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14 April 2011

Helping teens who come out

How should you respond if a teen admits to being gay, lesbian or bisexual? And how can you best provide guidance?

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Adolescents experiment sexually, but their sexual behaviour does not determine their sexual orientation. For example, some adolescents may have sex with people of the same sex, but do not identify themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual.

Sometimes, their sexual experimenting happens in single-sex environments, such as girls-only or boys-only boarding schools; or, at other times, between same-sex best friends at co-educational schools.

Sex and sexuality is important to all young people, regardless of their sexual orientation. As they explore and discover their bodies and their sexuality, they need to feel empowered and that they will not be judged for having sexual feelings. This is even more important for the adolescent who experiences same-sex feelings of attraction, as it is usually seen in a negative light.

On coming out
Let’s be aware of the psychological and emotional aspects related to young people who are struggling with their sexual identity. As part of this, try to:

On relationships
We can demonstrate our respect for diverse relationships if we:

  • Show our young people through our own attitudes that we value same-sex relationships as much as heterosexual relationships.
  • Focus on the psychological and emotional aspects of straight and gay relationships, and on gender roles, not just on biology, reproductive systems and sex.
  • Make encouraging statements inside and outside the classroom.
  • Encourage young people to be friendly and compassionate to each other.
  • Support the parents and caregivers of lesbian, gay or bisexual adolescents who are struggling with their sexual identity.
  • Help parents understand that if they are not supportive of their adolescents, they will be adding to already high levels of anxiety.

On lifestyle preference
The media have depicted many images of the gay, lesbian or bisexual ‘lifestyle’. Many of them are negative and distorted, and based on incorrect stereotypes, such as: gay men as “promiscuous”, bisexuals as “bed-hoppers from male to female beds”, and lesbians as “man-haters”. This may be true for some lesbians, bisexuals or gay men, but heterosexuals can also engage in similar behaviour. There is neither one heterosexual lifestyle nor one particular lesbian, bisexual or gay lifestyle.

A lifestyle is a ‘way of life’ – it is the way a person chooses to and wants to live. In reality, straight and gay people do similar things – they eat, they socialise, they read, they play sport, etc. The only difference is the sex of the partner we choose to share our life with.

On physical and mental health difficulties
Stigma, homophobia and discrimination may continue to be a huge part of a lesbian, gay or bisexual young person’s life. Research has shown that young people with same-sex attraction are more at risk of a range of health difficulties such as depression, high stress levels and substance abuse.

Local and international statistics show that lesbian, gay or bisexual adolescents questioning their sexuality are 3 to 4 times more likely to attempt to commit suicide due to the anxiety and pressure they feel from society.

One of the main challenges that face lesbian, gay and bisexual youth is self-acceptance. Hence, we can:

  • Assist lesbian, gay and bisexual adolescents by giving accurate information, and referrals to organisations, books and counsellors.
  • Be supportive by simply listening to adolescents without judging them.
  • Be inclusive of all orientations by including lesbian, gay and bisexual experiences, through methods such as openly gay speakers, movies and videos.
  • Clear up misperceptions surrounding sexual diversity, eg in the way we ask or answer questions.

Let’s remember that it is not likely that an adolescent struggling with sexuality issues will openly come out and say this in class or in the home. However, by being inclusive, we help to develop a safe environment to encourage learners to express themselves and hopefully to begin dealing with issues that are troubling them. - Triangle Project

Visit our Gay, lesbian and bisexual community
Learn more about transgender and intersex people
Ask our Gay, lesbian and bisexual expert or Transgender Advisor

 
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