The teen years can feel overwhelming at times, as young people adjust to changing bodies and new feelings, while coping with social pressures and the demands of school and family. This time can be especially challenging for young people who also find themselves questioning their sexuality, if they feel their sexual orientation or gender identity is not in line with social norms.
Sexual orientation refers to a person’s romantic and sexual attraction to other people—of the same sex (homosexual), opposite sex (heterosexual) or both sexes (bisexual). Sexual orientation develops throughout life and can shift along a continuum between opposite-sex and same-sex over time. This is normal, although it can be confusing. It’s helpful to avoid labels that limit a teen’s ability to fully explore who they are as a person, regardless of sexual orientation.
Gender identity refers to a person’s internal sense of themselves as male or female. For most people, their sense of gender matches their physical body. Transgender people, however, feel that their sense of gender does not match their body. This can be confusing and distressing for these young people as they struggle to understand themselves and find their place in society.
Love and acceptance above all
If someone close to you seems to be questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity, make sure they know that you love and accept them and will always be there for them. Many teens are reluctant to tell their parents or peers if they think they are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender, for fear of rejection or ridicule. It’s okay for them to withhold this information until they feel more comfortable with it themselves. Don’t press them to discuss the issue—instead, find ways to let them know that you would always accept anybody for who they are, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
There is no right or wrong sexual orientation or gender identity, and there is nothing inherently unsafe or unhealthy about having a sexual orientation or gender identify that is different than that of the majority of people. However, young people in this situation are at higher risk of mental health problems like depression, anxiety and addiction, and are more likely than other teens to commit suicide. It’s therefore extremely important to ensure that these young people feel accepted and loved by the people close to them, and to provide them with access to other youth who share similar experiences. This will help ensure that they grow up to be happy, self-accepting adults who are able to fulfill their potential in life.
You may also find ways to let them know about supports in their school and community. For example, many schools have a Gay Straight Alliance, which provides a safe place for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning and straight youth to talk and share their feelings, with support from a teacher who is an ally (safe person). In Nova Scotia there is also the Youth Project, which provides a venue for youth under the age of 25 to connect and socialize with people who help them feel safe and accepted.
Young people confused about their gender identity can also call Central Referral 1-955-922-1122 and asked to be connected to Central Referral, to ask for a meeting with the Transgender Health Team at the IWK. The professionals here are experienced in helping teens and families talk through the issues and access supports.
Questioning Your Sexual Identity?
First of all, there is nothing wrong with you if you are questioning your sexuality. You are not alone. It is perfectly normal to question your sexuality, particularly when you are a teenager. Sexual orientation refers to a person’s emotional and sexual attraction, which may be to people of the same sex or the opposite sex or to both. Sometimes people are attracted to another person regardless of their sex, and think of themselves as pansexual. These are all normal and natural feelings. Usually thinking about your sexuality is part of figuring out who you are, and it is perfectly okay if you are not sure right now.
It can be hard to have these feelings and even harder to talk about them with people in your life. There are actually many people in your community and school who share these experiences.
One thing you could do is to see if your school has a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA). These are safe places for people to go who have these feelings. GSA’s are made up of youth who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning or straight, as well as at least one teacher who is an ally (safe person).
There is also a place called the Youth Project, for youth under age 25, living anywhere in Nova Scotia, who are looking for a safe place to talk and socialize. They can meet with you in your community, if that works better for you. There are people there who understand and will be able to support you and will keep your information confidential. For more information, please visit their website.
I'm worried. I am not sure about my gender identity.
You are not alone. There are lots of teens who think that they are in the wrong body. How they think of themselves, as male or female, does not fit with their body parts. This is often referred to as being transgender. This can happen when people have a gender (sense of themselves as male or female or somewhere in between) that is different than their sex (physical body parts they are born with). Often, teens will start thinking about their gender when their body starts changing during puberty. It could happen before or after that as well. This can cause a great deal of distress and confusion especially when there seems to be lots of expectations from society about how to behave, depending on your sex. There are many gender identities and ways to express yourself that are normal and may not fit with these so called social rules. They may be less common, but they are still normal and it does not mean there is something wrong with you.
If you are wondering about your gender, it is great to be able to talk to someone about it. And you may not be sure who you can trust. One place you can visit is the Youth Project, a safe place for teens to get support and information, and to meet other people who have a lot of the same feelings.
Another place is the Transgender Health Team at the IWK. They have a social worker and a psychiatrist who have been meeting with youth from all over the Maritimes for the past eight years. You can call Central Referral at 902.464.4110 or toll-free, 1.855.922.1122 and ask to meet with the team. It is a great place for teens and families to talk and get the help they need to feel better.