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Kids These Days: The stress of coming out and the meaning of virginity

teens holding LGBTQ+ flags
Katie Raymond
Katie Raymond
So many teens stress about coming out - when to do it, how to do it, who to tell, who not to tell. In this episode, we ask: Why is coming out still a thing? Plus questions about the word 'virginity' and how queer teens fit in.

Before we get started we want to let you know that we talk about sex in this episode. Just a heads up.

A kid sends a text to his parents. The text was only two words. It said: "I’m homosexual."

Their mom texted back to say “I love you, let’s talk about it later.” And the kid wrote back: 

“No. Let’s not talk about it later. This is a one time event. Sorry.”

So many teens stress about coming out - when to do it, how to do it, who to tell, who not to tell. 

High school junior Geneve Thomas-Palmer wanted to know: why, in the year 2020, is coming out still a thing? 

Geneve says when she actually came out to her parents, she tried not to make a big deal out of it. She told them at the dinner table.

“For me, it was not a surprise,” say her dad, Jon. “And I remember being glad that you felt you could tell us. I remember being glad that you're telling us did not seem like it was a big deal to you. But I also remember, and I still feel this way, feeling a little bit sad that you are queer simply because socially it is more difficult. And I worry about what that means for your mental, emotional health and safety.”

“I remember having that feeling too, and feeling more scared than sad,” says her mom, Kate. “I am really glad that you feel comfortable being out. There is a spirit about you that is very lively. And I think that spirit would be partly damaged or tamped down if you didn't feel comfortable being out.”

Geneve says she’s very lucky that her parents, friends and peers have, for the most part, accepted her for who she is. But she’s aware not everyone is as lucky.

Her friend Brennan lives in Alabama. When she came out, her parents were accepting.

“One day I was like, 'you know what, I'm going to do it.' I've really bad anxiety. So I was like sweating, and I started crying and I was like, 'oh, my God, what is wrong?' I hadn't said anything yet at that point. I asked her to take me on a car ride to Dairy Queen,” she says.

She says they hopped in the car, turned on the radio, and she simply said “Mom, I’m a lesbian.”

“And she was like, 'Sweetie, it's okay. I know.'”

And while Brennan’s parents were accepting, there was a time when kids at school weren’t.

“I was bullied pretty severely as a kid, especially in middle school,” says Brennan. “I got called gay in elementary school ... even before I knew what that meant. And I can remember writing in my journal when I was younger. I remember writing. People always call me gay. Of course I'm gay. I'm happy because I thought gay meant happy. I didn't understand that it meant a bad thing. And to some people, that it means a bad thing, that it's an insult, that a lot of people use.”

Geneve says the concept of coming out highlights straight privilege.

“Because being straight is the default, straight people don’t have to come out. But, taking the time to come to terms with your identity, and expressing that to the world, can also be a beautiful thing,” says Geneve.

Brennan describes coming out as a “nice warm hug.”

“Because I was in the dark for such a long time about what I was. So for me, finally coming to that conclusion was a very it was a very nice feeling,” she says.

From one version of The Talk to another: Questions about virginity and how queer teens fit in.

You can hear that part of the conversation and the full conversation about coming out in episode four of Kids These Days on Apple Podcasts or wherever you like to listen.

Support for Michigan Radio's Kids These Days comes from the Michigan Health Endowment Fundand The Children's Foundation.

Want to support reporting like this? Consider making a gift to Michigan Radio today.

Paulette is a digital media reporter and producer for Michigan Radio. She started as a newsroom intern at the station in 2014 and has taken on various roles in that time, including filling in as an on-air host.