What I Didn’t Know About Having a Queer Daughter

Deb Levine, BSW, MA
When a young person comes out, the adults in their lives can have all sorts of reactions. If you’re trying to be a supportive parent, here are just a few of the ways you can help them navigate those moments.

I’m a cisgender heterosexual person married to another cisgender and heterosexual person. I have two daughters: one is queer and one is het. My older daughter came out when she was in middle school.

This essay is not about her, though.

It’s about me: a parent, “the mom.”

Thinking back to my single days, my life was not very binary. I had a large, alternative friend group, with many gay male friends and colleagues.

One year, I went to an LGBTQ synagogue for the holidays because it was the closest one to my apartment. The rabbi told a funny story in their sermon about parenting. The punchline was, “Don’t assume you know everything about your kids. One of them might turn out to be straight!” I thought it was quite funny at the time.

Fast forward about 15 or so years. My kid comes home from 7th grade and tells me that she’s queer. She likes girls, has always liked girls, and now so many things made sense to her about 5th grade – why she didn’t join the conversations about crushes on boys, why she didn’t like pink or frills or painting her nails, why she never liked sleepovers.

My response in the moment was, “Wonderful. Thanks for sharing. It’s a good thing to know about yourself.”

Wondering what I did next? I had lunch with my favorite gay friend and asked him one question, “Did you know you were gay at 13?” He said, “Hell yeah, but I didn’t tell anyone.” He also told me how lucky my daughter was to have me as a mom.

The easy part was over. (Thanks, Steve.) Here were other people’s reactions that I had to deal with as the mom, but that I didn’t count on:

My spouse: “It’s just a phase.” My work was clearly cut out for me here after hearing his knee-jerk reaction.

My in-laws: They were just completely oblivious. To this day. More on that below.

Other parents: There were no queer kids in our friends’ circle Now, there was just an unspoken secret.

My mother: “She looks just like Sibby (one of her cousins who was a lesbian). All good.”


Cisgender, straight male partners: My husband is cool. I wouldn’t have married him otherwise. I was surprised at how ingrained his initial reaction was – to discount our daughter’s identity. The good news is that it’s completely normal for parents of teenagers to doubt their children’s stated identity as a phase, based on popular trends and fads. This is part of a parent’s coming to terms with our kids’ separation from us. However, because this was about my child’s queer identity, I couldn’t leave it at that. Which is why I told my husband about my conversation with Steve, and how LGBTQ kids know, deep in their hearts, about their sexual and gender identity at an early age.

The lessons: Queerness is not something your child will grow out of, not something a young person can or should be talked out of, and not something that you or they have the power to change. Talking this through with my spouse helped to remind me how lucky we were that our daughter communicated what she was feeling so clearly. Sexual identity is part of normal adolescent development of a child’s own identity separate from parents/caretakers, and that includes queer identities.

Grandparents: My in-laws are post-Mormon WASPs, posing as Unitarians. They were never able to see their own children as separate from themselves, so there didn’t seem to be any point to convincing them to make a leap with their grandchildren. Grampie is a nonconsensual lip-kisser, in a Mad Men kinda way; I taught my daughter to turn her head so he’d get her cheek. Our daughter said she did not want to do a “coming out” with her grandparents. We’re pretty sure that they know now, as she wears suits to formal family events.

The lessons: You don’t need to outright tell everyone in your family early on. Focus on your child and their needs and be supportive of whatever decision they make around coming out to family members. As a nuclear family, we made our own decision to spend less time with the in-laws; we see them at large gatherings and don’t leave our daughter alone with them. My husband talks to them from his office to stay in touch as they age. If your extended family members are younger, they may be more open to listening and learning. As parents of a queer child, you can pave the way by starting an adult conversation to gauge the possibilities, and if they are open, bring your child into the conversation afterward.

Other parents: Here’s where the big surprise came for me. Some of the parents in our elementary school group were queer couples. Some were with same-gender partners and then had children with an “opposite” gender partner. Some broke up heterosexual marriages in order to be with same gender partners. Liberal Accepting all the way, right? Wrong. Our daughter and our family was ostracized as she hit puberty. The teasing started among the kids, and when we approached the parents, they supported their own kids over their outward liberal values. We had quite a few family conversations about next steps, which we decided was to hunker down together and remove ourselves from long-standing family friend groups.

The lessons: Kindness trumps bullies. Stand together as a family and support your child. Become a vocal advocate among heteronormative communities to not use derogatory terms for LGBTQ kids, and to be kind and inclusive of all.  No more bystanding.

