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Six Things You Shouldn't Say to Parents of a Gay Child

Ms. Meyers is the proud mom of two sons, one of whom is gay. They teach her lessons about compassion, tolerance, and acceptance every day.

  • Is he sure that he's gay?
  • I'm praying for him.
  • How long has he been keeping this secret?
  • What do you think turned him gay?
  • I bet that you wish you had sent him to Catholic school now!
  • Do you think he's just trying to fit in?

Family and friends said these things over and over again after my 18-year-old son announced that he was gay. Instead of receiving support, I was put in the position of getting them up to speed on all LGBTQ issues and calling out the stereotypes they've held for far too long. I had to keep saying to them, "if you know one gay person, you know one gay person" while wondering: Why the heck don't they know more?

If you have questions about LGBTQ issues, do some online research but don't rely on parents of these children to be your only source of information.

If you have questions about LGBTQ issues, do some online research but don't rely on parents of these children to be your only source of information.

Coming Out Today Is Largely a Non-Event

When my 18-year-old son came out to our family, it was largely a non-event as most of us were expecting it. (The rainbow flag decal on the back window of his car was a major clue!) While his 15-year-old brother responded with a big duh, his grandparents reacted with mild bewilderment, noting “he doesn't act at all feminine.” From young to old, I was pleased that everyone's mindset appropriately reflected how times have changed and how being gay is no longer seen as deviant, strange, or even noteworthy.

We've Come a Long Way But We're Not There Yet

When I was a child in the 1970's, there were movies and television shows that centered on family members coming out and the ensuing hysteria as everyone struggled to cope. I'd watch daytime talk shows where parents broke down in sobs, devastated by having a gay child. Audience members sympathized with their plight, relieved it wasn't them.

During my high school years, there'd be whispers about so-and-so being gay, but we never knew for sure because nobody at that time dared to be open about it. Long before the military adopted its "don't ask, don't tell" policy, it was how most of us lived in the civilian world of the 70's, especially in extremely religious families like my own.

I was completely convinced that we had evolved from those prehistoric days. My optimism, though, blackened in the weeks and months following my son's announcement when I started hearing the same cringe-worthy questions and comments. While taking my son's announcement in stride, I soon realized that others were struggling with it and had appointed me their guide on everything LGBTQ. I was chosen as our family's resident expert on the subject based on one criteria: having a son who recently proclaimed that he was gay!

In this video, young LGBTQ folks humorously address the rude questions and comments they get and what they'd like to hear instead

Don't Give Me the Job of Making You Feel Okay About My Son Being Gay

Folks seemed tolerant and open-minded after my son came out and continued to present themselves that way to him. They began coming to me, though, with their concerns, questions, advice, and asinine comments.The elders in my family shocked me with their ignorance and immaturity regarding issues of gender and sexuality, causing me to lose a lot of respect for them that can never be restored. They behaved more like titillated 13-year-old boys, finding Dad's secret stash of Playboy magazines, than sophisticated adults in their 60's and 70's who'd lived through the sexual revolution.

1. Is He Sure That He's Gay?

If I had a dollar for every time I got asked this question, I'd live in a mansion and drive a Ferrari. Because my son is just a regular kid in appearance and behavior, his announcement confused our older relatives who thought that all gays behaved in a feminine and flamboyant manner. In their defense, LGBTQ folks have been portrayed in a stereotypical manner for decades on stage, on television, and in movies. It's only now that we're starting to see more realistic, more human, and more multi-dimensional portrayals of them

My older relatives in South Dakota and Iowa have gotten their impressions of LGBTQ folks from these representations that were typically created for comic effect. They don't have many firsthand experiences because so many gays and lesbians in these conservative states move away as soon as they become adults or remain closeted. My relatives in the mid-west, therefore, tend to see gay folks in a very narrow way.

That's why I recommended that they watch the exquisitely moving documentary, Bridegroom, so they could experience the love story of a real-life gay couple. I had seen it long before my son came out, and it had stayed with me ever since. Those who watched the film thanked me for suggesting it, saying it made them cry and expanded their hearts as well as their minds.

This video shows how TV offers a narrow, stereotypical portrait of gays and lesbians

2. I'm Praying for Him

While I strongly recommended Bridegroom to my in-laws, they never got around to seeing it. This confirmed my suspicions that they didn't really want to expand their minds on the matter. As devout Catholics for 80+ years, they weren't going to veer from the church's teachings at this point in their lives.

Although the current pope has shown considerable compassion to gays, his kindness doesn't mean the church's official stance has changed. It still maintains that being gay is not a sin but gay relations are, deeming them "violations of divine and natural law."

My in-laws and other relatives often told me, "I'm praying for him." Yet, their words didn't strike me as warm, loving, and Christ-like. It was obvious that their prayers were asking God to turn my son straight. Mine, on the other hand, were asking God to make them more loving, accepting, and supportive.

3. How Long Has He Been Keeping This Secret?

Some family members and friends convinced themselves that my son and I had been hiding the fact that he was gay. In reality, though, he was simply a late-bloomer in discovering his sexual orientation. Unlike those who know from their earliest memories, my son came to realize that he was gay at the ripe old age of 17. Dr. Erika Pluhar, a sex therapist and educator, says there's a wide range but most people figure out their sexuality between the ages of 9 and 12. That's when kids typically become attracted to members of the opposite or same gender.

