you may not react the same way my mother did to your child’s queerness, your child could still be feeling fear and even disappointment if she suspects or knows she is not straight. The last thing a child wants to do is let their parent down.
My diary-writing days happened in the 90s, but the layers of anti-LGBTQIA+ sentiment in our society are still thick and heavy. A lot of progress has been made, but even in homes where parents are openly supportive of gay relatives, transgender rights, and other LGBTQIA+ issues, a child still feels the need to come out because the default setting is straight and cisgender. Your daughter may not be ready to tell you about her crush because she is worried that you will be upset, but she may also still be trying to figure out what this means for herself.
Those first flickers of young love are overwhelming. They make us dizzy with goodness, but they hurt too. They take us by surprise; not just by the waves of sensations they cause but by the person who has caused them. I like him? Her? Who am I? What does this mean?
Your daughter may be a lesbian, but she could identify as bisexual or pansexual. She may develop all kinds of crushes on all genders of people, but it will be up to her and her alone to define her identity. If she hasn’t told you about this particular crush yet, it could be because she isn’t comfortable with herself and just isn’t ready to declare a label. Or maybe your daughter is stoked to be queer and trusts you will love her no matter what, but doesn’t want to tell you yet because ew, feelings. Crushes + parents = awkward.
Ask yourself why you want to “get it out into the open.” It’s not up to your child to make you feel more comfortable about her sexuality. Instead of asking out-of-the-ordinary questions that could make her suspect you were reading her private thoughts and lead to a break in trust, be more mindful of people she is talking about. See if there are causal questions you can ask about her friends or relationships with friends to let her know you are interested and open-minded but not presumptuous. When appropriate, mention any gay friends or family members you have and talk about them with pride. And if you haven’t already had the sex talk, now is the time to do it. If you have already covered the basics, review them and have the conversation again. Talking to our kids about sexual health allows us to have inclusive conversations about feelings, consent, and body parts.
As horrific as this may sound, preemptively talking to your child about the possibility that she may develop feelings for someone of the same gender or someone with the same body parts could be a lovely opportunity. Your daughter may ask really great questions and make it seem as though her curiosity doesn’t apply directly to her or she may be very direct and see these talks with you as a way to finally open up. Vulnerability can breed if given the time and space.
I recommend resisting the urge to read your daughter’s diary. Trust me, as a parent I know the temptation to tap into our kids’ brains. We want to protect them and how can we do that if they don’t tell us what’s going on? We protect them by creating a relationship built on trust. You don’t want to break your daughter’s trust, so don’t give her the opportunity to question it by getting caught or being suspected of reading her diary.
Continue to be an outspoken ally to the LGBTQIA+ community and be patient. Your daughter will come out to you when she is ready. Unless you are worried about her mental health or a decline in her school work, let her be a tween who writes about the cute crushes she has on classmates. If you are worried, don’t out her, but seek the guidance of a doctor or therapist to get to the root of what is causing your child pain.
It may be helpful for you to attend a PFLAG meeting. You will have the opportunity to talk to other parents and friends about the queer people you love. PFLAG groups offer support and education separate from your child, so when she finally does tell you about the girl she likes, you will be prepared to truly embrace this part of her. Until then, keep telling your daughter you love her unconditionally.