I am honored to receive heaps of private messages from people sharing their stories or the feelings that my blog has brought up for them. But what tickles my fancy even more is when they ask hard questions. I find that most of them come from non-LGBTQ+ folx, parents usually, looking to understand or connect with their child or another family member. Often I hear the same two things:
1) I don’t know how to have this conversation with (insert person’s name) because they get upset with me for not knowing.
2) I don’t know who I can ask for help without possibly offending them.
Oh, hi! I’m here to help.
Creating Language and Safe Spaces
A dear friend of mine, who is also a parent to a gay child, shared that so much of this struggle is because our society lacks the language to have these discussions. We don’t know what to ask or how to ask it and instead say nothing instead of risking saying the wrong thing.
So, one day while I was talking to myself in the shower (because that’s where we have the best conversations), I said, “Self, maybe there needs to be a safe and honest space for people to ask questions anonymously and collect some thoughts and perspective on what they’re going through. Maybe the world needs a gay Dear Abby type of column.” And thus, Queer Abby was born whilst I sudsed my head with coconut-scented shampoo and patted myself on the back for some minimally-creative naming.
My coconut head also reminded me that I should probably make a disclaimer. Some of these questions have been modified slightly to protect the privacy of the person. In some cases, the question has been simplified for readability. I’d rather we not get ensnared in semantics, but rather focus on the core question.
Also, I’m not a licensed professional. Quite frankly, my only qualification is that I've lived as hetero and now I live as a lesbian, and so I’ve seen life in both worlds. And also… I like writing words. These are my thoughts on how I see things from my life experience and perspective. I am not the official nor unofficial spokesperson for all things LGBTQ+. I will seek outside perspective when it comes to questions that I know very little about. More importantly, I would love to encourage respectful dialog in the comments section so that you too can offer your perspective and help others.
Without further ado (and talk of shampoo), I present to you…
Queer Abby: Why do my children have to announce they’re LGBTQ+?
Dear Queer Abby,
So, my daughter came out on her 12th birthday. But I have a feeling she did it more because that’s what others are doing, that she wanted to believe she's gay too so she can be different. No biggie. She said she is gay. I said that it was weird, being as that she doesn’t have any friends as boys to compare the feelings between. Now her older sister has come out as pansexual (never heard of that until now). At this point, I’m annoyed because I feel like they are looking for something that would make sense of teenage awkwardness. Again, I support them, but my issue is that I told them I raised them not to label themselves. I asked, “Do I go around saying I’m straight?” No, I don’t. I asked them, “Should I find a label?” No, just be who I am… done. Why is it that every kid thinks they’re gay and needs a label now?
First, let me say thank you for providing a space for both of your children where they feel secure enough to express to you that they are not heterosexual. It’s so important for people (especially young people) to have an open door to talk about these difficult and sometimes confusing subjects. Your children obviously love and trust you with this important piece of them.
We’ve got a lot to dive into today.
When you were a teenager, did your high school guidance counselor ever give you a quiz that was supposed to help you decide what you should be when you grow up? Mine said I should be a farmer. The quiz didn’t know that I have killed cacti. Anyhow, picture that time of your life where you were being asked to figure out who you were and what you were going to do for the rest of your life. It felt like a big decision at a very tender age when you were still trying to figure out so much of the world, right?
Well, today’s teens are still trying to figure that piece out. But now they have additional layers that many of us in the elder millennial generation and beyond didn’t have to contend with: cracking the code of sexual orientation and gender identity. Oof!
Most of us adults were probably never asked if we were attracted to anyone other than the opposite gender. We never had to consider if our pronouns matched the gender we were assigned at birth. For most people, not having those questions worked out okay. But for the LGBTQ+ crowd, it left many of us feeling like something was off in our lives without having the words to know what it was or why we felt that way. Trust me, figuring out that your “attraction” to men is not how most straight women are “attracted” to men and discovering that you’re actually a lesbian at age 40 is not the ideal way to go.
I think it’s absolutely incredible that today’s youth get to explore concepts that were not anywhere on my radar at their age. The fact that more teens can speak openly with their parents and friends about who they’re attracted to or how they feel about the gender assigned to them at birth is a great thing. It’s also a lot to navigate and often there is no definitive answer.
Given the fluid nature of sexuality and gender, plus a dump truck full of teenage hormones, a developing pre-frontal cortex, and a society in the US is still not entirely gay-okay, I can see why there is so much frustration from parents as their child tries to make sense of sexual orientation and gender expression. On a Facebook group for parents of LGBTQ+ teens, they share their challenges with their child’s labels, pronouns, and daily name changes. They feel that they are doing their best to be supportive and feel hurt when they get wrath for messing up their child’s pronouns du jour. When a child “comes out”, their parent has to “come out” in a way too. These constant shifts can feel dizzying.
If a young human comes to you and says they are anything other than heterosexual or cisgender, trust them. That is their truth. That truth may change or it may not, but they will not feel secure in discovering their identity if they are told that what they feel is not real. (This also goes for minimizing their feelings by chalking up anything non-hetero or non-cis as “experimentation” or “a phase”. We don’t use those terms with straight attraction or cisgender, and shouldn’t use them for queer or trans feelings either.)
Every Type of Sexual
There is a lot of terminology to learn when it comes to the LGBTQIA2S community. Heck, our acronym seems to grow by the day, which may explain why we’re now referred to as the alphabet mafia. As we explore more into the meanings of sex, gender, and attraction, people are seeking more definitive ways to classify themselves.
