Whether your child is a male or a female is decided by their bodies, but that doesn’t guarantee they will grow up to be a boy or a girl who will feel attracted to the people of the opposite gender. That depends on their gender identity and sexual orientation. They may thus be lesbian, gay, bisexual, bigender, transsexual, transgender, queer, intersex asexual, cisgender, heterosexual or anything else within this wide spectrum. In other words, they may be LGBTQIA+. Click here to understand the spectrum better.
Moreover, how can parents help their children who are discovering their gender identity and sexual orientation- particularly when those children don’t identify with their birth gender or fall for people of the opposite gender?
What exactly are gender identity and sexual orientation?
Gender identity: It refers to one’s own idea of whether they are males, females, both or neither. This may or may not be in accordance with the body and physiological sex they were born with.
Sexual orientation: It refers to one’s romantic, sexual and/or emotional attraction towards other people. Based on this, one may be attracted to people of the opposite gender (heterosexual), the same gender (homosexual), both the genders (bisexual) or to people irrespective of their gender and sexual orientation (pansexual) etc.
How can you help your LGBTQIA+ child ‘come out of the closet’?
The time when a child embraces his or her gender and sexual identity can be very confusing for both parents and children. This is more likely to happen if one is nonbinary. This liberates one from the concept of being a man or a woman who loves someone from the opposite gender.
To some, it might feel like the person they have loved and lived with has changed suddenly. For others, it may feel as if you never knew this person at all! Nevertheless, please know that ‘this somewhat unknown person’ is still your own child.
Meanwhile, you will also need to deal with how you are processing this knowledge about your child’s gender and sexual orientation. It will take time. Joining support groups, gathering more knowledge about the whole phenomenon and a counselor might help you as a parent.
Here are a few ways in which you can help your child if he or she is “coming out of the closet”. This is basically a phase during which they might be figuring out their sexual orientation, gender etc.:-
- There’s no shame in being oneself, no matter who one is. Your child’s gender and/or sexual preferences are decided majorly by biological factors like hormones. Help them accept and embrace themselves as they are. They’ll need to do so to live a happy and healthy life.
- Assure them with your actions and words that they can talk to you about what they are experiencing without the fear of being judged. The way in which you accept them will also influence how they feel about themselves.
- Accepting and expressing oneself gets more difficult when the world demands that you live in hiding. Indian LGBTQIA+ children need a lot more support because our society doesn’t always accept their kind with open arms.
- This is NOT a phase, disease or disorder; it is your child’s identity. Taking your child to doctors with the hope of “curing them of this problem” just because he or she is LGBTQIA+ will not be of any help.
- If people are bullying your child for being who they are, stand by them and teach them how to fight for themselves. Do not forget to help them talk about what is hurting them. Letting them know that they have someone with whom they can share their feelings will help them feel more secure.
- Help them express themselves in a wise and calculated manner. They might struggle to do so initially. Nevertheless, don’t all of us wish to live our lives like our lives like our real selves?
- NEVER resort to shaming, molestation, hurting and abandoning your child just because they are accepting an identity you didn’t know of. This is who they really are! Why must they hide and live a life of lies and fear?
- Your child is still a unique individual. They might not be like other LGBTQIA+ people you know, and that is perfectly alright. No two people in the world are the same.
- ‘Coming out of the closet’ is a period of stress and storm for LGBTQIA+ kids and their parents. You can always take the help of a Counselor to deal with it and help the child build a positive self-image. However, please don’t use it as an excuse to try to modify your child’s new-found identity.
- If the child wants, it is healthy to let them participate in pride parades, support groups etc. Various LGBTQIA+ people come together here. Knowing more LGBTQIA+ people who have also accepted (or are accepting) their true gender and sexual identities will help them understand they are not alone in this process of coming out of the closet.
We may thus conclude that the concepts of gender identity and sexual orientation are very wide indeed. You can help your child embrace theirs by being supportive and open minded when they discover their true selves. If you know someone who is struggling with the concepts discussed above, click here to help them. A counselor from Mind Solace can help them find themselves.