My mother: It was kinda great when my mother said that my daughter looked like Sibby. We realized that there were a lot of lesbian and gay members of the older cousins group. My mom pulled out photos from our annual summer cousins’ picnic and showed my daughter who had same-sex partners, telling stories about their lives and how different it was to be gay in the 40s and 50s.

The lessons: It felt great to be able to find ways to help my daughter fit in and to know that there were role models, right in our own extended family. Depending on who your kid is, you can look for role models in history, in your community, in your family, and within fictional stories and movies. Show them that they have always been a part of communities, and embrace them into your own family story.

One last thing: After my daughter told me she was queer and got a positive maternal response, she thought everyone would be cool with it. Remember, she was 13. I had to specifically call this out for her, and how some kids define themselves by being hurtful to other kids. Some adults are in this camp too, remaining stunted in their bigotry by being mean to anyone they don’t know and understand. I taught my daughter about how to identify safe spaces, and trusting her gut. I told her that if she was in a new club or group of kids, and she didn’t feel comfortable with them just yet, she didn’t have to share her identity right off the bat. It was her information about herself that she could share with whomever, whenever she wanted to. As for the middle school bullies out there, it was always okay to leave ‘em guessing.

My daughter is 18 now and just finished her first year of college. She wrote an amazing essay about LGBTQ scientists and how they have influenced the field, despite their history of invisibility.  She is strong and proud, a budding scientist and a community leader. Her confidence intact, she is off in the world, making it a better place for everyone.

Hookup Culture and the Impact of COVID-19: An interview with Lisa Wade, PhD

Gabriel LeãoDue to the Coronavirus pandemic, many higher learning students are having to put their sexual lives on hold. To talk about casual sex in college life and the effects COVID-19 might be having on it, Scarleteen spoke with sociologist Lisa Wad…

Seven Things to Do If You’re Alone During COVID-19

Lasara Firefox Allen
Being single or otherwise on your own during the pandemic can be challenging, but it doesn’t have to be awful or without benefit to you. There are probably lots of things you can do right now to help yourself cope and make the most of this time.  Here are seven ideas to get you started.

Being single or otherwise on your own during the pandemic can for sure be challenging, but it doesn’t have to be awful or without benefit to you. There are probably lots of things you can do right now to help yourself cope and make the most of this time.  Here are seven ideas to get you started.

Go Wilderness Camping

Head out into the wilds if you can and find yourself a place to fall in love with nature. Camping by yourself can be a gateway to wonder. Opportunities for serene communing with the out of doors may lead to deep revelations, or just some sweet rest and relaxation. No matter what your goal, be ready for some quiet times that become an auditory tapestry of birdsong, frog croaks, and cricket calls as you drop in and listen.

During the time of COVID-19, boondocking or wildland camping might be what’s safer (fewer folks in the area and therefore less chance of exposure) and more available (fewer restrictions on camping on federal lands). It is likely to be remote and rugged, so make sure you bring water, a camping shovel, a strong flashlight, and a camp stove at bare minimum – in addition to the obvious. (A tent or sleepable vehicle, sleeping mat, sleeping bag.)

Bring a book or two if you like to read. Bring a musical instrument if you like to play, or art supplies if you like to create art. Find a quiet place to sit and commune and create and play!

If you don’t own camping gear perhaps you can source some on a local buy-nothing group, or borrow some from a friend. If you’re urban and not able to access the wilderness, perhaps you can make a day trip of it to the biggest local park you can locate. While it’s not the same as wilderness camping, even a few hours of submersion in nature can be a healing experience.

Cat Around – Online!

While being in a relationship doesn’t mean you can’t play the field (hello, open relationships!), there’s nothing quite like the freedom of being single as far as exploring your individual sexuality goes.

You’re single; you can still play the field if you want! Just because you can’t meet up with people in person doesn’t mean you can’t engage with your sexuality or romantic interests. You can take this time to explore your sensual and sexual identity, desires, quirks, or kinks. During COVID-19, for the sake of everyone’s safety, this activity should be restricted to online fun – but that doesn’t need to infringe on your explorations.

