Just as twelve year old heterosexual boys don't make a conscience decision one day that they likes girls, gay youth don't decide their sexual orientation either. Gay and lesbian youth typically notice differences between themselves and other children in early adolescence, when sexual attraction first occurs. While the realization of their orientation comes easily for many youth, others struggle to find their own identity and awareness.
The questioning of sexual orientation is normal for both young boys and girls, particularly those who are struggling through adolescence and puberty. During these transitional stages, identity crises emerge which often lead to further confusion and alienation. Even for a heterosexual teen, this is a very confusing time in life. For gay or lesbian teens, however, the internal warfare which is taking place in their minds often results in emotional strain. While more families today are supportive of gay sons and daughters, there are still those which shun, denigrate, or even attack children who are believed to be gay. As a result, the rate of teen suicide remains alarmingly high.
So how can we foster a more caring environment where questioning one's sexual orientation is viewed as a natural part of development? In the LGBTQ community, the focus is on increased education and inclusion of different sexual and gender identities. One of the goals is to teach families, school officials, and others who have the desire to foster a more healthy environment for children the importance of maintaining an open, caring atmosphere in which gay and lesbian youth can feel comfortable discussing their orientation.
Questioning sexual orientation is often an ongoing process during adolescence and puberty. Orientation may even become fluid from one day to the next during this time, as teens struggle to find their true identity. For example, a bisexual male may come to the realization that he is in fact gay or vice-versa. At the same time, a gay male may even realize he is straight transgender. We sometimes forget just how difficult growing up can be when we were first trying to discover ourselves.
In some cases, teens simply aren't sure of their orientation. Questioning may continue up until early adulthood and beyond. There are many reasons why this may occur. The fact is that even with loving, caring families, teens inevitably feel pressure from a society that is still largely not accepting of orientations other than heterosexuality. Fortunately, the tide seems to be slowly turning towards greater awareness and acceptance. In the meantime, however, we should strive for an inclusive environment where children are free to explore their own identities without shame.