Tonight, as I sat down at my computer to write a column about condom fit, I received a message from an old friend. We knew each other well many years ago, when she and her kids lived nearby in the city. Back then, the whole family was really traditional. Now they live quite a ways up north, and our paths don’t cross often. My friend and her husband have divorced, and she’s parenting a whole passel of teens in this brave new world. When I clicked the little red icon, I saw that my friend (like so many of us) was struggling to find her footing after the election. What follows (with her permission) is our conversation. Hopefully it will help some other parents, too.
How do I help my LGBTQ teen feel safe now that the election is over? Her father is a dedicated Trump supporter. And he made it clear even before this election that her feelings and identity are not okay. She’s been reading and researching all fall, and she’s devastated by what she’s found.
This shit is really hard. I’m so sorry that your family is going through this. I guess I would start by explaining that the LGBT protection laws would take a very long time to overturn. If that’s the goal of the incoming administration, it’s a long process. A lot of the existing laws have standing from SCOTUS, so we’re talking about getting constitutional amendments passed. While that’s not an impossibility, it’s a difficult process—one that is not likely to be complete by the time his four years are up.
And from there, I would encourage her to stay connected to you, and to anyone in your family/social group, who supports her. I would tell her every day that you’re proud of her, and you believe her. Because I know you, I know you’re already doing this next thing, but I’ll say it anyway. You have to show up. Every time she hurts. Every time she needs to talk about it. Every time someone else opens their big mouth. Every. Single. Time. You have to show up, and stay with her till she feels safe again.
I’ve been telling her for 2 years that she is my child and nothing would or will make me reject her, think less of her, or stop loving her. And I’ll do whatever I can to navigate through her feelings and support her however I can.
That’s really great. And now you have to add to those statements that you’ll also do whatever you need to do to protect her. Even if you believe it was implicit before. The words count more than ever. The whole alphabet soup is LGBTQQIAA. You don’t have to remember that, but I want to point out that second Q. It stands for “questioning.”
Questioning is the time when a person has realized that something about themselves might not be what they thought. Like, they think they might be gay, but they’re not sure. Or they become aware that their gender identity doesn’t match their biological sex exactly, but they’re trying to figure it out.
That’s exactly where she is.
People are at the most risk of self-harm, harassment, bullying and abuse when they’re questioning. You’re doing the right thing with your support, and it’s more critical now than it will be at almost any other part of her life. I encourage people to try to accept “questioning” as their identity for as long as it takes. The vulnerability seems related to not having a firm sense of self. So instead of thinking of “questioning” as a doorway to pass through as quickly as possible, think of it as a room to hang out it until you’re ready to move on to someplace else.
Right? I told that to her dad. I told him to stop labeling this as a problem. Stop telling her she’s wrong because I know the suicide rates a questioning teen faces. It scares me to death. She’s at her dad’s tonight. She’s feeling defeated, and she’s even more uncomfortable around him than before. Her school is really conservative, too. It was a lonely day for her.
Can you help her find a teen support group within an hour your place?
She said there was a Gay-Straight Alliance meeting at school a few weeks ago, but she was the only one who showed up. I’ve been looking for other options. The university has a few but they’re for college kids. I wish we still lived in a city. This is harder in our tiny town.
There’s an organization in Madison called GSAFE that works with most of the GSAs in the state. You could contact them and see if they can help you find anything.
This is new territory for me. But I want to learn. I’m so afraid of saying the wrong thing. Or worse, not doing enough to help her.
You’re doing a great job. This is a lot to process, and even more to help her navigate. There’s also a group called PFLAG for parents and friends of LGBT folks. You should reach out to them and ask for support. They will be there for you. They’re amazing.
And if she’s working through gender identity issues, you could also get in touch with FORGE. They’re in Milwaukee, but they have great resources and contacts all over the state. We have some resources on gender at the Tool Shed, too. Books for kids and teens, and books for you. We have gender expression supplies, too, if they want to have their outsides look more like their insides feel.
If you have a UU church in your area, that might be a good source of support for her, too. UU youth groups are amazing groups of kids who really stand together. And UU congregations affirm the lives and experience and identity of all people.
I’ll see what I can find, but I don’t know. She’s boycotting all religion. All of this is so different for me. My heart is so very heavy. Above all I just want my girl to know that I love her and accept her for who she is in whatever way that looks. I want her to know that her sexual identity will never ever change the heart that she has or the core of a person that she is becoming. I’m so very proud of her.
Oh! You’re melting my heart. That’s so good. I’m so glad you’re telling her all of this. Stay in touch, and let me know how you’re both doing.