“Coming out” is a lifelong journey of understanding, acknowledging and sharing one’s gender identity and sexual orientation with others. It may be quick and easy for some, or longer and more difficult for others.
It is important for parents of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) teens to remember each child is unique and will have their own experiences and feelings along the way.
“I Feel Different From Other Kids . . .”
Coming out often starts during puberty with feelings of being “different”. Many LGBT teens have said in retrospect that they began to sense something “different” about themselves early in life, and for gender non-conforming youth, sometimes as far back as age four or five. See Gender Non-Conforming & Transgender Children.
It is common for LGBT teens to feel scared or nervous during this stage. Some can start to feel isolated from their peers, especially if they feel that they don’t fit in or are given a hard time for being different. Just remember that children who feel loved and accepted for who they are have a much easier time.
“I Think I Might Be Gay (or Lesbian, Bi, or Trans), But I’m Not Sure, and I Don’t Know How I Feel About That…”
Instead of just feeling “different,” young people begin to wonder if they might be “gay” (or lesbian, bi or trans) or fall anywhere on the continuum. Many teens have mixed feelings when they first try on a new way of identifying. It can be a mix of excitement, relief, and worry.
In some cases, teens might be overwhelmed by all these feelings and try to bury them. For example, they may isolate themselves from others for fear of being exposed, or “outed.” Some teens may feel very alone, especially if they live in a community that doesn’t have an active LGBT-youth support system. Having a supportive and helpful environment at home and good relationships with friends and will help teens to manage their feelings and deal with any discrimination they may face.
“I Accept That I’m Gay, But What will My Family and Friends Say?”
Teens may accept that they are LGBT, but aren’t ready to start sharing this information with anyone yet. Some will feel comfortable to share their identity with others, while other teens may not tell anyone for a long time. Teens may look for clues on how you feel about their gender identity and sexual orientation. Speaking positively about LGBT celebrities or current events you will show that you are supportive of their identity.
Society has become more open and accepting of LGBT individuals, and young people are beginning to come out at earlier ages than they did a generation ago.
“I’ve Told Most of My Family and Friends that I’m Gay (or Lesbian, Bi, or Trans).”
Teens feel secure enough in who they are and share that information with loved ones. It takes courage and strength for a young person to share who they are inside, especially for teens who are unsure of how their families will respond. They may fear disappointing or angering their families, or in some instances may fear being physically harmed or thrown out of their homes. In most cases, parents need time to deal with the news. While it may take them days, weeks or many months to come to terms with their child’s sexuality or gender identity, it is important for parents to show love and support for their child, even if they don’t fully understand everything.
Coming out to others can be a liberating experience, especially for those teens who are embraced by their communities and families. LGBT teens may feel free to speak openly about their feelings and possibly romantic relationships for the first time. For transgender teens, they may finally feel free to begin expressing themselves as the gender they feel inside.
A Final Note for Parents:
Not withdrawing from your role as a parent is probably one of the most helpful ways to help a child continue to feel a sense of being cared for and accepted.
Gender Spectrum provides an extensive list of supportive parenting practices and tips. It’s important to take whatever steps you can to demonstrate to your child that you are with them on this journey. Learn more here.