What a Queer Family Therapist Wants You to Know About Parenting an LGBTQIA+ Teen

What a Queer Family Therapist Wants You to Know About Parenting an LGBTQIA+ Teen

Written by Regi Corbie, LGMFT, C.A.S.E. Adoption Competent Therapist
Published on: Jun 03, 2024
Category LGBTQIA+

As an adoption-competent therapist at C.A.S.E. specializing in LGBTQIA+ families and individuals, my expertise spans both professional and personal realms. Collaborating with the University of Maryland, College Park’s Prevention Research Center and The School of Public Health’s Sexual Orientation Gender Identity Lab (SOGI), I’ve delved into research projects centered on LGBTQIA+ socialization within families and training clinicians in LGBTQIA+ affirming care. In my clinical journey, I’ve engaged with numerous LGBTQIA+ families, both adoptive and non-adoptive. Furthermore, I navigate these spaces not just professionally but also personally, as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community.

Let’s start by exploring some fundamental terms that will help us understand the LGBTQIA+ community better. LGBTQIA+ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Questioning and/or Queer, Intersex, Asexuality, and more. This acronym encompasses a diverse range of identities and experiences within the community. One important term to understand is “Queer” or “Queer+”. This term serves as an umbrella, covering all identities within the LGBTQIA+ community. It’s important to note that while some people in the community embrace this term, others may not use it. When talking about these terms, it’s best to ask your child how they want to be addressed and how they see themselves in their community.
Additionally, it will help to understand concepts like sexual identity, which refers to how someone identifies based on their physical and emotional attraction. Gender identity, on the other hand, delves into a person’s internal sense of their gender, whether they identify as female, male, trans, non-binary, or other identities. Pronouns are used to reference a person’s gender identity (i.e. he/him, she/her, and they/them). Gender expression relates to how individuals outwardly present their gender through personal style, clothing, hairstyle, and body language, whether it’s masculine, feminine, or androgynous. Lastly, gender or sexual fluidity describes the flexibility and exploration of different identities and expressions over time, highlighting the diversity and complexity within the LGBTQIA+ community.
It’s worth noting that throughout this discussion, I’ll be using the term “Queer+” to refer to individuals identifying under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella. Given that everyone has unique identification preferences and language evolves, I’ll adopt “Queer+” for consistency and inclusivity, representing diverse sexual and gender minority experiences. With this understanding, let’s delve into the challenges faced by adoptive parents in raising Queer+ teens and the resources available to navigate these complexities.

As an adoptive parent, you understand the challenges in acquiring up-to-date and comprehensive training/education on raising an adopted child. While the internet can be a useful resource, it can also lead to more anxiety than assistance. If you are an adoptive parent raising a questioning or Queer+ teen, finding information on how to raise them can become even more difficult. Despite mainstream media’s growing acceptance of Queer+ identities and the increasing number of youth coming out earlier, there remains a scarcity of research and information available to parents on navigating and understanding what it means to raise a Queer+ child. However, it’s crucial to acknowledge that Queer+ youth report higher rates of general anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder, and suicidal ideation than their heterosexual/cisgender peers, with even higher rates among transgender/gender non-conforming (TGNC) teens.

The disclosure of non-heterosexuality to parents has the potential to disrupt boundaries, shift relationships, and increase conflict within the family system. Research underscores parental support as a key protective factor for teens exploring their sexual/gender identities. This underscores the crucial role adoptive parents and families play in their teen’s exploration and acceptance of their Queer+ identity. Educating oneself on the experiences, terminology, challenges, and processes of Queer+ identities is imperative for parents navigating their teen’s queerness. Just as adoptive families prioritize building safe and secure relationships with their teens to minimize adoption-related distress, the same value should be applied to supporting Queer+ teens, who simply want to feel loved and accepted for who they are.

Parents can start immersing themselves in understanding queerness and associated experiences through books by Queer+ authors, Queer+ blogs, conversations with queer-friendly healthcare professionals, and community events. Organizations like HRC, The Trevor Project, ACLU, GLSEN, and resources such as the WPATH Standards of Care are invaluable for expanding knowledge. It’s also beneficial to engage with Queer+ individuals known to you, seeking their experiences and insights. While becoming an expert in queerness isn’t necessary, knowing the basics empowers parents to support their teens effectively, relieving them of the responsibility to educate themselves.

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Connecting with the Queer+ community serves as a protective factor for queer teens and their families. Just as adoptive families benefit from connecting with others facing similar challenges, Queer+ teens need to know they aren’t alone. Organizations like PFLAG and Rainbow Families provide support groups and resources tailored to LGBTQIA+ families, fostering inclusion and acceptance. Being in spaces that exemplify inclusion and acceptance is particularly important for adoptees, who often grapple with hyper awareness around otherness and rejection.

Identity exploration is central to teenage experience and adoption core issues. Adopted children frequently navigate questions of identity and belonging, which can complicate their sense of self. Teens engage in exploring various identities, including adoptee and queer identities, as part of their journey toward self-discovery. Parents play a crucial role in supporting their teen’s identity development by examining their own views and biases around sexuality and gender. While this process may be challenging, it fosters understanding and strengthens the parent-child relationship.

Professional help from queer-friendly or adoption-competent therapists can further assist families in navigating the complexities of raising a Queer+ teen adoptees. Family therapy offers a safe space to process emotions related to all aspects of their teen’s identities and facilitates discussions on disclosing changing identities to extended family, friends, and community members.

In conclusion, we encourage parents to be open and affirming showing unconditional love and acceptance. Commit to broadening your knowledge to better understand your teen’s perspective and challenges. Parenting is inherently demanding, especially when compounded by the complexities of adoption and raising a Queer+ teen. While imperfection is unavoidable, genuine effort is deeply appreciated and speaks volumes about care and support. Embracing opportunities for growth and demonstrating a willingness to learn and adapt strengthens the bond between parent and child, particularly amidst the challenges of adolescence and identity exploration. And remember you don’t have to do this alone. Seek and build a support community for you and your teen.

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