Session 4 —Sexual Orientation: Supporting Self-Discovery
Session 4—Sexual Orientation: Supporting Self-Discovery
Families & Faith Development, Family Programs

In a liberal religious community, parents and caregivers may be reluctant to share any discomfort they may feel about a child’s emerging sexual orientation. This session opens a nonjudgmental space for adults to be honest with themselves about feelings, questions, and concerns. Participants explore their assumptions about and knowledge of sexual orientation and prepare themselves to accompany their child’s process of self-discovery. They anticipate how they will manage their emotions around a child’s emerging sexual orientation in order to clearly convey love and acceptance.

This session invites participants to:

  • Address underlying or subconscious assumptions or objections they may hold concerning their own child’s emerging sexual orientation
  • Acknowledge the sense of loss they may feel if their child’s emerging sexual orientation does not fit their expectations
  • Grow in self-knowledge and openness so that they can support their child’s sexual orientation journey

MATERIALS

  • Chalice, candle, and lighter or LED candle
  • Newsprint, markers, and tape
  • Computer with Internet access and a projector
  • Covenant on newsprint sheet, from Session 1
  • Journals or paper, and pencils or pens
  • Handout 4.1, Sexual Orientations
  • Handout 4.2, Recommended Multimedia Resources

PREPARATION

  • Explore the Recommended Multimedia Resources handout for this session. Update any links as needed. Expand the handout to include local resources. You may email the handout to participants prior to the session, plan to visit recommended websites during the session (this will extend your meeting time), or copy the handout to distribute in the session.
  • Copy Handout 4.1, Sexual Orientations, and Handout 4.2, Recommended Multimedia Resources.
  • Preview the video of Denice Frohman performing her poem Dear Straight People (3:19).
  • Preview the video of Melisa Chamorro telling her story How Do You Know You’re a Lesbian? (6:32) at a Moth StorySLAM.
  • Set up the computer, test the Internet connection in your meeting space, and cue up the first video.
  • Post the group covenant.
  • Write the Focused Check-in prompt on newsprint and post it.
  • Write the last set of Spotlight questions on newsprint and set them aside.
  • Write the Reflection questions on newsprint and set them aside.
  • Write the Taking It Home questions on newsprint and set them aside.

SESSION PLAN

OPENING (5 minutes)

Welcome participants. If any participants are new, briefly review the posted covenant, answer any questions about it, and invite a quick round of name introductions.

Say that this session’s topic is sexual orientation.

Say that every person has a sexual orientation. The most common sexual orientation is heterosexual, meaning that a person is attracted to people of a different sex or gender than their own. Other sexual orientations include gay, bisexual, and asexual, and there are more. Some people’s sexual orientation changes over the course of their life. Say that the session will give participants space to focus on the role they play as a parent or caregiver in relation to their child’s sexual orientation.

Invite a participant to light the chalice while you read a passage from a TEDxBoulder (Colorado) talk by equality advocate Ash Beckham:

I’m going to talk to you tonight about coming out of the closet, and not in the traditional sense, not just the gay closet. I think we all have closets. . . . All a closet is is a hard conversation, and although our topics may vary tremendously, the experience of being in and coming out of the closet is universal. It is scary, and we hate it, and it needs to be done.

FOCUSED CHECK-IN (5 minutes)

Invite the group to sit in silence, taking in the words just spoken. Lead the participants in taking a deep breath together. Then ask everyone to reflect on and, if they wish, share a way they might complete this sentence: “When I think about the fact that my child has, or will have, a sexual orientation, a question or a concern that comes to mind is _____.”

Invite participants to respond briefly, as they are ready. It is okay to have some silence while participants think about the question. Make sure each one has an opportunity to speak or to pass.

SPOTLIGHT (20 minutes)

Make sure everyone has a journal or paper and a writing implement. Invite the group to watch the video of Denice Frohman performing her poem “Dear Straight People.” Ask them to notice thoughts and feelings that come up, and to consider these questions:

  • How does Denise Frohman feel about her sexual orientation?
  • How does she believe others feel about her sexual orientation?

When the video concludes, invite participants to take a moment to respond in their journals to this new question:

  • Have you ever defended your sexual orientation, or any other aspect of yourself, with ferocity or anger? If not, have you ever wanted to? What stopped you?

Offer no more than two minutes for participants to write.

Next, ask participants to get ready to watch another young adult, Melissa Chamorro, who describes coming out as a lesbian. Say that this performance is from a public storytelling event (The Moth). Invite them to notice their thoughts and feelings as they watch it.

Play the video. When it concludes, post this set of final Spotlight questions. Read them aloud and encourage participants to use their journals to respond:

  • When have you experienced self-discovery like Melissa Chamorro describes? Yours might be a discovery of sexual orientation or of something else.
  • How smooth or rough was your self-discovery process?
  • Can you imagine telling or even thinking of your story in a warmly humorous way, as Chamorro does?
  • How would you want to support your child in their self-discovery, whether it is of sexual orientation or another aspect of themselves?

PERSPECTIVES (30 minutes)

Post a blank sheet of newsprint. Ask participants to list all the sexual orientations they can think of. Write their responses on the newsprint. It’s okay if your group lists only a few orientations.

Say you would like to offer a definition of sexual orientation:

Sexual orientation refers to a person’s pattern of attraction to other people, including physical, emotional, sexual, and romantic attraction. It can also include a person’s sense of personal and social identity based on these attractions.

Distribute Handout 4.1, Sexual Orientations. If you have time, invite volunteers to take turns reading aloud each sexual orientation and its definition. (Remind them that they may pass.) If you lack time, list the sexual orientations aloud, skipping the definitions, and give the group a minute to scan the handout.

