By Elizabeth Johnson
You’ve barely gotten used to your child’s announcement, “Mom, I’m a lesbian,” when they come to you again with the news that they now identify as pansexual and biromantic. What does that even mean, and why did they change?
Labels—the way people describe their LGBTQ identity—may change as our kids continue to explore and define themselves. A three-year study of more than 700 teens found that at least 1 in 5 reported a change in how they defined their sexual orientation over the course of the study.
Trying on labels to see if they fit
“Adolescence is a time of identity exploration, and sexual orientation is one aspect of that. One takeaway here is that the process of sexual identity development is quite nuanced for a lot of teens,” commented researcher J.L. Stewart. In other words, our kids are still figuring out who they are and how they want the world to know them.
“Micro-labels are super trendy,” wrote Mama Dragon Lara in a recent Facebook group conversation. “My kiddo went down the micro-labels rabbit hole and I just hung on for the ride until they came out the other side with the insight that once the labels got so tiny and specific, they belonged to a community of one. Now they use a few umbrella terms. But they had to get there on their own and try everything on for size in the process.”
Defining identity in new ways
Young people today have so many more labels to choose from beyond the “standard” L, G, B, and T. The Trevor Project’s 2019 National Survey on LGBTQ Mental Health (which surveyed 17,000 teens) found:
LGBTQ youth are defining their identity in increasingly nuanced ways.
26% chose emerging sexual identity labels to describe themselves.
Survey respondents provided more than 100 different terms to describe themselves.
Many teens used multiple labels to distinguish between sexual and romantic attractions.
Transgender and nonbinary teens are more likely to use emerging identity labels compared to cisgender teens.
Mama Dragon Jennifer K. shared something she learned when talking to a group of young people who gathered to celebrate her child’s graduation.
“It's for each of them to determine their label and own it with pride. I have also learned working with queer youth that it allows them to be seen and valued for how they see themselves. And finally, many of our binary constructs and concepts of fluidity are constantly being deconstructed by the younger generations' exploration of a bigger, more beautiful world which challenges us to think differently,” she explained.
Teens often share what researchers call “emerging identity labels” through social media outlets like Reddit, Instagram, and TikTok. Don’t be surprised to hear your child identify themselves with words and phrases like bicurious, homoflexible, biromantic-lesbian, aromantic/demisexual, or non-binary/panromantic.
Beloved child: the most important label
Like many of the new things parents learn when their child comes out as LGBTQ, keeping track of labels can seem confusing at first. But what should not be confusing is that no matter the label, your child is your child, and they need to know that you love them unconditionally.
In a Facebook conversation about micro-labels, Mama Dragon Jen B. shared her perspective. “My youngest adopts and abandons labels at a breakneck pace. I'm not sure that I'm handling it correctly, but my basic approach at this point is that I know THEY care about the details, and it is important to them. Awesome. But I'm not sure that I care about the details because it is like trying to support a moving target.
“Instead, I love them. In their totality. Whatever label they adopt, I support, and it is fine. When they begin dating, I'm sure they will fine-tune those labels a bit over time. None of it is relevant to my relationship with them.
“So... I love my gender fluid, omnisexual, biromatic, child one day. And then I love my non-binary, pansexual, heteroaromatic child the next day. As they explore the variety and rollercoaster of emotions that accompany it all, I just stand on the side and wave and cheer and wait for the periods where they step off the coaster for a minute.”
Share your child’s journey
If your child has new labels, it’s a great time to have a conversation about what they mean and why they use them. And remember, labels are not written in permanent marker. They are more like sticky notes that can be removed, rearranged, or added to your child’s description of who they are.
As Mama Dragon Lara says, “Isn’t it wonderful that there is so much language for identities and orientations and that it is so available to our baby dragons and they feel like they can explore, and they are sharing their journeys with us?”
Is your child exploring labels and identities? Join Mama Dragons to find support and education from other moms of LGBTQ kids. To join, click here.