College is a time when many young people dive straight into the ocean of intellectual, social, cultural, and personal discovery. Self-exploration can be joyful, but it can also be quite stressful, especially when it comes to their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Some college students are able to smoothly embrace their sense of self during this time of enormous change and growth, while others experience anxiety and fear — of not being understood or accepted, or that their authentic identity won’t be affirmed by the important people in their lives. In this moment, they need all the support they can get, without being judged or forced to meet someone else’s expectations. Here are some tips:
Be present and patient
If your student confides in you or comes out to you or shares intimate details about their sexuality that you do not understand, do not interrupt or rush to react (verbally or nonverbally). Be an active listener. It takes a lot of courage for them to be vulnerable; it is a sign of trust in you. Even as an emerging adult, your child counts on you. Be there for them.
Be engaged, ask questions
After your student opens up to you in an initial conversation, do not shut down or brush off further dialogue with them. Stay engaged and show your interest in your child’s identity. Ask clarifying questions, but do not push. Ask how they identify themselves and what language you should use. Ask if they feel comfortable explaining what that means (in cases where you have never heard a definition before) in their own words. Try to avoid any questions related to a sexual and sensual part of their identity.
Be mindful of the language your student uses. Use the same words, rather than dismissing their new vocabulary as something alien and difficult for you to or get used to. For example, if your student comes out as nonbinary, gender nonconforming, or genderqueer, ask them to explain what it means to them. Ask what pronouns they go with. If the pronoun is they / them, do not act shocked. Instead of attempting to correct them appealing to your own knowledge of grammar, actively practice using they / them. Building this new habit may not be easy, but it’s doable! Once you start paying attention, you will get there.
Keep learning and seek support for yourself
Educate yourself about sexuality, gender identity, and gender expression. Know that it's not a phase and it's not something that needs to be changed. Embrace your child's sense of self. If you're the parent of an LGBTIQA+ child, search out support and education when you need it.
Resources to explore:
- The Trevor Project
- Gender Spectrum
- Family Acceptance Project
- Collegiate Parent: “Dear Parent of a Gay Child”
Remember that this is a journey
While you want to express your love for your child as quickly as you can, remember that you are in a process; addressing your reaction and moving forward will take time. It is okay to be okay immediately. It’s also okay not to be okay overnight. Take the time you need to explore these feelings.
The Office of LGBTQ+ Initiatives is a great resource for you. If you have any questions related to your student’s sexuality and identity, or you are looking for more information, do not hesitate to reach us at email@example.com or 315-228-6840.
You can also make an appointment with me either in person or virtually. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Let your student thrive, be ready to open your mind and heart, and remember that it is a mutual learning and exchange of experiences!
“We should indeed keep calm in the face of difference, and live our lives in a state of inclusion and wonder at the diversity of humanity.” – George Takei
—Lyosha Gorshkov is director of the Office of LGBTQ+ Initiatives. The office’s mission is to build a sense of belonging and provide support to everyone regardless of one's sexuality, gender identity and gender expression, race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, religious / spiritual / cultural background, ability etc.
On October 1, 2021, the office held an opening day celebration for the Rainbow Room in the Bryan Complex, kicking off LGBTIQA+ History Month.