Ace people, what would you tell your parents?
January 26, 2022 7:51 PM   Subscribe

I followed our kid's Discord profile links and found that while said kid prefers they/them (which I knew) they also identify as cis male and "mostly heterosexual" though primarily (and somewhat emphatically) as asexual. I am on a mission to be as cool as possible about this (but also as supportive/helpful as possible). What do I need to know to be both a) there for them but b) not a pain in the ass?
posted by DirtyOldTown to Human Relations (23 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
How old are they?
posted by mdonley at 7:56 PM on January 26, 2022

Response by poster: 13.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:57 PM on January 26, 2022

Ace by Angela Chen is a starting point.
posted by saturdaymornings at 8:07 PM on January 26, 2022 [1 favorite]

Maybe it's because I didn't figure out I was ace until I was a whole lot of years old, but... I think that unless you have some indication that it's a source of distress for the kid, you can be pretty chill about it, wait for the kid to come out to you in their own time, and everyone will be just fine.

I won't be telling my dad now; there's no reason he'd care and no reason I need him to. At 13, I didn't tell my parents a damn thing, because they had absolutely zero chill about anything ever.

Beyond the obvious (don't rib the kid about relationshippy stuff, don't pressure, check out tonight's Legends of Tomorrow episode and maybe mention to the kid that you liked it), I dunno's there's anything special you need to do. Should the kid actually come out to you, a small memento could be nice; Etsy has tons of cute ones. I might hold off on an ace ring until, like, a birthday or holiday or something, but maybe that's me not having enough chill.
posted by humbug at 8:21 PM on January 26, 2022 [18 favorites]

I don't see a reason for a "though" between heterosexual and asexual unless you or they are confusing it with aromantic. The two are gonna have quite different implications for what challenges they might face in life.
posted by one for the books at 8:46 PM on January 26, 2022 [2 favorites]

I'd have identified this way at 13. My parents could have supported me by getting me a really good latin tutor, or (serious suggestion!) a dumbbell set; I literally can't think of any concrete action or conversation to do with sexuality that they could have taken that I wouldn't have found utterly mortifying. Once or twice they talked about sex and dating with me in a frank way that I found off-putting, but it would have been so much worse if they'd actually gotten it right - I'd have had nowhere to hide!

This sounds a bit like I'm dismissing your question, but I'm really not! At that age, this feeling for me was "I don't want to think about this" - being reminded that I wasn't thinking about would have been completely terrible! But a weight set would have been great - I could have taken all that "not thinking about sex" energy and got swole.
posted by wattle at 8:56 PM on January 26, 2022 [21 favorites]

Call them with the correct pronouns consistantly if you aren't already doing that. But overall, they are a 13 year old cis male mostly into girls but doesn't want to have sex/ doesn't experience sexual attraction to others. There is nothing you really need to do here really, though if they don't become romantically involved with someone you shouldn't push this issue and talk about expectations for girlfriends or boyfriends. Obviously be accepting and kind. You may want to drop hints that you would be okay if they date someone of the same sex.

Obviously if your child is bothered by this you will need to be reassuring and supportive. But in general kids who are bothered don't blast it on their discord profiles either.

Sex education is important regardless so that should happen in whatever ways you have planned for that.

Be flexible too, identities can develop and change and they grow and learn more about themselves and the world (some kids are spot on about this stuff! Many are and it will not change so believing them is vital). That doesn't mean that who they are right now is not real, it just means that self understanding and self discovery take time.
posted by AlexiaSky at 10:06 PM on January 26, 2022 [4 favorites]

Do they know that you know/are looking at their Discord handle/profile? If they don't, the fact that you've been looking at it may be more upsetting than talking to them about it is helpful.

I think the best thing you can probably do is just make yourself aware of how allonormativity is expressed in the world and in media, and try to avoid perpetuating that.

But in general, just give them space and they're likely to be able to figure this all out for themself perfectly fine :)
posted by wesleyac at 10:07 PM on January 26, 2022 [16 favorites]

If you low key read / watch some books / media with ace people, and generally have it around, that can't hurt.

As a huge Darcie Little Badger stan I will mention Elatsoe as a novel in your child's ~age range~ that is 1) awesome and 2) has an ace protagonist (also reads aro as I recall, though the author is not). Fairly incidentally which Little Badger noted was intentional.
posted by away for regrooving at 11:51 PM on January 26, 2022 [5 favorites]

Best answer: A kid who is identifying that way at that age is likely more knowledgeable about the subject than a parent, and has access to a community that is really up on current ideas about it. I certainly can't imagine anything substantive my parents could have brought to this subject besides mortification and just the stressful feeling of being 'perceived' and intruded upon in a really squicky way, even if they were open and interested parents. Also, be aware that this is a common societal thing at the moment, and also that identifications can change as time goes on. From what I've seen in my chronically online internetting, it's already a bit of a meme within gen z that super young kids are identifying as Asexual, when for many such desire and attraction doesn't even emerge until years later. So I would just not even consider it a pressing issue, and also kind of not your business. You wouldn't force them to out themselves if they were gay, right? You would wait for them to decide if and when they wanted to tell you. Same in this case. It is a private matter, and not a risk or threat. Being Asexual doesn't necessarily stop one from from forming relationships (romantic or not), or having satisfying lives, or having kids, etc. It doesn't create risky behavior, so no need for concerns along those lines. I just don't see the issue. And as for support, if a child is identifying in this way, they already have plenty of online support for now.
posted by asimplemouse at 11:55 PM on January 26, 2022 [26 favorites]

