'I'm sorry, I just don't believe she's gay.'
Doubting someone is gay doesn't always stem from thinking being gay is "wrong."
But that doubt can still be really destructive, even if the doubter doesn't mean to be.
A reader of mine wrote in asking for some advice. She has one granddaughter who is gay, and whom the reader felt she always knew was gay. But her younger granddaughter says she is too, and since her preference seemed to develop differently, the grandmother is doubtful.
"Dear Angie, I am a proud grandmother of 14. I am writing you about my 16-year-old granddaughter. We are very close. She usually tells [me] everything that's on her mind. This case is no different. She recently told me she's lesbian. She says she isn't sexually active in any form, heterosexual or homosexual. I have a 23-year-old granddaughter who is homosexual as well. I explained to the 16-year-old, like I explained to the 23-year-old -- it didn't matter to me, I love them the same. I knew my 23-year-old was a lesbian when she was 12. Because of her reactions when boys spoke to her [and because] she never talked about male celebrities, like teenage girls usually do. One day, the 23-year-old granddaughter and I were on a shopping trip, a boy about the same age walked up and gave her his phone number and asked for hers, she had a look on her face like she wanted to tear her skin off. She was 13 at the time."
It's clear from what Grandmom is telling us that this isn't her first rodeo recognizing and loving a gay grandchild. Now that she's set the stage, she explains why her younger granddaughter's case seems different.
"My 16-year-old granddaughter's case is no where like this. She used to talk about boys, she used talk to me about teenage male actors that she thought were cute to her. In fact, she blushed when one of her grandpa's guitar students bought her candy, chips and a soda from a local convenience store.Is my 16-year-old granddaughter going through a phase? Or is she just trying to shock me and her parents? I'm sorry, I just don't believe she's gay. None of the signs were there! I think she's doing this to fit in with this group of girls that think being gay is in fashion. What are your thoughts on this? I really feel she's not being true to herself. By the way, I also have a niece that is the same age doing the same!" — Not-Buying-It Nana
This is a big, loaded question.
First, I want to say I really admire Nana for seeking more information before she makes up her mind about how to proceed. It shows she really cares a great deal about getting this right and being there for her granddaughter in the most useful way possible. Not everybody has the wherewithal to do that, and I really respect it.
There are three main things I hope Nana considers here, but the third one is a big one and can apply to just about any kid in your life who tells you something about themselves.
1. Let's talk about the Kinsey scale and the fluidity of sexuality.
It can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking sexuality is an either/or thing. It's actually more like a spectrum, and some people do fall more solidly on one side of the spectrum than the other. But some others hover somewhere around the middle of that spectrum, and might describe themselves as bisexual. (There's also pansexual and asexual and other orientations, but we'll save that for another article.)
It can take time and a variety of experiences for a person to know where they are on the spectrum. Some people have the surety of knowing immediately when they reach adolescence what gender they're attracted to, and others need to gather more data by trying things out before they'll know for sure. Additionally, you can find that where you were on this scale as a young person may not fit you anymore later in life.
That means that your younger granddaughter may be having very different feelings about her sexuality that seem different from how your older granddaughter became aware of hers. It doesn't mean she's not "really gay."
2. Do people pretend they're gay so they can fit in with a group of friends who are?
It's not impossible for that to happen, but I'd be more inclined to assume she's really expressing her current sense of where she's at. Though homosexuality is becoming better accepted, it's still a really tough row to hoe in our society that most people would not choose if they're not actually gay. But if you're still on the fence, here's a useful tool for looking at the possible scenarios and potential outcomes — a decision quadrant:
A couple of the outcomes are clearly not worth it when we're talking about how we treat those we love. But the two others are can't-lose options.
3. This is the big one that I think anyone can apply to various situations with any kid: believing them to be the ultimate authority of their truth and their "self."
There is clearly so much love and closeness between Nana and the granddaughters. And from lived experience, Nana knows a thing or two about the world and about how people can be. But even so, we have to be careful as trusted adults to not quickly assume that we know our kids/grandkids/etc. better than they know themselves. It sets kids up for a lifetime of self-doubt and inner turmoil instead of helping them practice the confidence that they can be whatever they feel they are meant to be. If something shifts and their path changes, it's not the end of the world.
The feeling you'll get inside from knowing that you never failed to support their self-direction is better than any momentary satisfaction we might get when we "called it."
Ultimately, like Nana already acknowledged, whether she is or isn't gay doesn't matter at all — so why make it an issue? We're just here to love each other.