Recently, a colleague of mine reached out for some advice. A single father of two sons, 12 and 15, all of whom shared an incredibly close relationship.
Dad (we’ll call him Bill) did all the right things about talking with his kids about their bodies, sex, love, consent, and modeled healthy behaviors.
Then came the plot twist Bill was not expecting – his oldest son came out to him as gay on the drive over to visit family.
Fortunately for all, Bill again did the right things and they continued along. Somewhere between the driveway and sitting down for dinner, Bill started freaking out a little. Not because his son was gay, or because the tablecloth was hideous (it was). Minor panic set in as Bill began to realize that the ‘sex talk’ he’d scripted out for the next few years suddenly needed some revisions. So, he called me.
As much as they may not look forward to it, most parents prepare themselves for talking to their kids about sex. Hopefully these conversations start early - talking about body parts, privacy, and having personal agency. Kids get older and their questions become more complex; questions about navigating sex, love, and relationships being no exception.
After getting Bill’s enthusiastic consent to share an anonymized version of his story, I started to outline pointers for other parents who experience such a plot twist.
Keep in mind, your child’s sexual orientation and gender identity are their own. The plot twist is not, “Oh, hey! Your kiddo is gay (or bisexual, or transgender, non-binary, etc.!”, it’s really more, “Oh, hey! Those assumptions you had about your kiddo’s gender or attractions – yeah, they were off.”. Move on.
Bill’s concern wasn’t about this aspect of his adolescent son’s identity; it centered on how best to continue an open dialogue on sex, dating, love, and healthy relationships. As a self-identified straight man, Bill admitted feeling at a loss on how to begin the conversation.
So, talking to your queer kid about all the things. Where to start?
First, it’s important to realize that most sex education curriculum in public schools excludes any discussion about LGBTQ individuals. This not only makes it difficult for queer kids to ask questions about sexual health in an accepting environment; exclusionary materials also perpetuate the view that heterosexuality is the default setting for humans. Which it isn’t, but that’s an article for another time.
It’s on you to become educated about terms, concepts, and various unique challenges for the LGBTQ community. That’s not even just for parents of queer kids. Parents of straight, cisgender kids also need to talk about sexual orientation and gender; mostly because we are raising tiny humans who deserve to be respected as whole entities. That respect extends to having an appreciation and recognition of the humanity within all other humans.
Parents have access to an array of resources, both in person and online, to learn about supporting the LGBTQ kiddos in their lives. Be a critical consumer of this information. As with most subjects related to youth and sexual orientation or gender, not every person on the interwebs has your kiddo’s best interest in mind.
Look for credible organizations that are recognized in their fields. PFLAG and GLAAD are all good starting points, especially when unsure of what it is you are hoping to ask. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has great research on supporting LGTBQ youth.
Once you have these resources in your sex talk toolkit, get comfortable using them. Even the most supportive parents can find themselves struggling at first. Work through it. This is your child’s sexual health on the line. You can be uncomfortable for a few minutes, but then deal with it and move on.
It’s critical to keep the lines of communication open. If you shut down after they come out, this change will likely be seen as rejection. Practice talking about aspects of sexuality that you may not have previously thought much about. It’s not about becoming an expert; talk with the same level of openness as if the questions were about heterosexuality. Listen to them and help find the information they need along the way.
Stay calm, it’s just sex.