Family and friends were indignant that they weren't told sooner, acting as if they had every right in the world to know. They hijacked the situation, forcing me to tend to their hurt feelings rather than them supporting my son and me. I wish that my mother and other older relatives understood that it wasn't my place to out my son and that it was his news to reveal, not mine.

4. What Do You Think Turned Him Gay?

This question, asked frequently by older relatives, is hurtful, ignorant, and annoying all rolled into one. It implies that something terrible happened during my son's growing up years—a traumatic event such as a molestation—that caused him to become gay. Since I was largely responsible for my son's childhood as a stay-at-home mother, I felt like I was being accused and needed to defend my parenting.

In this video, we learn how science is proving that being gay is not a "lifestyle choice."

5. I Bet That You Wish You Had Sent Him to Catholic School Now!

My 80-year-old mother, who sent all four of her children through parochial school, said this to me countless times. I would definitely file it in a folder entitled, "You don't need to say everything that pops in your mind." By constantly bringing this up, she simultaneously pats herself on the back and condemns me. After all, she wound up with four straight kids by sending them to religious school while I wound up with a gay one by sending him to public school.

At this point, we don't know exactly why some people are born gay. Genetics seems to be a major factor. Most certainly, we'll discover more in the future.

As his mom, I truly believe that my son has always been this way—perfectly himself. Moreover, people's obsession about finding out what caused him to be gay leaves me cold. It's an ugly part of human nature that, when hearing someone has lung cancer, we immediately ask: "Did he smoke cigarettes?" We want to find an explanation for why things happen so we feel more secure in an insecure world. In the process, though, we put our desire for self-protection above empathy.

6. Do You Think He's Just Trying to Fit In?

When my son came out, some relatives expressed concern that young people today are sexually confused and just want to fit in and be popular. This made me sad because I realized how little they know my son. He has never been one to follow the crowd or be anyone other than his authentic self.

While this question distressed me, I certainly understood it. There's no doubt that more young people today are describing themselves as something other than 100 percent heterosexual. Psychologist, John Buss, says that for most of human history there were about 2 percent of females who were lesbian or bisexual. These days, however, 15 percent of young women are describing themselves as lesbian or bisexual. No wonder older folks are questioning this massive change of late!

In this video, gays and lesbians give straight folks a sampling of the annoying questions that they get asked

Final Thoughts: Get to Know the Whole Person and Stop Obsessing That He's Gay

Dr. Mark McCormack, co-director at the Centre for Sex, Gender, and Sexualities at Durham University, says human sexual desires have not changed much over time, contrary to popular belief. What has changed, he states, is the belief that sexuality is black or white, gay or straight. McCormack comments, “the idea that sexuality isn't categorical but a continuum is increasingly recognized.”

While some kids may be experimenting with their sexuality to get attention, my son is definitely not one of them. When relatives think that about him, I feel bad for them because they missed out on knowing a really awesome kid. Perhaps, deep down, that's why all these questions are hurtful. If these relatives really cared about my son and wanted to be a part of his life, they'd take him to dinner, talk with him, and not ask me questions behind his back. They'd get to know him as a complete person as I do. After all, moms and dads want their kids to be seen and loved for who they truly are, whether gay or straight.

This is the book I now recommend to relatives when they have questions and concerns about my gay son

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 McKenna Meyers


McKenna Meyers (author) on February 23, 2018:

I'm sorry, Kassandra, you can't be more open and honest within your own family. That's difficult to accept. When my son was diagnosed with autism at 4, my family wasn't supportive like I imagined they would be. No one gave me the help I needed when I was juggling him and a newborn.

Therefore, all those years later when my son came out, it was no big deal for me. I adjusted quickly and didn't care what family members thought. I knew my child wasn't put on earth to fulfill me, to make me proud, to represent me to the world. He's here to live his own life the best way he knows how...just like you.

Your journey is just starting, Kassandra, and so much love and so many adventures are in your future. It may not involve the people you imagined it would, but it will be great. Best to you!

Kassandra Tellez on February 23, 2018:

I understand the struggle with family acting one way about homosexuality, then all of a sudden doing a complete 180.

Although I have come out to my parents I am not allowed to mention my sexuality in front of my grandparents from either side. My younger siblings for the sake of possibly "confusing them". Not to mention I can not bring my significant other home because it will make my family look bad towards the rest of the family or possibly worse, the public.

It is good to know that you, and the rest of your household, are completely supporting your son 100 percent in his coming out. I applaud ya'll.

McKenna Meyers (author) on February 19, 2018:

Yes, Bill, it was a no-brainer for my husband and me but more complicated for other family members. Some have deep religious convictions that say gay relationships are wrong. I think if they had been closer to my son when he was growing up they'd accept him now. But, they never took the time to do that. Their loss.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on February 19, 2018:

The choice is pretty easy for a your child in being who he is. As for the rest of the family...get on-board or get off the Express.