“If I have a crush on someone of the same sex, am I gay?”
The issue of same-sex attraction can be an emotionally-charged one. Parents might be concerned about how they would respond if their child brings up the issue, and especially so if it affects their child personally. During puberty, children will start to experience more intense physical and/or emotional attraction toward others, so it would be good for parents to be prepared to address these questions during this time. (Puberty, for boys, usually occurs during the ages of 9-14, and for girls, it can be between 8-13 years old.)
If your tween tells you that they have an infatuation towards someone of the same sex and asks if this means they are gay, the key thing to remember is to approach the question like any other subject your child is wanting to know more about – do not be unduly alarmed, but be ready to listen to them. Refrain from expressions of disapproval that might make your child feel that their question is inappropriate and off-limits. If they feel this topic is taboo in the family, they might not then approach you again, but look to other sources for more information. Remember, as parents, our aim is to be the first, trusted source of information for our children.
One way to address your tween’s question is to ask clarifying questions. For example, “When you say you have a crush on this person, can you tell me more about what you mean?” Or, “Can you tell me more about what you understand by the word, ‘gay’? Where did you hear about it?”
Asking these questions would be helpful in identifying what your child currently understands and what they really would like to know. This gives you the opportunity to give an appropriate response or to correct any misconceptions they might have.
During puberty, teens can experience physical and emotional changes that may confuse or overwhelm them at times. If your teen wonders if they might be gay because of an infatuation with a person of the same sex, help them to process those feelings. Understand from them what they mean by “having a crush” and what they like about the person. Do these feelings come from a place of physical or emotional attraction, or a mix of both? If so, what aspects of this person is your teen drawn to? Knowing this can help you both to have an open discussion on positive character and personality traits your teen eventually wants to possess as they mature.
It is developmentally appropriate for teens to look to peers, adults, and even celebrated personalities (in the movies or on social media) for cues of what it means to be a man or a woman as their masculine identity (for boys) or feminine identity (for girls) is in the process of being defined. They may sometimes have strong admiration for someone of the same sex or want to become like them. These desires may be confused with feelings of infatuation. In this instance, help your child to understand that they are experiencing admiration, rather than romantic attraction.
Even if your child is drawn to someone of the same sex physically or emotionally, it is important to convey the sense that you are open to talk more with your teen about this matter. Welcome their questions and be a safe, listening space for them to process what is on their mind. If your child struggles with a sense of shame about their feelings, assure them that they are still very much loved by you, and how they feel does not change your acceptance of them.
With older teens, parents can take the conversation even deeper. Continue to seek to understand your child’s perspective. When your child comes to you with this question, it is an indication that they trust you to process this situation with them.
Encourage your teen to share honestly about their experiences and avoid immediately sharing your judgement about the situation. If you share your opinion, particularly labels of right and wrong, too quickly, your child may feel judged and afraid to share more openly with you.
If your child is physically or emotionally drawn to someone of the same sex, it is still—if not more—important for you to tell them that you will be there for them. Assure them that they are free to come to you to share more of their questions and experiences.
As you determine the appropriateness of the timing and your teen’s readiness, you can open up a conversation about your family values in relation to same-sex feelings and behaviour, be it romantic or sexual. It is essential that your family’s stance on this issue is consistent with your approach to other matters of sexuality and relationships, for example, in the areas of healthy boundaries, dating, sex, and marriage. What types of choices does your family encourage and discourage for healthy sexuality and relationships?
Some parents may have difficulties coping with knowing that their child experiences same-sex attraction. It would be helpful for them to seek support for their own well-being from trusted sources, so that they can journey better with their children. It is important for parents to still express unconditional love toward their child, no matter what choices they make. A loving parent-child relationship is the best environment in which to guide your child, with warmth and wisdom, in this area.