Your Teen's Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Sexual orientation means how you are attracted romantically and sexually to other people. There are different kinds of sexual orientation. For example, a person may be:
- Heterosexual—attracted only or almost only to the other binary (male/female) gender. "Binary" is the idea that there are only two genders, male and female.
- Gay—attracted only or almost only to those of the same gender.
- Bisexual—attracted both to people of their own binary gender and to those of the other binary gender.
- Pansexual—attracted to those of any gender.
- Asexual—not sexually attracted to any gender. This is different from deciding not to have sex with anyone (abstinence or celibacy).
Gender identity is your inner sense of being male, female, both, neither, or some other gender. And for some people, gender identity can shift or be flexible. There are a variety of terms that people may use to describe their gender identity. For example, people whose gender identity expands beyond the categories of male or female may use the term "gender-diverse."
For some people, their gender identity doesn't match the sex they were assigned at birth. Many go through a process of coming to know, accept, and express their gender identity. This is called gender affirmation. There are many ways to affirm your gender. There are medical and nonmedical options.
Supporting your teen who is LGBTQ+
LGBTQ+ teens sometimes don't reveal their sexual orientation or gender identity for a long time. They may be afraid of what their friends, family, and others will say and do. They can feel relief when they come out to their family and friends and find love, support, and acceptance. Here are some ways you can support your LGBTQ+ teen.
- Show unconditional love. You may think it's obvious to your child that nothing could change how much you love them. But be sure to tell them (and show it) anyway. Coming out can be a difficult and uncertain time, and reminding your child that you're always there for them can be very reassuring.
- Let your teen decide who they come out to, and when. Support whatever they decide, and offer your child help planning how to come out to people if they need it.
- Use the language your teen uses to describe their sexual orientation or gender identity. Some terms may not be familiar to you. That's okay. Do your best to learn about them, and do your best to use them.
- Use your teen's correct pronouns. Once other friends and family members know what your child's pronouns are, insist that they use the correct pronouns, too. You might make a mistake now and then. That's okay. Correct your mistake, and move on.
- Be your teen's advocate. Stand up for your child if they aren't being treated equally, kindly, or in an inclusive way. That might mean talking to the school about their policies, or stepping in when family members or acquaintances are critical. Show your child that you're on their side.
- Show your teen you're interested in who they are. For example, start a conversation about who their LGBTQ+ mentors are. Find out if there are famous people who are LGBTQ+ that they look up to, and ask your child to tell you what they like about those people. Ask whether your child is interested in dating anyone, and talk about dating guidelines or rules.
- Watch for signs of depression or bullying. LGBTQ+ youth are at higher risk for these things. So if your teen starts acting withdrawn or anxious, avoiding school or friends, or is behaving in a way that seems unusual or concerning to you, do your best to find out what's going on. If they're being bullied, talk to the school or their teachers. If you suspect your child is depressed, get help from a counselor.
- Learn more and get involved. Organizations such as Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) are a good place to start. Visit the PFLAG website at www.pflag.org to find a list of other useful groups.
Current as of: November 22, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
John Pope MD - Pediatrics
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Elizabeth T. Russo MD - Internal Medicine
Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine