I’m so glad you reached out. It’s good to ask questions and to be informed so that you can best support your child.
To start with, sexual orientation and gender identity are two separate things. Gender identity is how a person feels on the inside with regard to their gender. There is a whole spectrum of gender that exists, and a person may identify as the gender they were given at birth or a different gender at any point in their life. Sexual orientation has to do with who a person may be attracted to or not attracted to. This could be a physical, romantic, emotional, spiritual, etc. attraction to another person of a particular gender, more than one gender or all genders across the spectrum. For some people, their gender and sexual orientation stay the same throughout their life. For others, sexual orientation and/or gender identity may change at some point in a person’s life and stay that way for the rest of their life. Others may experience their gender identity and/or sexual orientation as being fluid, so that it may change throughout their life. It’s so personal and unique to every individual.
Your child is sharing something very personal with you. First and foremost, you want to thank your child for being so brave and trusting you to open up and share this with you. Secondly, you always want to affirm your child and say that while you may be confused right now, you want to try to understand and that you accept and love them for who they are always. That is the most critical piece – acceptance and validation, regardless of whether you understand or even agree as a parent. It sounds like you want to be as supportive as possible. Since there is not one way to define what it means to be any gender or sexual orientation, it’s always best to ask your child what it means to them. You can tell your teen that you want to try and understand better and can they tell you what it means for them to want to be a gay man. Keep in mind again that gender and sexual orientation are separate parts of one’s identity. For example, just because your child tells you that they are attracted to boys/men does not mean that your child would feel comfortable being a girl/woman or being perceived as a girl/woman. Your teen could very well be attracted to boys/men and identify their gender as male. If this is how your child would feel most like their authentic self, then I would encourage you to support and affirm your child.
It could be beneficial to check out some resources and/or talk to others going through similar experiences. If there is a local LGBTQ Center or PFLAG (pflag.org), they may be good resources for you and your child. There are a lot of good books out there as well. Another great resource is GLSEN (glsen.org). Please know that you can always reach out again if you should have other questions or need support.