I'm young enough that my parents sat me down because I was being a moody teenager with internet access and a Livejournal, and said they had read through some of my emails because they were concerned, and tried their best to be supportive and loving about my potential sexuality, no matter what it was -- which just led me to delete my internet history daily and find different outlets for emails they couldn't access and lock my laptop every time I stepped away while at home, so. Don't do that.

One thing my parents did that I appreciated was not making a big deal about potential crushes (even gently teasing). It was just never brought up. I went on one date in high school, and it was kind of an awkward date, but they treated it like I was hanging out with any other friend. They didn't push or pry or ask, "So when's the next one?" It was really refreshing? Especially since sex was/kind of is the last thing on my mind, and I certainly would have bristled if they started trying to be cute about puppy love. They gave me space to just... live my life, and if I had issues, I knew I could go to them. So I recommend a healthy distance to let your kid figure it out for himself.

(My dad once used "they" pronouns for talking about a hypothetical future partner of mine -- not a common conversation -- and even if he didn't do it on purpose, I noticed it. It was a pleasant surprise.)

I think the best thing you can probably do is just make yourself aware of how allonormativity is expressed in the world and in media, and try to avoid perpetuating that.

Agreeing with this. An easy exercise is to listen to your favorite music and see how many songs talk or reference heterosexual sexual attraction. Or how many conflicts in media are centered around sex.

In general, I agree that the younger generation is increasingly more up-to-date on sexuality and gender at younger ages, and expanding your own knowledge to remove biases (even unintentional) would go a long way.
posted by lesser weasel at 12:10 AM on January 27, 2022 [11 favorites]

(Heck, I'm sorry, I meant to change that to "themself" for your kid but missed the editing window.)
posted by lesser weasel at 12:16 AM on January 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

My parents have never pressured me in any way about relationships: no teasing about when I would get a boyfriend when I was a teenager, no "when are you going to get married" when I had a boyfriend in my twenties, no hinting about wanting to be grandparents, no "when are you going to find someone and settle down" in my thirties and forties, no expressions of concern at any stage over my complete lack of interest in dating.

It's been great. Do the same. :-)
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 1:22 AM on January 27, 2022 [10 favorites]

Response by poster: Do they know that you know/are looking at their Discord handle/profile?

Presumably. We talk on Discord every day and share memes and stuff.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:47 AM on January 27, 2022 [7 favorites]

Yeah I agree that the thing to do is just... don't ask them about their sex/dating life. If they bring it up, great, if not, assume they don't want to talk about it. (I am emphatically not ace and never thought I was, but I was a closeted queer kid and was 100% unprepared at 13 to talk about my pantsfeelings with anyone, let alone my well-meaning and supportive parents.)
posted by restless_nomad at 5:21 AM on January 27, 2022 [4 favorites]

Agreeing with the above answers to just stay out of it and be there if they come to you with questions/for reassurance, but otherwise let them dictate how and when they talk to you about these things. Also, if they do, maybe don't mention you've been looking at their profile -- they may not have put two and two together and realised that of course you can see it as well as their peers or whoever else they're talking to, and it might be mortifying for them to realise you've seen it.

In general some overt displays of support for LGBTQ+ folks can't hurt (if you're not doing it already -- if this is telling you to suck eggs, feel free to ignore me!). Donate to some trans charities and ask the family if they want to match your donation. Go to your local Pride parade (if you can) and support Pride initiatives over the summer. Pick out some LGBTQ+ media and watch them as a family. Let them know you're cool with their choices without making it about their choices. My parents were very chill with identity issues growing up, but I think if they had been clued up about LGBTQ+ issues and supportive out loud, I probably would have felt capable of asking more questions for myself earlier.
posted by fight or flight at 5:27 AM on January 27, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: In my experience, there's a tricky needle to thread with kids where you sit with both "how you feel today is real and important" and "how you feel today and how you feel at 25 will probably be different." Like, it was shitty to be told any of the labels I tried on from about my mid-teens to early-twenties was fake or a phase, but in the long run I held on to almost none of them, ace included, and that's not uncommon.

I wouldn't bring up labels they don't bring up, and I would try to check in around terminology every 2-3 months - "do you still feel good about being called cute/handsome/pretty/son/daughter/enby/boy/girl/etc.?" It's extremely difficult to avoid using nouns and adjectives for your child, it's awesome to hear validating/accepting language, and which language feels validating is probably going to shift more than once as your kid matures.
posted by All Might Be Well at 6:18 AM on January 27, 2022 [23 favorites]

One thing that's not clear is whether they intend you to see their internet profiles - whether they're trying to communicate with you, or whether you're happening to see their communication with other people. I'm guessing the latter.

