Things Parents of Gay Children Wish You'd Stop Asking
- Is he sure he's gay?
- What do you think turned him gay?
- Do you think he's just trying to fit in?
Family and friends asked me these questions over and over again after my 18-year-old son announced 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?
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 pleasantly 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 around 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, bleakened in the weeks and months following my son's announcement when I started getting asked the same three cringe-worthy questions. While completely fine with my son's announcement, I quickly realized others were not and they had appointed me their instructor on everything LGBTQ. After all, I was the foremost expert on the subject because I had a gay son!
It's Not My Responsibility to Get You Up to Speed on LGBTQ Issues Because You've Stayed Woefully Ignorant!
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. 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 He's Gay?
If I had a dollar for every time I got 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 older relatives were flummoxed by him, thinking all gays are feminine and flamboyant. In their defense, I must admit that gays have been portrayed in this 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.
Many older folks (such as my relatives in South Dakota and Iowa) have received most of their information about gays from these narrow representations that were often created for comic effect. They have few firsthand experiences because so many gays and lesbians in these conservative states move away upon becoming adults (or remain in the closet).
There's Not One Story That Covers All Gay People!
My son was definitely a late-bloomer in realizing he was gay. He came out to me at 18 and only recognized it himself a year earlier. Upon joining the gay-straight alliance at high school, other members were flabbergasted that he didn't know much earlier like they all did.
Dr. Erika Pluhar, a sex therapist and educator, says there's a wide range but most people figure out their sexuality between 9 and 12 years of age. That's typically when kids become attracted to members of the opposite or same gender. Therefore, when my son came out at the ripe old age of 18, he certainly wasn't acting prematurely or impulsively. He was 100 percent certain he was gay, and that's why he was ready to announce it to his family. Case closed. Let's move on...please!
None of the Gay Stereotypes Apply to My Son So Don't Go There!
2. 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 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 feel like I'm being accused and must defend my parenting.
No, Sending Him to Catholic School Wouldn't Have Made a Difference!
My 80-year-old mother, who sent all four of her children through parochial school, is the worst offender. She says to me again and again, “Do you think if you had sent him to Catholic school he'd have turned out straight?” In asking this, she's simultaneously patting herself on the back while condemning me. After all, she wound up with four straight kids by sending them to religious school while I wound up with a gay one because I sent him to public school. Ugh! Give me a break!
At this point, we don't know exactly why some people are born gay or lesbian. Genetics seems to be a major factor. Most certainly we'll discover more in the future. As his mom, I truly believe my son has always been this way—perfectly himself—and other people's obsession about finding what caused his gayness leaves me cold.
Stop Telling Me That My Son Has Made a "Lifestyle Choice"
3. Do You Think He's Just Trying to Fit In?
When my son came out, some relatives expressed concern to me that young people today are sexually confused, claiming they're gay because it's popular and attracts attention. This made me sad because I realized how little they know my son. He has never been one to follow the crowd, to try to fit in, or to be anyone other than his authentic self.
While this question distressed me, I certainly understood it. There's no doubt that more and 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 females are describing themselves as lesbian or bisexual. No wonder older folks are questioning this massive change of late!
Get to Know the Person for Who He Is, Not Just His Sexual Preference!
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 as a cry for attention, my son is definitely not one of them. When relatives ask me this question, 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 care about my son and want to be a part of his life, they'd take him to dinner and talk with him, not ask me questions behind his back. They'd get to know him as a complete person as I do. After all, all moms want their kids to be seen and loved for who they truly are, whether gay or straight.
My Gay Son Is So Much More Than His Sexuality
This Is the Book I Now Recommend to Relatives When They Have Questions and Concerns About My Gay Son
While I'm proud of my gay son, I'm still adjusting to him coming out and I'm certainly no expert on homosexuality. When relatives ask me questions, I now recommend they read this book that's choke-full of answers on a wide-range of topics. I figure if a person is intellectually curious and open-minded about the topic they'll be happy to read and learn more. If not, I don't want to waste my breath trying to explain things to them. I've recently given this book to my son's grandparents, but I'm pretty certain that haven't bothered to read it. At least, I now know they'd prefer to stay in their ignorance.
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.
Questions & Answers
© 2018 McKenna Meyers