More and more youth are feeling comfortable coming out as a part of the LGBTQ community. But it still takes time for kids to recognize and process their own sexual orientation and gender identity. It can take even more time before they’re ready to tell anyone — particularly, their parents.
Still, sometimes parents will have a hunch. So if your son insists on wearing dresses or your daughter desperately wants her hair cut short, and you have a sense that it’s a sign of something more, what should you do?
Don’t Ask Your Kid If They’re Gay
You might be tempted to straight up ask your kid, says Kristin Russo, an LGBTQ advocate and co-founder of the organizations Everyone Is Gay & My Kid Is Gay. But you should resist this impulse. “We navigate our own relationship to our sexuality and our gender identity at a particular pace. And it’s not always one that might be observable from the outside,” she says.
As a child, Russo’s mom asked her many times if she was gay, and this confused her to no end. She wondered what about her behavior made her mom think she was queer. “I’ve also spoken to so many young people whose parents have asked them, and they weren’t ready to come out. So they lied instinctively,” she says. The children then had the double burden of telling their parents the truth about their sexuality when they had previously denied it.
This may not be the case for all parents. Andrew Zanevsky is Vice-President of the PFLAG Council of Northern Illinois, an organization that unites parents of LGBTQ children. His adult daughter came out to him as transgender several years ago, and it was unexpected for him. But if he had suspected it, he would have talked to her about it because they have such a close relationship. “I would directly say that if you happen to be LGBTQ, I want you to know that I love you no matter what, and you can always count on it. And you don’t have to say anything, but I just want you to know that,” he says.
Russo agrees that there are exceptions. “There’s always parents who just know that their kid needs like a tiny little push in a direction,” she says. “But usually, you want your kid to come to you with that information when they’re ready.”
Make it Clear You’re Pro-LGBTQ
Whether or not you suspect your child is part of LGBTQ community, make it clear that your household is inclusive of all sexualties and genders and that you will love and accept your child if they do happen to be gay or trans. Because you can’t always guess whether your child is queer.
There are many ways to make this clear. A great one is to build an inclusive library. Buy children’s books with LGBTQ characters. While you’re at it, stock your library with other types of inclusive books too. “Make sure that the books that those kids are reading from the moment that they’re toddlers include families of all identities and shapes and sizes and classes and races,” Russo says. You can also choose TV shows and movies with queer and trans characters, like Star vs. the Forces of Evil and Steven Universe.
Another method is to comment on events in the news that affect the LGBTQ community. You don’t have to have a sit-down talk; offhand comments can get the job done, such as how glad you are that an LGBT-affirming law was passed.
Take your child to Pride events every year. Usually they are held in June, but some local areas may hold them at other times of the year. No one in your family has to be LGBTQ to attend. Attending Pride — either a parade in your city or smaller events throughout the month — shows that you not only support the queer and trans communities, but that you celebrate them. Go as allies to teach values of acceptance to your kid, whether they end up being a part of the community or not.
It can be difficult for anyone to figure out their unique style and what makes them comfortable in their own skin, Russo says. If your kid knows how they want to express themself, you should celebrate that. Whether your child wants to cut their hair short or only wants to wear dresses, support them, no matter the sex they were assigned at birth.
However, it may not always be safe for children to express themselves how they want outside of the home. Depending on what your community or school is like, there may be real danger for a child who is gender non-conforming. If that’s the case, talk to your kid about the risks, Russo says, but don’t discourage their self-expression. Just make sure they understand the dynamics at play. And if they decide to blend in in the outside world, welcome and encourage them to be whoever they want to be at home.
Do your research on the LGBTQ community so you can be a good ally, whether that ends up being to your child or to someone else in your life. Make sure you understand how to use they/them pronouns, what terms like “cisgender” and “non-binary” mean, and how gender is different from sexuality. Educating yourself now is important so that you can have an informed conversation with your child if they do come out to you. There are many resources for parents available online, such as those from The Trevor Project and Gender Spectrum.
If your child does come out, don’t rely solely on them for your information on the LGBTQ community. This can place an undue burden on your kid when what you’re looking for can probably be found on Google. Russo especially recommends checking out local community groups for parents of queer and trans kids. Local PFLAG chapters, such as the one Zanevsky is a part of, are a great option.
When so many children are rejected by their parents for being gay or trans, there can be a lot of pressure to create the perfect, nurturing environment for your potentially LGBTQ kid. But what it really comes down to is being a loving and supportive parent, and openly showing that. It comes down to being a good ally. And if you do that, your kid will tell you when they’re ready.