This post was written by LGBTQ+ advocate and volunteer Crisis Text Line Crisis Counselor Nick Chmura with help from the After School Communications Team.
Your teen just came out to you and you’re thinking, “what do I do now?” You may be feeling uncomfortable or nervous about how to react–that’s okay.
Being a teen is challenging. Add the uncertainty and aloneness of being an LGBTQ+ youth without a supportive network, and it can become difficult to manage. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among youth and LGBTQ+ youth are 5 times more likely to attempt suicide than their classmates.
“Coming out,” which is defined as the “lifelong process of communicating one’s LGBTQ+ identity to others,” is an important part of an LGBTQ+ teen’s development and their identity. In my experience of working with teens and others that have come out to me, this is what has worked best:
You may be the first person they have every shared this part of themselves with. How might you want someone to react if you were sharing a very intimate part of your identity with them?
I recommend remaining calm and confirming that you heard what they said. You may feel shocked and not totally sure how you feel, but it can go a long way to remain calm and affirm them, for example by saying, “I hear you, and care about you. I bet that’s been hard to keep in.”
If we have an opinion on their recently-shared identity, it could be tempting to immediately share it: “OH MY GOSH, I have always known you were trans*,” or “it’s okay, I have lots of lesbian friends.” Saying something along these lines could be harmful.
Coming out is a sensitive topic. What you say could be received in a way that you didn’t intend; saying less can be best. This is their time—so put aside any instinct to immediately respond, and give them the space to share this part of their identity and how they feel with you.
Process your feelings
Your teen just came out to you, and you don’t know what you are feeling. You’re not sure how other people in your life are going to react, if it’s real or even what all the terms mean. That is okay, it’s normal. Take some time to work through your feelings. Consider journaling or finding another way to process what you are feeling, just remember to respect your teen’s privacy
Our society is designed around the idea that “normal” is men and women being romantically and sexually attracted to the other; this is called heteronormativity. This supposed norm may not be the reality for your teen, so it is important that you try to educate yourself about their way of life.
It can be tempting to ask them a bunch of questions right away, feeling like you are showing that you care. But that approach could make them feel like they are being judged or interrogated, when they are just seeking acceptance from you. Use books, online resources, and people in your life to learn more about your teen’s identity. You may never understand completely how they are feeling, but your effort will show them you care and lessen the pressure on them to educate you.
When your teen shares with you about their LGBTQ+ identity, it’s important to affirm their experience, avoid judging, process your feelings, and educate yourself. There are a lot of great resources online; I recommend checking out The Trevor Project and TSER.