Teenage is a difficult period in our lives. Our hormones fluctuate more than the stock market, there is a tsunami of emotions and feelings that we have never experienced before, and we feel constantly misunderstood. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The teenagers who are questioning their sexualities have it worse.
Laura Goldstein, LCMFT, a marriage and family therapist, talks about the emotional battles of questioning teenagers.
She says, “When schools are talking about sex education and preventing STIs, the examples they use are typically of heterosexual people and pronouns rather than also including homosexual interactions. Teenagers who are questioning their sexuality may feel left out of the conversation. That creates the subtle message that everything about heterosexuality is normal and homosexuality isn’t normal or ok. This can create shame and embarrassment for being something or someone other than ‘normal’.”
But that’s not it. Sometimes we, as adults, also say some things that we don’t realise can be damaging to young minds. Sometimes adult men, for example, say something like “I don’t want to sound gay, but I need to start using a moisturizer.” This one sentence, although, might not have meant any harm, works as a missile and leaves the teenagers thinking that the idea of even being perceived as gay is bad, let alone actually being gay.
To this, Laura adds, “When you are getting societal influences that something is bad and if you identify with that particular thing, it leaves the impression that you too are bad. That leaves you with shame and you may think that the best way to move forward is to reject yourself. Because of this a lot of kids spend a significant part of their lives denying their sexual identity. They fall into this inner conflict of who they are versus who they are trying to be, because that’s what their community expects from them.”
“Constantly trying to figure out with whom they can be authentic and with whom they can share their pronouns can take a toll on their young minds. It’s an exhausting mental exercise.”
Laura concluded by saying, “The unhelpful association is that society dictates what is the norm and that anything different than that is wrong. This can lead the questioning teenagers to try to change themselves into someone more socially “acceptable.” “
As if their lives are not hard enough already, sometimes even parents are not very accepting. Parental rejection works catastrophically on their already struggling minds. Laura told us, “A lot of parents fear that their children will live a difficult life if they identify within the sexual or gender minory. From this fear, they may try to change their children to fit them into these societal expectations to protect them from others’ judgements. Yet the reality is that often this very thing is the most difficult piece of life; not feeling accepted by your parents does more psychological damage than the judgments of others. The irony in this situation is that the same parents who don’t want their children to have a difficult life end up unknowingly causing the most difficulty.”
Identifying one’s sexuality is a journey in itself. Everyone has their own set of challenges that they must combat to be a better version of themselves. We can’t solve the problems of questioning teenagers, but we can provide them a safe and accepting environment where they can openly talk about their feelings.
Without adult supervision, teenagers are bound to do something that might hurt them. Non-binary people, for example, who are born as females try to wear smaller binders of their size thinking it would be more effective. But the tight binders end up giving them breathing problems. An adult’s advice and guidance in such matters can save the children a lot of energy and effort.