What to Consider if Your Sexuality or Gender Identity Differs from Your Parents’ Belief System
Parents of young adults on the spectrum may be from a generation where relationship roles are more conventional or traditional. Heterosexuality and clear gender identity may be the norm for their age group, and for their expectations in their adult children. But we know that there is a continuum of sexuality and many different types and variations of such. If young adults identify themselves as different from their parents’ expectations, it can cause anxiety and conflict. Communication and patience are the keys for setting up the best possible situation for acceptance and support.
Coming to Terms
Discovering, identifying, and coming to terms with one’s own differences can be an isolating experience for some. As much as we may have relied on parents for guidance and support when growing up, learning to identify and accept one’s own sexuality is a path that might be best forged with the support of another party first:
- a support group
- a life coach
- a therapist or counselor
- supportive and healthy friends
- even a religious advisor
Parents can experience a range of emotions when reacting to the emerging sexuality in their teen and young adult children. Don’t ask or expect them to be an emotional resource if their belief system doesn’t mesh with non-traditional sexual preferences. Lean elsewhere for support if you know your parents will struggle. As you show confidence in your decision, you are also showing responsibility and self-reliance, qualities that any parent wants to see when their kids make big strides in growing up.
Motive & Language
Consider your motive for coming out to them, as well. You should never break this kind of news to them if you, or they, are feeling upset or arguing. Disclosure isn’t a weapon to use to retaliate for a lack of understanding or awareness, or for past grievances. It also isn’t something that has to be done all at once, or just because others think you should. Everyone’s experience is different and there is no standard reason, other than you feeling that your parents need to know.
Using language that will help soften the conversation is a good strategy to foster acceptance. Parents aren’t the people with whom we share details about our sexual experiences, so don’t go there regardless of your preferences. The direct language that many on the spectrum are used to using may be too much for parents who struggle with acceptance. “I feel…” statements can help parents to realize that your emotional well-being is connected to their ability to cope with your lifestyle. This is also the time when you may feel a bit of role reversal, wherein you have to be the patient one and, at times, the voice of reason in the conversation. Be prepared to educate your parents a bit about what your difference means, and to reassure them that you can still have healthy relationships that meet your needs.
Coping & Understanding
Don’t be surprised if you see grief or anger. Even with your reassurance, the picture of your life has changed from what they may have wanted for you. This can cause grieving and a sense of loss for them. Give them the time that they may need to reframe the concepts of your future from those that they spent years developing as you grew up. Denial may play a role in this process, as well. You may hear adamantly that you are going through a phase, wanting attention, or following some kind of trend. There are few words that can change or speed up this process. Your parents have to see through your actions that you are mature and confident in your lifestyle. Resist the urge to argue or defend your choices, and try expressing empathy and reassurance.
Keep in mind that for some families, there may never be full understanding or support. On a personal level, you have to consider your parents’ value systems to gauge whether or not they will ever come to terms with your sexual preferences and/or gender identity. If spiritual beliefs are highly valued by them, consider finding a source of counsel in that area. It may make it easier for them to see that you sought guidance in coming to terms with this yourself. In many areas, you can find broader denominations that have support groups and services with spiritual guidance.
A big consideration is your ability to move on if they can’t accept you. Put the support network into place first, so that you can shift your needs to that if necessary. Financial sovereignty is a factor to take into account. If you aren’t yet supporting yourself, you might have to wait until you have a backup plan or means to sustain housing, food and educational pursuits. Don’t act on an impulse until you have clearly thought it through and relied on trusted sources for advice. Waiting may feel painful, but the alternatives might be even harder to live with if your parents cannot cope.
Finally, the emphasis on timing and patience cannot be stressed enough. Feelings change, and over time you may find that your family can come to terms with who you are and what it may mean for the future. Either way, be prepared to take care of yourself and rely on other support that you put in place in advance of disclosing. Taking those steps will show independence and self-reliance for young adults on the spectrum.
About the Author:
Jodi Pierce is the Lead Social Skills Coordinator and Student Advisor at CIP Brevard. Jodi graduated from the Florida State University with a degree in Psychology in 1992. She also attended Southern Illinois University in Carbondale and Utah State University, studying Applied Behavior Analysis and Special Education. Prior to coming to CIP, Jodi worked as a behavior analyst for 12 years, primarily as a community based practitioner for young children with autism and severe behavior problems, and their families.