One feeling parents of LGB teens often struggle with is the suspicion, hope, or fear that their teen’s sexual orientation is simply a phase that will pass. If your teen has gone through phases of intense identification with a certain group or idea before, it can be worrying to think that your family is coping with this when your teen’s sexuality itself might be just a phase. Last year they were mooning over Justin Bieber, defending political anarchy, and planning on a career in music. This year they’re into Led Zeppelin, the Democratic party, and a future working in finance. Is their sexuality going to follow the same pattern?
The reason why teens can feel strongly, but fleetingly, affiliated to different groups, music, etc., is they are discovering their identity. Things will feel right or wrong for who they are, and they will incorporate what resonates with them into the young adult they are to become. Sexual orientation is not a rock band, but it’s not set in stone either.
As human beings, we like to put people into categories. In our society, we have the categories “lesbian”, “gay”, “straight” and “bisexual” to define sexual orientation. But many people do not fit neatly into one of these boxes.
Sexual orientation is a spectrum with the ends being “completely gay/ straight” and a lot of room in between. We move on that spectrum throughout our lives. Some people find a spot and hover in that vicinity their whole life. Some are faced with unexpected changes. Many people who thought themselves heterosexual have found themselves in a homosexual relationship at some point, and vice versa. Bisexual people are not always attracted to men and women with 50/50 frequency. For simplicity’s sake, we want them to just pick a category and stick to it, but people are rarely simple.
If adult sexual orientation can change, why wouldn’t a teen’s? Your gay teen may remain completely, consistently in same-sex relationship throughout his or her entire life. Or your gay teen may find that they are attracted to the opposite sex down the road. Or they may date people from both sexes. They might marry a man, or a woman, or a succession of both, or not get married at all. Their current sexual orientation is not less valid if it ends up changing later in life.
So why go through all the struggle to accept your teen’s sexuality if it might turn out to change down the road?
Because it might not change. There’s nothing you can do to make it change. Whether or not your teen’s sexuality shifts along that spectrum in their lifetime, right now they are your gay, lesbian, or bisexual teen, and they need to know that that has no impact on your love for them.
If they grow up to be a lesbian, gay, or bisexual adult, they need to remember that you were there for them when they came out to you and revealed an intimate and important part of their identity. If they grow up and end up identifying as heterosexual, they still need to remember that you were there for them. They need to be certain that your love and support for them is predicated on more than their sexual orientation. They don’t need the experience of discovering that they “won you back” because they fell in love with someone of the opposite sex, when while they were with someone of the same sex they met resistance and unsupportive behavior.
Dismissing your teen’s sexuality as “just a phase” is dangerous. Your teen thought long and hard before coming out to you. They probably made really sure that they identify this way. They are taking a risk in opening up to you and showing their deepest feelings. If you back away and laugh it off, or act like you know their sexuality will change back to “normal”, they’re less likely to open up again- about anything. Like I said in my first post, you don’t have to force yourself to seem happy when they come out, but you do have to take them seriously.