Young people who are gay or lesbian
gay; lesbian; homosexual; sex; bisexual; blame; gender; orientation; identity; heterosexual; grief; health; sexual; parents; sexuality ;
Learning that your son or daughter is gay or lesbian may come as a sudden surprise, or you may have been wondering for some time about his or her sexuality.
You might be feeling many different things, such as shock, disbelief, disappointment, sorrow, guilt or confusion, and even relief. Many parents feel distressed because they believe life will be difficult for their child if she or he is homosexual (a person sexually attracted to people of the same sex).
Parents may feel they have done something wrong or have failed their child in some way. Sometimes they worry about friends or other family members finding out and about their reactions. Others feel relieved to at last know what has been troubling their son or daughter.
What parents ask
Why did he or she 'choose' to be gay or lesbian?
Were they influenced by someone to become like this? Are they doing this just to hurt me? Is it a mental problem that a psychologist or psychiatrist can cure?
- No one 'chooses' their sexuality. Sexual orientation or sexual identity comes from inside, regardless of who we are attracted to.
- Sexuality is part of our whole being and is not a decision. No one can change their sexual orientation by just deciding to. Parents, counsellors, psychiatrists, and even the young people themselves, cannot change sexual orientation.
- Sexual orientation is not caused by anything parents are, or have done, and cannot be changed by anything parents do.
- There are difficulties and discrimination that can come with being a gay man or lesbian women, so most people wouldn't adopt this lifestyle if it didn't feel right for them.
- The 'choice' your young person will make is about whether to face facts and accept who they are, or to feel shame and try to block out a basic part of themselves.
Is it 'just a phase'?
Most adolescents go through a phase of being attracted to, or hero-worshipping people of the same sex. They may feel unsure about their sexuality for a while and may not want to talk about it. This is a normal part of development.
However, if young people tell you they are homosexual, they would usually only do this if they were sure. They need to know you believe them and will support them.
Why didn't he or she tell us before?
To tell a parent you are gay or lesbian takes great courage. Once it's been said, they can't take it back and they know it could change how you feel about them.
Young people can have a difficult time coming to terms with their sexuality and many struggle with it for a long time by themselves. They may have been harassed or bullied, rejected by friends or have seen this happen to others. They almost certainly will have heard negative comments and harsh attitudes towards homosexual people.
They may fear rejection by you, family members and others who are important to them. There can also be fear of coming out to friends, at school, at university and in the work place.
It may be hard for you when you realise your young person has been dealing with her or his sexuality for years and hasn't told you. You may even question the strength of your relationship if they have kept it from you. If you feel hurt, angry or guilty because they didn't tell you earlier, you need to understand that they probably could not have told you any sooner. Telling you now shows that they want to let you in on this part of their life and that they want to have an honest relationship with you.
Sometimes young people tell their parents in an angry or accusing way because they are really stressed with worrying about it, or because they are anxious about your reaction. They may feel worried about hurting you.
Your love and support is so very important at this time – coming out is a difficult time but it can draw you even closer.
Will they be different now?
Your son or daughter is still the same person you have loved and cared for all these years. They have not changed because they have told you about their sexuality.
There are many things about them that you know and love, and have done so for many years – like how they treat you and others, what they do, what they like, all the thousands of things that go to make up who they are. Sexuality is just one of those parts.
Learning that a young person is gay or lesbian can lead to changes in how you think and feel about them. You will need to develop a new understanding of who they are, and may need to let go of the future you had mapped out in your mind for them.
Talk to them about needing time to get used to your new knowledge. They have probably had time to become used to feelings about their sexuality. You may feel shock, denial or disbelief (hoping it will go away), shame (what will people say?), anger or guilt, blaming yourself or the other parent, or even depression. Hopefully, in the end there will be acceptance.
Share your feelings and worries with them - the more openly you can talk together the easier it will be.
Work out ways to deal with some of the challenges, such as who to tell and how to say it.
Make contact with other parents of gays and lesbians for support (see PSPFLAG for parents in South Australia). You might find it helpful to talk about it with people who understand. It can also help to learn more about homosexuality through reading how other families deal with it.
It is important not to reject your son or daughter – they need to know that you love them and will support them through good times and difficult times. If you choose to not accept their sexuality, this can lead to a break in family relationships that is hurtful for everyone.
Acceptance takes time. It's different for each person and there is no one right way. Some parents may show acceptance of their young person's sexuality with a celebration with family and friends. Sadly some parents choose not to accept their young person's sexuality.
Support for parents
Support for young people
The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).
This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.