Regardless, as an ace person, I agree with everyone else who is saying that there isn't a special conversation that you need to have with them. Not unless they bring it up. In which case, let them take the lead. Don't interrogate them about their feelings - or lack of them. (For various sorts of queer people, this can come across as being asked to defend the validity of their identification.) Ask them what they want you to know instead.

Otherwise I'd just leave it be. Give them space to explore.

Like, by no means am I suggesting this is a phase, but the process of self-discovery is a long one, and labels are categories that we try to impose on our continuous, messy emotional experiences to communicate them better to others. The internet is a great place to experiment with what labels work best because it's not weighty as telling your family "this is me and I want you to understand me this way."

The one thing I wish was different about when I was a kid was the type of cisheteronormative assumptions people made about my experiences and interests. I was AFAB, so it was a lot of: Which boy band do you like. (None.) Do I have a boyfriend. (No.) Wow, he's cute. (I guess.) Enjoy my joke about how everyone masturbates. (Sigh.)

(Re: the last one, a lot of ace discourse wants it to be very clear that ace people can still experience sexual feelings, that they're just not directed at other people. It's turned into the opposite assumption, that ace people DO experience sexual feelings. That is not universally true. And that actually might be a good place to mention that "ace" is a really big tent and there's no single experience, so just knowing that your kid is trying out the "ace" label online doesn't tell you much.)

You sound like you probably don't make many of these types of assumptions anyway, but they can be pretty sneaky.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 7:32 AM on January 27, 2022 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I think I was maybe concerned there was something I was supposed to do for one or the other of those cases, like maybe there were different answers.

If I'm reading the room right, whether my kid has locked onto something permanent about themselves or whether this is a thing that is real today but may not always be the case, the correct reaction is the same: be cool, don't push, but make sure stuff that touches upon this kind of identity is handled respectfully and leaving room to breathe.

That's pretty much status quo, so... cool cool cool. Thanks everybody.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:17 AM on January 27, 2022 [11 favorites]

I would make sure to let them know, more than once, that you accept them as they are, that they have your love and support, that if they ever feel like talking about subjects that might feel difficult, you'll be open.

Their sexuality may or may not evolve, they will certainly change and grow, and you want to be there for them. So when they have a pimple in their groin and are afraid it could be an STD, they'll talk to you.
posted by theora55 at 9:41 AM on January 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

Where they end up may vary. Learn about asexuality - it's a spectrum, not an absolute.

And for heaven's sake, don't push about relationships/dating/etc. Or assume that they will grow out of it. And shut down other people who try to. Yes, 13 is on the young end... so pushing about things like "don't you have a boyfriend/girlfriend yet?" to "hurry up and have kids before it's too late" are (hopefully) a ways off, but (speaking from experience) it would have been fantastic to have this kind of family support.

Understand that their friends and others may not really have a good grasp on what it means, especially if they end up somewhere closer to demisexual. (For heaven's sake, being told you're just prude or picky is no fun.) And it's totally awkward when everyone around you is gushing about how hot this or that celebrity or classmate is, and you're all... meh, so what? It can make for awkward situations, too, when you don't even realize that someone is flirting or outright coming on to you, because that's just not where your mind goes.

And then you run into someone who prides themselves on being so ... whatever the best word is for ally these days... and they start insisting you have to have a "type", everybody has a "type"... and you're thinking, yeah, no, I see no reason to explain to them that my type is that I'm become emotionally close to someone in a friendly way, first.

It's tough, because even a lot of other identifications barely consider it something "different", because there's little active harm toward people on the ace spectrum - just a whole lot of microaggression that pretty much the entire world consists of and thinks is normal. (Until I was about 38-40, I always assumed I was the normal one, and society just really pushed oversexualization... I laughed pretty hard the day I learned someone had coined a term and description for what I'd known about myself for more than 25 years. (And even described in very similar words, lol. It makes me wonder how many people learned later of demisexuality and then thought about me.)

And it's pretty rarely in media of any sort. Things like demisexual romances, with their very slow burn, might just irritate or be misunderstood by the common population, without identifying it and flagging it as such all over the place. It's relatively easy to add in a homosexual character, or even a transgender character. But ace or demi? It hides too easily, and so there is little to no representation.

posted by stormyteal at 10:18 AM on January 27, 2022 [4 favorites]

Sounds to me like you got this, DirtyOldTown. Keep right on being you. The kid is lucky to have you in their life.
posted by humbug at 3:08 PM on January 27, 2022 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Our kiddo is back to being a he/him and has declared that he is at least primarily heterosexual.

He says he thinks his interest in asexuality was mostly a way of fending off talk about girls/dating, which he had less than zero interest in discussing. I totally get that. His current ask is that we continue not to talk about that stuff but that he is free to ask/bring it up as/when it starts to suit him. Fine by us.

He said that the thing he identified with about ace people is that it's entirely fine to choose none of the above/not my interest as suits you, even if in his case, that wasn't permanent. I think that's a fine lesson to take.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:04 AM on July 19, 2022 [4 favorites]

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