My Straight Kid is Flying the Gay Flag on Social Media — And I Want Her to Stop
Dear Other Dad —
My child, who says she’s not gay, posted photos of herself with the gay pride flag on Instagram because she said it will get her more followers. We have gay family members and I think her post does not respect what they went through in real life. It just exploits being gay for likes. Should I make her take the photo down?
— Tired of Social Media
This past winter, I heard from multiple parents that their children were adding images of themselves to a rising tide of social media posts that feature LBGTQ hashtags, acronyms, slogans, and symbols. Several said that their kids told them that queer-themed posts were more likely to get lots of likes and comments. And some said they feel this wave of representation is simply a form of attention-seeking. This week I look at the first of two questions on this topic.
When I read my 15-year-old the question, she was unfazed. “Your generation just didn’t talk about this stuff the way we do,” she said (delivering the understatement of the year). She agreed that some kids probably do just hop on the same bandwagon as their peers but she was really skeptical about the notion that they’re necessarily lying just for attention; kids today are freer to consider all their options, and, as result, many are constantly recalibrating who they are.
For most kids, these identity questions arise long before actual sexual contact, so they’re guesstimating based on past and present thoughts, feelings, and attractions. Unlike my generation, their peers are less likely to believe that there is only one acceptable orientation for their gender or to believe that one’s orientation is forever fixed. These are huge shifts in mindset — no wonder parents are having trouble getting their heads around it. Most of us just weren’t raised thinking that way.
It is true, mom, that it would not be great if your daughter is consciously claiming to be something she isn’t, especially if this is motivated solely by a desire for social validation. Do keep in mind, though, that this is an archetypal high school behavior and one that long predates social media — it just now has a bigger platform.
In your case, though, you’re understandably concerned that your daughter’s use of the pride flag might cheapen the experience of relatives who have faced discrimination for their identity.
Have you asked your relatives if they feel the same way that you do? Are they hurt by it? Are their opinions are strong as yours? If they are, perhaps the best call is to let them tell her so. You know how hard it is for kids to see us parents as knowing anything — so maybe hand off to the person with the real stakes here. (Of course, they might ask you to speak for them, if they don’t feel comfortable doing so.)
However, if your relatives don’t have the same worry as you, ask yourself whether or not you should be pressing this case. Are you the right person to decide that her flag causes harm or disrespect? Or is there a piece of this in which your discomfort is more about the disconnect between your sense of your child and her portrayal of herself? A lot of us encounter this — sometimes repeatedly — as our children find themselves.
You say that your daughter doesn’t identify as gay. I’m interested in what that means. Would she say that she feels no connection to any part of that rainbow hanging on her wall? Many Gen Z kids like to use the suffix -curious to suggest that they are not entirely closed to an identity. Your daughter may have only liked boys in the past but might find herself more open to (and even interested) the idea of dating girls or gender nonconforming peers. Maybe she hasn’t yet found the right words to express this; perhaps the flag is her language.
While the flag might signal where she is right now or where she thinks she might someday be, it could also simply be good allyship. That flag, for her, might function the way it does for PFLAG families or the straight kids in a school GSA: as a way of signaling values — support, welcome, inclusion— not sexuality. Maybe she wants to make sure her feed is populated by people who share those values.
But if her answer to you — she hung up the flag to get more followers — is really as deep as it goes, it is worth having a conversation with her about social media and what it means to change your appearance for consumption. Talk to her about the benefits of attracting friends (or followers) with the person she really is, not the person market-testing tells her to be. Encourage her to post things that show the best of her true self, which can encourage others to do the same. If she argues that showing the pride flag does that (for whatever reason), then good.
The happiest takeaway of this is that your daughter is growing up with peers who celebrate that she is the kind of girl who waves a flag for inclusion. You might not be able to see it, but she is evidence of the progress her relatives paid for. And you can take real comfort in that.
Part two, next week: Is my teen’s #sexuality sexual?
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