A concerned reader thinks her granddaughter is faking being gay. Here's my advice.

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.


Is it just a phase? Image by Marco Gomes/Wikimedia Commons.

"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.

You can be really hetero or really gay or anywhere in between. Adapted from the Kinsey Institute.

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."


That's right, Honey Boo-Boo. Unless they're a zero on the Kinsey scale! GIF via TLC.

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.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

I'll never forget the exhilaration I felt as I headed into the city on July 3, 2018. My pink hair was styled. I wore it up in a high ponytail, though I left two tendrils down. Two tendrils which framed my face. My makeup was done. I wore shadow on my eyes and blush on my cheeks, blush which gave me color. Which brought my pale complexion to life. And my confidence grew each time my heels clacked against the concrete.

My confidence grew with each and every step.

Why? Because I was a strong woman. A city woman. A woman headed to interview for her dream job.

I nailed the interview. Before I boarded the bus back home, I had an offer letter in my inbox. I was a news writer, with a salary and benefits, but a strange thing happened 13 months later. I quit said job in an instant. On a whim. I walked down Fifth Avenue and never looked back. And while there were a few reasons why I quit that warm, summer day: I was a new(ish) mom. A second-time mom, and I missed my children. Spending an hour with them each day just wasn't enough. My daughter was struggling in school. She needed oversight. Guidance. She needed my help. And my commute was rough. I couldn't cover the exorbitant cost of childcare. The real reason I quit was because my mental health was failing.


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Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

I'll never forget the exhilaration I felt as I headed into the city on July 3, 2018. My pink hair was styled. I wore it up in a high ponytail, though I left two tendrils down. Two tendrils which framed my face. My makeup was done. I wore shadow on my eyes and blush on my cheeks, blush which gave me color. Which brought my pale complexion to life. And my confidence grew each time my heels clacked against the concrete.

My confidence grew with each and every step.

Why? Because I was a strong woman. A city woman. A woman headed to interview for her dream job.

I nailed the interview. Before I boarded the bus back home, I had an offer letter in my inbox. I was a news writer, with a salary and benefits, but a strange thing happened 13 months later. I quit said job in an instant. On a whim. I walked down Fifth Avenue and never looked back. And while there were a few reasons why I quit that warm, summer day: I was a new(ish) mom. A second-time mom, and I missed my children. Spending an hour with them each day just wasn't enough. My daughter was struggling in school. She needed oversight. Guidance. She needed my help. And my commute was rough. I couldn't cover the exorbitant cost of childcare. The real reason I quit was because my mental health was failing.


Keep Reading Show less
True

Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."