A Note from Lifeway Girls: In cased you missed it on the blog this past week, we announced the release of a new Bible study for teen girls, Jude! Today we wanted you to hear directly from the author, Jackie Hill Perry, and see her heart for teen girls. This article originally appeared in the June 2019 issue of Parenting Teens magazine. To learn more about this publication, please visit www.lifeway.com/parentingteens.
Gender confusion, homosexuality, drug use—by the time she was 19, Jackie Hill Perry had embraced it all. Parenting Teens sat down with the author of Gay Girl, Good God to hear her perspective on why being a teenage girl today is harder than ever, what it means to really trust God, and what girls who are struggling with sexuality need to hear (and see) from their parents.
PT: When it comes to questions of gender and sexuality, what’s different for teen girls today than when you were a teenager?
JHP: I think one of the primary differences might be that the questioning is more common and more easily affirmed. When I was in high school and middle school, I’m sure the questions existed in people, but you didn’t hear about it. That could have been for several reasons, one being shame. But I think the frequency and the affirmation are the difference.
PT: What do girls who are struggling with sexuality and gender need to hear from their parents?
JHP: I think before they hear anything I think they need to see things. How parents respond to hard concessions or hard truths from their children is huge, and it isn’t usually what you say that might affect your teenager… it’s also how you said it and what you looked like when you heard them. How did your body posture change, for instance.
That’s not to say don’t be shocked, don’t be grieved, but it is to say you want to communicate love even in how you respond physically. You don’t want there to be a detachment.
Secondly, teenagers should know that what they’re experiencing doesn’t make them odd, because it can feel like if I have issues with my sexuality, my perception, or my gender, then somehow that makes me different from everybody else. And in one sense you are different, but in the other sense you’re just like everyone else.
Everybody has a disconnect somewhere. I’m sure Jesus felt some type of—not disorientation—but he was in this body that He wasn’t in for all of eternity. So I feel like we have a Savior that empathizes but people who still feel all certain types of ways, with certain passions and desires. God has promised to help us if we just trust Him.
PT: Where does the church fit in this conversation—what do girls need to hear from their church?
JHP: That we’re here. I think a big fear is that, if I confess, how will people treat me? Will they welcome me? Will they treat me differently or see me differently? Will they feel like because I said that I like women, that I mean that I like them? At the root of all of these questions is, “will people still love me the same?”
I guess what people need to see in their church is that their church is an actual church, a community and a family, that even though you struggle with a particular sin or a particular issue, it doesn’t mean that we love you any less.
I think the church has to learn how to be itself. We’re empowered to love, empowered to be patient, to have joy, to be kind, to bear with people, to have mercy, to be compassionate. We have the power to do it but often don’t. I think we don’t because either we don’t want to or we’re unaware that we aren’t.
On one hand, has the church failed in this? Yes. But on the other hand, I’ve visited a lot of churches and met with a lot of Christians and I think people are really, really trying to learn how to love their neighbor well.
PT: Do you think it’s more difficult to be a girl today than it was when you were a teen?
JHP: Possibly. I think one thing that would make it more difficult is social media. When I was a teenager all we had were Myspace and Facebook, and with Facebook you couldn’t even friend strangers. You had to befriend people from your school, and there weren’t status updates, so there wasn’t this pull to always be online to see what everybody was doing or to post about what you were doing.
I’ve always thought about how different life would’ve been for me or how large my insecurities might have been if I had access to Instagram at all times of the day. Even our phones were limited. Media and phone use are so all consuming that I think it shapes people’s minds toward things of the flesh much easier than it did when I was in high school.
PT: If you could go back and tell your 16-year-old self something, what would that be?
JHP: Two things. One, that God really is worthy to be trusted. But I would explain that. I didn’t know what trust meant, I didn’t know what obedience meant. So I think I would have wanted someone to tell me about God, not just what to do for Him but to tell me what He did. I think that would be cool.
And secondly, I wish somebody would have cast a vision for me to learn from, listen to, and walk with women who were wiser and older than me. I think that’s one of the downsides of being a teenager who doesn’t have a lot of wisdom. You don’t see wisdom in following people who have wisdom; you follow people who think like you, who like what you like and what you don’t like.
So what I would challenge teen girls with is that you’re not less cool to be friends with an older woman. If anything, when you get older you will be much wiser than you would have been if you didn’t connect with them.
PT: Is there anything else you want to share with girls and their parents?
JHP: I would say that being a teenager is really weird. You’re trying to figure out life, trying to figure out identity, but as you grow—in your knowledge of Jesus, in connection with your church, in prayer, and in Bible reading—things might not get any less weird, but they will get easier. Easier in a sense that you’re more settled in the truth because you walk with it.
Jackie Hill Perry is a writer, speaker, and artist. She is the author of Gay Girl, Good God, a story about how God broke through when she was 19 and turned her heart toward Him after an adolescence experiencing gender confusion and homosexuality. At home, she is known as wife to Preston and mommy to Eden and Autumn.