Mother In Denial

Dear Dr. Darcy,

I'm a nineteen-year-old lesbian and my mom doesn't believe me. I told her three years ago and she seemed okay with it, even offering to talk, etc. However, I noticed that whenever I said flat out that I don't like guys, or that I explained to her that no, I am not "exploring my sexuality," she became uneasy. Recently I brought up the subject again and she told me that she doesn't like it when I say these things because I'm "too young to know yet." I'm quite sure that I know. She also claims I am exactly like she was when she was my age and it's just a phase. How can I help her take me more seriously?

ANSWER

I'm sorry to hear that your mother doesn't believe that you're a lesbian. Experiencing invalidation is infuriating at any age and when you're growing up its particularly offensive because so many adults feel entitled to minimize or trivialize any feelings, thoughts, concerns or beliefs that a young person expresses. Ironically, teens and young-adults will often react by overstating their point, resulting in adolescent/young-adult rebellions which might otherwise be avoided if adults were only a bit more discriminating with what they express.

Sounds like your mother may have had some sexual orientation issues of her own in the past. We tend to think that our personal experiences are generalizable, i.e., indicative of what everyone else's experiences are. Rather than engage in mind-reading, perhaps you can ask your mother to elaborate on what she's referring to when she says that you're in a phase.

Your mother may be expressing a wish rather than a belief when she says that you're too young to know what your orientation is. There are different reasons why your mother might wish yours is a passing phase. Optimistically, one could say that most parents want an easy life for their children and given the basic civil rights that we fight for every day (rights that heterosexuals are given without reservation), ours doesn't necessarily appear to be an easy path. Alternately, there are parents whose homophobia is not grounded in redeeming values or good wishes for their children. Only a conversation with your mother will reveal what her intent is behind her comments.

If you tell me that you’re quite sure you’re a lesbian then I have no reason to doubt you. As upsetting as it is, you may need to content yourself with your own certainty for the time being and allow your mother more time to accept it. If she’s open to it you might want to introduce her to your local PFLAG chapter. Meanwhile, surround yourself with as much support as possible and perhaps you can seek out a friend’s parent or a teacher who can be there for you in a way that your mother can’t.