I’ll admit, I’ve struggled with the idea of labels too. I remember when I heard the term sapiosexual (a person who finds themselves especially attracted to someone they view as intelligent) and thought, “Isn’t that just a personality trait that you like and not a specific sexuality? Who wouldn’t want an intelligent partner? OMCheezits?! Am I a sapiosexual lesbian?!?! And do we have a flag yet? Can our flag look like a copy of Brene Brown’s Atlas of the Heart with some cute mushrooms around it in soothing colors that one would find while hiking in Sedona?”
We’ve since learned that our 7th-grade biology class's understanding of two genders was not actually scientifically accurate. There are many ways in which those X and Y chromosomes can present. We also know that sexual orientation and attraction are more nuanced than just how we feel about one of those two basic gender options we learned about in 7th-grade biology.
Some people feel incredibly helped by being able to narrowly define their identity in this way. It creates a sense of community and makes the process feel less lonely. However, others don’t want any labels and just want to be. Both are totally valid and do not hurt or infringe on the rights of others. (Except for that guy that got upset with me because his flirting energy and kindness were “wasted” when he realized I was a lesbian masquerading as an unlabeled woman.)
To Label or Not to Label
I love the fact that you want your children to feel that they do not need labels. And you are 100% correct that you do not need to go around announcing that you are straight. But you not having to announce your straightness has more to do with compulsory heterosexuality than your “choice” not to announce it. Compulsory heterosexuality is basically the assumption in our society that everyone is straight. And since a 2020 Gallup poll found nearly 1 in 6 Gen Z people identify as non-hetero, it shows how wrong the comphet assumption can be.
Let’s flip this label scenario on its head. If a straight person goes to a gay bar, people will approach them under the assumption that they’re gay/lesbian/bi/queer. This may prompt them to announce that they are a straight person and politely decline the vodka tonic and ax-throwing date. In a predominantly gay space, there may be situations where one has to label themselves as heterosexual because people automatically assume otherwise.
In our predominantly hetero and cisgender society, there are times where we (the LGBTQ+) need labels to identify that we’re not straight or cis. It doesn’t matter if we want a label ourselves or not. Sometimes we must do so… like when my gynecologist won’t stop asking me how I can be sure I’m not pregnant if I don’t use birth control. Lesbianing is my birth control, Doc.
Last comment on labels and then I’ll put away my label-maker. Some of us LGBTQ+ are extra vocal about our labels as a way to normalize it. Homophobia thrives in silence. By letting others know that we are LGBTQ+ it helps people realize that people they know and care about in their lives are part of the community. It’s harder to hate when you already love someone in that group.
Being vocal about our labels also moves us further away from compulsory heterosexuality and the idea that everyone is straight. Queer and trans visibility is important to bring about equality, but to be visible you need a label. We can’t talk about being okay with the LGBTQ+ without mentioning LGBTQ+.
Why Is Everyone Gay Now?
I do not want to ignore your other point about the current “popularity” of being LGBTQ+. Right now, it sure feels that way because everyone and their mother is reading Untamed or joining lesbian TikTok and buying all of the rainbow shit they can find on Etsy. Quite frankly, I never thought I’d see the day where who I love was somehow trendy.
So, is everyone really “turning” gay? My belief is no, they are not. I think more people are just done hiding the fact that they are gay (or trans or whatever label they identify with) and our youth are now being raised in a safer and more accepting society.
In that Gallup poll I mentioned earlier, only 3.5% of the US adult population identified as LGBT in 2012. By 2020, that number was 5.6%. If we look at a breakdown by generation, the percentage rises sharply between Traditionalists (born before 1946) who identify as LGBT at 1.3%, Millennials (born 1981-1996) at 9.1%, and Generation Z (born 1997-2002) at 15.9%. My heart hurts for the large number of people in our older generations who felt and still feel that they must hide who they are in order to be loved and accepted.
But How Do They REALLY Know They’re Gay?
It’s funny how when a pre-teen says they’re attracted to the same sex, people assume they’re too young to know. But if a four-year-old calls a classmate her boyfriend, we smile and coo. In the former scenario, we assume they’re straight and just confused. In the latter, we happily confirm their heterosexuality.
Think back to your first crushes. Did you feel that attraction because it was trendy? Because everyone was having hetero crushes and you wanted one too so you forced yourself to feel attraction for them? Probably not. You felt it because that’s what you felt inside. And now your children are feeling their own feelings too. Trust that people know who they are attracted to. That is not the part of being LGBTQ that people tend to question in themselves (unless they're asexual). The real questioning comes down to whether they’re ALLOWED to and OKAY with being attracted to whom they’re attracted to. This, I believe, has been one of the biggest shifts between the LGBTQ+ of the past and those today.
Last point, just love them. Love them fiercely. Approach with curiosity. If they’re doing something and it’s making you nutty, ask yourself 1) Is it going to hurt them? 2) Is it going to hurt anyone else? 3) Is it making you nutty because it’s new to your brain? (Our brains don’t like to have to reconfigure). If no harm is being done, try your best to go with this new flow.
As parents, the best thing we can do is raise an individual with a strong sense of self and love for who they are. You’re on the right track, mama. Keep providing a safe space for them to grow and they will surely figure this out! And in the meantime, here is some rad rainbow holiday décor to show your support.*
If you have a question for Queer Abby, please email it to Jill@JillWritesWords.com and I will happily feature it in a future post. Thank you for being a part of these important conversations.
*(Note: This is an affiliate link that I’ll make a few dimes off of, just like the fabulous reading material on this page. Thanks for helping support creatives.)