A few ways to stretch your sexual and sensual edges while sheltering in place are:

  • Masturbating alone
  • Masturbating with a friend while sexting, or over a video platform (if that’s safe and within the law for you to do)
  • Exploring erotica or porn and seeing what you like or don’t like
  • Meeting new friends virtually on dating apps, and playing with them over text or video chat
  • Negotiating play scenes with lovers for after isolation is no longer needed

There are plenty of reasons to invest some of this solo time in sexual self-exploration. Taking this time to learn about what makes you hum will serve you well in both the short and long term, with or without a partner. Orgasms are also good for your immune system! They reduce stress levels and increase good feelings for many. And a handful of orgasms for sure helps to make the time in isolation go by more quickly.

Build Solid Friendships

Just because we’re sheltering in place doesn’t mean that we can’t work on building our interpersonal connections. Your friendships are going to get you through thick and thin. There are many ways to build and nurture community and connection while in isolation.

Some simple ways to build your connections while practicing safety include:

  • Zoom or FaceTime coffee dates
  • Take a walk and talk with a friend over the phone: enjoy a phone chat while you get outside and get some movement in
  • Dance parties with your besties on an electronic platform
  • Find or create a specific online support group for yourself and those with similar concerns, interests, or cares as yours
  • Accountability buddy agreements: these may be about any kind of self care (exercise, eating, taking a shower), work goals, or creative goals, and can be conducted by phone or text or chat. Choose a buddy and agree to an accountability check-in schedule. Whether daily or weekly these simple arrangements can really increase traction for sticking to your goals and commitments

We all need each other right now. Reach out! Support others and find yourself supported in the process.

(Learn To) Cook!

Maybe you never had a real interest in cooking before now, or maybe you were interested but never felt you had time to learn. Well, now not only is there more time available for many of us, there are also fewer opportunities to eat out.

To start, find YouTube tutorials – or better yet, have a community elder talk you through a recipe you have always loved. Ask your mama to walk you through the recipe for your favorite childhood comfort meal. Ask your uncle how to make his favorite. (Build community while learning new recipes!)

Feeding yourself can be a nourishing and empowering act. Embrace it. Explore it. Enjoy it!

Solo Date Night/Day

What do you love to do, but rarely get around to doing? Set aside some time to rediscover and enjoy it. Dinner and a favorite movie is an easy one, but why not get creative and enjoy a guided art session online, or a hike and picnic, or a  long bath and self-massage?

It’s easy to let one day bleed into the next in isolation, but there are things you love to do; schedule them in. Pick up that instrument you love to play and sing some love songs to yourself. Write in your journal as you savor a glass of sparkling wine or water.

Solo dates might seem silly at first, but give it a try and over time you may come to cherish the time devoted to nourishing your connection with yourself.

Get Some Therapy

Many therapists have moved their services to telehealth sessions during COVID. There’s no time like the present to dig in and start working on healing or dealing. When solo, you can commit to doing the work for you, and you alone.

There are a few things to remember when seeking out a therapist:

  • You are hiring them. Interview your prospective therapist. Have a list of questions that are important to you and see how they respond. (Is it important to you that your therpist is anti-racist and intersectional? That they are gender literate? That they understand the concept of solo-polyamory or relationship anarchy?)
  • You don’t need to work with someone you don’t like. And you don’t need to have a reason to move on to a new therapist. If the fit is not good, there are others out there.
  • Different therapists have different strengths. Figure out what modalities you might want to try, and what your goals are, and take it from there.
  • You can decide the pace for your therapy, and if you need to go deeper or stay more surface, it’s up to you. It’s your process.
  • Therapy may stir things up for you, but what better time to invest in some deep healing than when you are sheltering in place? For many of us, things are stirred up anyway at the moment. Prior traumas may be activated, or even just the stress and anxiety of dealing with the unknowns of coronavirus may be destabilizing. There’s no reason not to reach out for support.

Love Yourself

Now is the time to love yourself in all the ways you can. Build more trust in your intuition. Do some self inventory, and see if you can’t begin to allow identity factors that don’t serve you to fall away.

Where you can’t allow them to fall away, practice acceptance. We can’t always get to loving ourselves, but we can often at least get to accepting ourselves. Love and nurture your broken parts as well as your strengths. If it works for you, practice simple affirmations, like, “I love this part of me too.”

Give yourself hugs, little self massage sessions, and treats. Move your body, and when you can’t do that practice even more acceptance. Reward yourself for completing what under usual circumstances you would consider a minor victory, like getting out of bed and brushing your teeth.

For many of us these times are not easy, and being alone in isolation is a great challenge. Offer yourself as much grace, love, and acceptance as you can muster, and this may become a time of sweet self-nurturance.

Photo of a hawk flying with title