My 18-Year-Old Son Just Came Out and My Family Is Driving Me Crazy: What Not to Say to Parents of a Gay Child
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 the times have changed and being gay is no longer seen as deviant, strange, or even noteworthy.
We've Come a Long Way But Still Have a Way to Go!
When I was a child in the 1970's, there were movies and television shows that centered around a family member coming out and the ensuing hysteria as everyone struggled to cope. I watched daytime talk shows were parents broke down in sobs, devastated by having a gay child. Audience members sympathized with their plight, relieved it wasn't them. At the Catholic high school I attended, there were whispers about so-and-so being gay, but we never knew for sure because nobody at that time dared to be open about it. I was so impressed by how far we've moved the needle since those prehistoric days… until I started getting the dreaded comments that made me realize we still have a long way to go.
It's Not My Job to Make You Feel Okay
Immediately after my son came out, everyone in our extended family seemed so tolerant and open-minded, and they continued to present themselves that way to my son. But, then some relatives starting coming to me with their concerns, questions, helpful hints, and asinine comments. They made my life a living hell, acting as if my son's sexuality was central to our very existence and everything in our world evolved around it. In reality, it was just the opposite as our days continued on just as they had before with little or no change. These folks actually seem disappointed that I wasn't utterly distraught. Here are some things I heard again and again from family and friends that weren't supportive, just flat-out annoying:
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 by now. Because my son is just a regular kid in appearance and behavior, his older relatives were flummoxed by him, thinking gays are feminine and flamboyant. In their defense, gays have been portrayed in this stereotypical manner for decades on stage, television, and in movies. 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 are often created for comic effect. They have few firsthand experiences because so many gays and lesbians in these conservative states move away when they become 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. When he joined the gay-straight alliance at high school, other members were floored 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!
What Do You Think Turned Him Gay?
This question, asked frequently of me 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.
Do You Think He's Just Trying to Fit In And Be Trendy?
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, try to fit in, or 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 I appreciate that some kids are experimenting with their sexuality as a cry for attention, anybody who knows my son well realizes that isn't the case with him. 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.
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.
Questions & Answers
© 2018 McKenna Meyers