If you’re reading this, most likely your child has come out to you as someone on the LGBTQIA spectrum. Having questions is a completely normal part of this process. After all, you’re processing the news that your child has a sexual orientation or gender identity different from what you may have expected. Asking questions is fine; it shows that you care about them and want to support them. However, it’s also important to think about the worry or assumption hiding behind each question, and whether or not that question will make your child feel validated in their identity. Here are five questions to not ask your child—and one that you always should.
1. “How do you know you’re gay if you’ve never been in a heterosexual relationship?” You didn’t need to date anyone before you knew you were straight, because who we love is a core part of us. Yes, it may take awhile for someone to come to realize their sexual orientation, but that is because we’re socialized our whole lives to believe we’re not supposed to be attracted to the same sex. We don’t need to actually date someone to know who we’re attracted to; we need to look within ourselves and tune out the rest of society.
2. “You’re such a girly girl—you don’t look like a lesbian. Are you sure?” The same type of question goes for your athletic, masculine son. The truth is, not all lesbians are butch and not all gay men are effeminate. While some may fit these stereotypes, there are many who don’t, and still others who fall somewhere in between. Just because your child does not fit what you consider to be the typical stereotype of what it means to be gay doesn’t mean they are any less who they say they are.
3. “Does this mean I won’t have grandchildren?!” While having children may take some extra steps, there are options out there for all couples to have children, like surrogacy, in vitro fertilization, sperm donation banks, known sperm donors, and adoption. Of course, whether or not your child decides to have a child is really up to them and their partner, as would also be the case for your straight child.
4. “If you’re bisexual and attracted to both men and women, why can’t you just choose to be in a heterosexual relationship?” The easiest way to explain why this isn’t a good question is to put it in terms of food. Say you like chocolate cake and ice cream. Do you want to have to choose just one, or do you want to be able to choose between both, since you like both the same? Bisexual people are attracted to more than one gender and shouldn’t have to limit their choices to just one.
5. “What did I do to cause this?” Asking this question implies that there is something wrong with your child—and there isn’t. Suggesting so can be very hurtful.
If you and your child are comfortable, having a conversation can go a long way in both of you understanding one another, and ultimately bring you closer together. After your child comes out, you may be full of questions and fears, and you will also be embarking on your own process of coming out as the parent of an LGBTQ young person. Before you ask your child a question, ask yourself: where is this question really coming from? Is it coming from your own internal biases towards LGBTQ people? Will asking help you move towards a place of greater understanding? In the end, there’s really only one thing you need to say:
I love you. How can I support you?
Linda Ulanoff is a wife and mother of a 16-year-old daughter (who just happens to be a lesbian) and 20-year-old son. She is an advocate for the LGBTQ community as an active member of PFLAG Long Island and serves on their Board as Treasurer. She also manages the group’s Facebook page. You can follow her on Twitter @CrankyMomma48
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