Let me assure you. The age at which your child comes out about their gender identity and/or sexuality can vary. And they may come out to you more than once. I speak from experience.
My adult nonbinary kid Harry came out to me five times. The first time was at two years old, when he said, “Inside my head I’m a girl.” That was my 1992 introduction to gender identity, even though I’d never heard the term before. I felt confused, worried and fearful. I didn’t know what Harry’s toddler-truth would mean for them, or for me. As a result, I watched as Harry explored and played with gender throughout grade school.
After that, Harry came out in high school as bisexual, and then gay. I understood sexuality, so that was easy. Later, in college, Harry told me he genderqueer and queer. I had a lot of questions about using the word queer comfortably! As my memoir went to print, Harry identified as nonbinary. That was another new word for me.
There may be newness for you, too, about a child’s highly personal gender and sexuality journey. So, I want to share five things to know when your child comes out.
1. You will not be the first person your child comes out to.
It’s true. Your child may confide in a friend or sibling before sharing their gender identity or sexuality with you. But even before that, your child will have come out to themselves. They will have identified an inner sense of self, a feeling of who they truly are that doesn’t match up with established gender norms. Or they will have recognized what gender(s) they crush on or are romantically attracted to.
2. When your child comes out to you, they are sure in that moment.
Self-discovery is a process. Gender identity and/or sexual orientation may evolve with your child’s development. But that is for them to tell you, not for you to project as a phase. They come out to you because they trust you. Reciprocate by trusting them to know themselves in the present moment. Thank them for sharing their true self with you. Assure them that you love them no matter what and will always be there for them. Stay open minded and continue to listen carefully.
3. Your vocabulary will improve.
Your child may come out to you as pansexual, genderqueer, stemme or another identity or sexual orientation unfamiliar to you. Facebook used to offer 70 options for how people could identify. Now it’s simply customized. But the point is, there are bound to be terms you haven’t heard before. Your child will understand you wanting to understand them. It’s okay not to know everything and to ask for help with terminology. Then do some research on your own. There’s a wealth of information online. Support groups like PFLAG exist for you, too. And if it’s important to your child, then you’ll soon become comfortable with they/them/their as singular pronouns.
4. You add “ally” to your job title.
As a parent, guardian or caregiver, you’ve held many titles. Chauffeur, cook, nurse, chief cheerleader, to name a few. For an LGBTQ+ kid, your role as ally becomes inextricably linked to the pillars of unconditional love, encouragement and support. They may need your help advocating for them at school, with government agencies, or with other family members and neighbors. Assure them they can count on you in any situation. And be ready to take on the world, if necessary.
5. It’s not about you.
When your child comes out to you, it is all about them. Their truth, their self-esteem, their desire to be loved and accepted for who they are. You may wonder as I did, what it will mean for you. Will you be judged at work, by neighbors, at church? What will conservative family members say? Your child may internalize some of the same questions. And that becomes your focus: helping them feel safe and protected.
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