Since starting at UNSW and meeting a lot of new and wonderful queer people, I have heard quite a few stories of shocked parents when their children came out. Whether fortunately or unfortunately, growing up I had the exact opposite problem. While my peers had their parents asking them about cute members of the opposite sex, I found myself facing the same question over and over, despite my denial and despite my young age. For some reason or another, my parents felt it appropriate to ask me, somewhat commonly, “Are you a lesbian?” and despite my consistent no’s, it would be followed up by “Are you sure?”
Now it might seem like a good thing; they were only showing their acceptance! But there were a few reasons that this approach did more harm than good. First off, my parents were working under the assumption that because I was a tomboy I was gay, a harmful and persistent stereotype. Second, forcing sexuality onto such a young child, as I was only 12 when this began, is never a good idea. Instead of making me feel welcome in my own home and family, it made me feel attacked for who I was and who I could be. I developed a deep need to prove my heterosexuality to both my family and myself, and my only response to the question was anger and self-hate. I became so set in my heterosexual identity and my desire not to be questioned for just existing as who I was, that it took me a very long time to be able to begin to realise that I was not, in fact, a heterosexual. Without being questioned and forced to choose and defend an identity at such a young age, I believe it would have been an easier, more comfortable process, instead of spending years of my adolescence suppressing my attraction to women and almost forcing myself to be attracted to men.
It is unreasonable to expect all adolescents to know who they are and what sexuality means to them at such a young age. While it might seem like a show of acceptance so they know that if they were gay it would all be okay, it might be far better to show them that no matter who they are, it would be okay, and to accept what they have to say about themselves.