Several times a year, I ask my readers about their biggest struggle with understanding or supporting transgender people. Then I open the conversation up to any other questions they might have. One reader recently asked if it was possible to tell if our children are gay (or lesbian or bisexual or transgender) before they come out.
The short answer is yes. But it's a bit more complicated than that.
As parents, we need to understand that our children don't wake up one day transformed into LGBTQ+ people. My son Leo came out in January 2016. One of the first questions I remember asking myself was, "Wait. When did this happen, and how come I didn't notice?" Well, it didn't just "happen." And I didn't notice because I didn't know what I was supposed to be paying attention to. Unlike some children, who begin expressing their gender identity (or misidentify) at a young age, my child did not. At that time, I didn't understand that he didn't just decide he was transgender. He had been a transgender person his whole life. He just hadn't come out publically until he was nineteen-and-a-half.
There is a lot of information about whether gender and sexuality are genetic and a product of biology. Or if environmental and social factors come into play. Perhaps they are a combination of both things. Some studies discuss why trying to connect genetics to LGBTQ+ identity is problematic. It's up to each of us to do the work in deciding where we stand on the issue.
In the meantime, our children have been gay, lesbian, or transgender as long as they have known it to be their truth. For some, this is as young as three or four. For others, it's often around puberty. This is when children begin to explore their place in the world, which includes gender and identity.
Their coming out as an LGBTQ+ person is simply a matter of when they tell us and the rest of the world. Chances are, our children have lived with this knowledge for a very long time. You could be picking up on this if you suspect your child is an LGBTQ+ person before they come out to you.
Use your suspicion to help you react well when your child comes out to you.
While you are waiting:
- Process your feelings about your child being an LGBTQ+ person. Take all the possibilities, and sit with your honest feelings. It might help to journal them or write them on paper to save or destroy later. Just purging them all, good or bad, helps you move forward.
- Do some visual role-playing about your conversation with your child when they come out to you. It likely won't go exactly how you imagine it, but the idea is to practice how you will react before that day comes. If you feel brave enough, find someone you trust to practice it with you in real time. Try out different scenarios so you feel prepared for whatever might happen. The more times and different ways you practice, the more natural it will feel when it happens.
- Get support if you need to. Confide in a trusted friend or two. Reach out to a professional. Join a support group for parents of LGBTQ people. There are some great ones on social media if you aren't near one.
Most importantly, remember that you love your child and want what's best for them. Coming out to people who may reject you causes a lot of fear and anxiety. If you can prepare for that moment ahead of time and respond with love and compassion, you give your child a gift. Use that time before they come out to get ready, even if you aren't sure what you are waiting for.
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