Understanding Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation

by | Jul 27, 2021 | Teenagers | 0 comments

We all know that during adolescence teens are asking themselves, “Who am I?”  Part of their answer lies in their sexual self, which includes their sexual orientation and gender identity.


Adding to fluctuating hormones and pressures from peers, school, and society, talking about and discovering gender and sexuality can be an extremely stressful experience for adolescents.  Teens often worry about telling their parents and friends.  They can feel weighed down by questions and self-doubt.  It’s as if they are in a tug-of-war with who they think they should be and who they are.


Parents can face similar stress.  I have talked with many who are overwhelmed and confused by the various forms of gender.  Some share the sentiment that their adolescent is “too young to know.”  Others fear that if their son or daughter comes out, they will face ridicule, rejection, or worse. 


A few weeks ago, I went Live on Instagram to talk about gender identity, sexuality, and coming out.  I had an eye-opening conversation with my friend, Rian Casner, who is non-binary and uses the pronouns they/them. While Rian’s experience coming out was met with love and support, they shared how others in the LGBTQ community struggle to be accepted and understood. They also talked about their journey from identifying as non-binary to sharing it with others.  Together we shed light on this important and sensitive topic and offered suggestions and insight for both parents and teens.   Below are some of the highlights from our conversation.  

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Educate yourself. 


If you feel ignorant about what is and is not appropriate when it comes to talking about gender and sexuality, learn from someone in the LGBTQ community.  If you are confused about what certain gender identities mean, Google it.  There are countless online resources for teens who may be questioning their gender or sexual preference and their parents.


Find support. 


If you are a teen who is struggling with how to come out, seek support. Reach out to influencers or mentors.  The LGBTQ community is extremely accepting and willing to help, especially those who are struggling or feel isolated. 


Understand the process. 


There are four stages that most people go through once they have identified gender or sexual preference.  The first is denial, accompanied by doubt and fear.  The second is partial acceptance.  The individual grows comfortable with their truth but feels like they are the only one. During this stage, they have not shared with anyone, so it can feel very isolating.  The third stage is acceptance within a community.  The individual has come out to a group of like-minded people.  The final stage is freedom- full acceptance and openness.  The individual has come out and living their truth. 


There are many ways of coming out. 


It can be very scary to come out, especially to close family and loved ones.  Sharing doesn’t always have to be face-to-face, eye-to-eye.  Sometimes writing a text message or letter feels safer.  If you are contemplating how to come out, give yourself the freedom to express your truth in the way that feels easiest and safest.  If you are on the receiving end of this news, don’t be offended if it is delivered in a less-than-personal way.  


On being “too young to know.”  


Preteens and teens are likely to explore identities.  Their declaration of a certain sexuality or gender is an important part of their self-discovery.  It is how they figure themselves out.  Instead of meeting their assertion with doubt or dismissal, parents can offer acceptance and be calm.  A simple “ok” will demonstrate support and foster open communication.   


You can listen to my entire conversation with Rian on Instagram TV.  If you have a teen who is struggling, encourage him or her to connect with Rian or reach out to me. We are here to help! 


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