How To Create Space For Your Teen To Come Out To You

by Deb Besinger
lgb teen
winterbee / iStock

For many years, I suspected my daughter, June, was gay.

As a parent, you may suspect your child is gay even before they know it. Even if that is a super scary reality or something you’re uncomfortable with, you still probably have this parental intuition thing going and you know. I was in your shoes not so many years ago and had to find my way, along with June, sometimes quite easily and other times bumbling along the way.

We are really open and largely unfiltered in our home. I was committed to giving my kids a place to ask all those questions they can’t ask others while expressing their maturing thoughts, and sometimes finding out I need to re-educate what they falsely picked up from school mates.

Being super feminine, I dressed baby June in purple and glitter the moment I picked her up from the adoption agency. By kindergarten, she was definitely exerting her independence in clothing by sneaking her brother’s basketball shorts and T-shirts. She stuck with that style, never caving to peer pressure to wear the latest styles from Justice. She also preferred more boyish haircuts and sat quietly while her fickle friends giggled about their latest boy crush of the week.

I know those are little things, but I just sort of knew deep inside that at some point, it was quite possible that June would need to tell me she was a lesbian. I wanted to create a safe place for her to be free, to be herself and know that no matter what she said about her sexuality, she would be loved by me.

Most parents probably like to think they have a safe haven for their kids, but chances are your teen has already heard horror stories from their friends whose parents went apeshit when they said out loud, “I’m gay.” Those kids thought they were loved unconditionally, too, only to find out their whole world came crashing down around them.

We can do better, parents. Acknowledging your need to intentionally create space for your teen to talk about their sexuality is the best place to start and here’s what I learned in creating it.

Be open and honest about sex.

Whether your kid is straight or LGB, being open about your own sex life is the way to have honest communication with your teens. This means you don’t act shocked if they curiously ask you about anal sex (which is more common for straight high schoolers than vaginal, FYI), request you buy them condoms, or say they might be interested in “doing it” one day.

Tell them the truth.

Don’t just sit down with some clinical book — talk to them using their own language. This means you’ll need to get past the surface of what they are really asking and educate yourself on their vocabulary and latest slang. It’s okay if you don’t know sometimes and have to get back to them (after you Google and learn on your own).

Know that unless your kid has had zero internet access, they already know a hundred times more than what we did at their age, but they really do trust you most and want to know what you think.

It’s okay to tell your kids that when they are mature enough, sex is awesome, hysterical, messy, sometimes magical, and sometimes scary. It’s also okay to talk about your first crush, your first real kiss, and your positive feelings about your own sex life.

Don’t assume gender preference when asking about their crush.

This is a really hard habit to break. I don’t know why we have this trend of asking a boy as young as 3 years old if he has a girlfriend and vice versa, but it’s a thing. Instead of asking your daughter if she has a boyfriend, ask her if she has a crush on anyone. If you suspect your son may be gay then say, “Do you have any cute girls or guys you’re interested in?” Whether they are secure or questioning their sexual preference, the tone of their response opens the door for further discussion.

Follow up by saying it doesn’t matter to you who they like as long as they are a kind person. Straight or gay, you are letting your child know they can come to you about things they don’t feel others may understand.

Talk about current events and LGBT rights.

Even before June came out two years ago when she was 13, we talked about LGBT rights, like when the great Chick-fil-A debacle of 2012 happened. Being unfortunate enough to live in the birthplace of “the bathroom bill,” we are talking about transgender people and their rights these days. We empathized with the victims of the recent attack in Orlando and we hurt, as June wondered how safe the world is for her. Talk about your feelings about these events, ask your children what they think about them, and instead of reacting if they say something that surprises you, try digging into why they believe as they do.

If they tell you about a friend coming out, know they may be feeling you out.

A turning point was when one of June’s friends came out as bisexual and her father responded by publicly shaming her before he kicked her out of the house. Although I was supportive and heartbroken for her sweet friend, it opened up a lot of good conversation and I could sense she was feeling me out. I was able to let June know how I would respond to the same news if one of my kids were gay. A few months later, June came out to me and her brothers — and in the most nonchalant way like, “Can you pick up some deodorant when you go to Target, and oh yeah, I like girls!” In fact, I missed it the first time she said it, but it really wasn’t a big deal — as it shouldn’t be. Liking girls didn’t make her any less June.

Unfortunately, parent’s responding badly is part of the LGB teen reality, forcing them to choose sometimes living a secret life for fear of being disowned. June has friends who leave school each day to go home to hostile parents who haven’t accepted their child’s sexuality, and she worries all night about them. We know suicide is the leading cause of death among LGB teens and we have to believe creating a positive and supportive space at home could change that statistic. These kids don’t have a choice in how they were born, but parents absolutely have a choice on how we respond to them.

When they do come out, ASK how you can best support them.

Know your teen’s comfort level regarding who knows. Ask them if they would like you to tell extended family, if they want to tell them together, or not at all right now. Respect your teen’s decision because they may need to catch their breath after coming out to you and their friends.

With June, she told her older brother and asked me to tell her younger one and her dad (who doesn’t live with us, but is equally supportive). She almost immediately asked me to take her to the upcoming Gay Pride Parade. At the event, I bought her rainbow gear she wanted while we enjoyed the creative floats. I got to see it all through her enchanted eyes, even at the religious protestors, and I am thrilled I got to experience that with her.

Lucky is the woman who June chooses to love and be loved by. I am proud that I have gotten to raise a wonderfully loving and thoughtful girl, who fiercely embraces herself and others with compassion and love. She’s a great example to me and others.

As for me, I’m proud I was able to create a safe space for her and for my boys, too (in all their heterosexuality). They all keep me on my toes with their frank and open questions, but I honestly, without a doubt, wouldn’t have it any other way!