Say that the abbreviations LGBTQ and LGBTQIA come up often in discourse about sexual orientation. Point out that they contain terms referring to sexual orientation, to sex, and to gender identity. Explain that while the abbreviations have important cultural and political purposes, it’s important to remember that sexual orientation, sex, and gender are separate aspects of a person.

Read this explanation from the website of the American Psychological Association:

According to current scientific and professional understanding, the core attractions that form the basis for adult sexual orientation typically emerge between middle childhood and early adolescence. These patterns of emotional, romantic, and sexual attraction may arise without any prior sexual experience. People can be celibate and still know their sexual orientation. . . . Different lesbian, gay and bisexual people have very different experiences regarding their sexual orientation. Some people know that they are lesbian, gay or bisexual for a long time before they actually pursue relationships with other people. Some people engage in sexual activity (with same-sex and/or other-sex partners) before assigning a clear label to their sexual orientation. Prejudice and discrimination make it difficult for many people to come to terms with their sexual orientation identities, so claiming a lesbian, gay or bisexual identity may be a slow process.

Say that while, of course, same-sex attraction, love, and commitment are as old as human society, our contemporary dominant culture uses understandings and language that emerged in Europe and the U.S. in the 19th century. The terms heterosexual and homosexual were coined in 1869 in Germany. The word bisexual was first published in 1892 and became better known through the sex research of Alfred Kinsey in the 1950s.

Invite the group to listen to words from “Our Children: Questions and Answers for Families of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Gender-Expansive, and Queer Youth and Adults.” It is a free publication of PFLAG (a national organization supporting and advocating for families, allies, and people who are LGBTQ). Read aloud:

Everyone has a vision or dream for their child’s future, born of many things including personal experiences, family history, cultural or societal expectations, and more. When presented with your child’s disclosure or coming out, it may be an adjustment to understand and realize that this future might now differ from that vision or dream.

Say that you would like to share one young person’s story related to parental expectations that are not aligned with a child’s sexual orientation. Read, or invite a volunteer to read, the story below, which was posted to Scarleteen and is used by permission:

I’m 19, female and asexual. I’m Asian Indian, and tradition says I must marry in the next decade, meaning my parents will look for available grooms starting next year. I will also be expected to have a child within a year or two of marriage. I’ve tried to come out multiple times, but I’ve been taken seriously exactly once, by my cousin who is four years my junior. Her reaction was a solemn nod and the words: “Yeah, I knew you were something like that.”

I’d assumed my parents would understand when I explained it to them . . . but now I’m scared. . . . And what are the chances that my future husband will be as asexual as I am? And my family wants a flippin’ legacy. I can’t have sex or be pregnant! It’s not even a little plausible for me!

I tried to break this gently to my dad, who is open-minded and usually very understanding. He listened quietly, and when I’d finished, asked me with a heart-broken look if I was never going to give him grandchildren, and then what would become of our bloodline? I didn’t know what to tell him! My dad is one person I’ve always been able to count on. He’s always had my back in any disagreements in the family, and he’s the second most practical person I know. It will already be a battle with the rest of my family to be accepted for who I am, and I’m crushed to think that I’ll be doing this alone.

REFLECTION (15 minutes)

Invite participants to reflect on the video and the session readings, responding one at a time as they are moved, without interruption. Say you will offer a set of prompt questions, and invite the participants to respond to the question or questions that speak most deeply to them. Then post the Reflection questions and read them aloud:

  • Implicit teaching means the unstated, often subconscious ways you demonstrate your beliefs. What might you be implicitly teaching your children about sexual orientation, including asexuality? What do you hope to teach them, implicitly or directly? Is there anything you want to change?
  • What might your children learn about orientation from norms of behavior and conversation in your family? From the way their peers talk about sexual orientation? From the media?
  • As a young person explores or discovers their sexual orientation, how evident would their thoughts and feelings be to a parent or caregiver? What might be your role, as a parent or caregiver, to invite their confidence? To offer them privacy? What is a healthy balance?
  • What assumptions might you have about your own child’s sexual orientation? What investment do you have in your assumptions?

You may wish to remind participants of the amount of time each person will be able to speak.

TAKING IT HOME (10 minutes)

Thank participants for being together, listening, and sharing. Remind them that justice and love are motivating forces in Unitarian Universalist faith. Say that children are likely to “come out” about something, whether it is sexual orientation or another aspect of themselves that emerges as they mature. Suggest that supporting a child to embrace an emerging sexual orientation can be a faith practice for parents and caregivers.

Invite participants to begin this faith practice by developing one immediate action or commitment by considering the following questions with a partner or privately in their journals. Say you will allow five minutes for sharing or reflecting; partners should work together to fairly divide speaking and listening time.

Post the Taking It Home questions. Then read them aloud.

  • How have you discussed sexual orientation with your children so far in their lives? How might you change the way you talk to them in the future?
  • What actions can you take, beyond discussing sexual orientation, to show that you will love your child and accept their life path? In other words, how can you build a foundation of love and acceptance for a possible future “coming out”?

Regather the group. Invite participants, one at a time as they are moved, to share an action or commitment they have chosen. As always, it is also all right to pass.

CLOSING (5 minutes)

Invite a participant to extinguish the chalice while you share these closing words, which are text messages that a 16-year-old sent to a friend and then posted to social media:

I may have just accidentally came out to my entire family in the worst way possible.

My grandma was saying how gays are going to hell and I didn’t want to deal with it so I started to leave.

My cousin asked where I was going.

“Hell, apparently.”

What have I done.

Then give this blessing:

May we, in our homes and families, create spaces that love and support our young people as they grow into themselves.

If you haven’t done so yet, distribute Handout 4.2, Recommended Multimedia Resources, for participants to take home. Remind the group of the day, time, and place of the next session.

For more information contact religiouseducation@uua.org.

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