The boy looked extremely young in the video that was streaming over YouTube. In it, he said that he was sixteen and that it was about the year since he told his parents he was gay. He heartbreakingly tried to hide the pain on his face as he described how his father pretty much dismissed and ignored the issue and how his mother grew mean towards him – even calling him a “faggot” in an apparent attempt to shame him into straightness. I wanted to reach through the laptop screen and give the poor kid a hug. While my family always showed love and support for me, I definitely remember the loneliness of what it is to grow up gay. Even worse, while he showed remarkable maturity for his age, you could see small seeds of bitterness sprouting towards his parents.
I didn’t really come out to my parents until I was much older, but if I had been around more gay people growing up, I imagine it would have happened fairly early like the kid in the YouTube video. Kids are coming out much younger these days because society’s growing approval of homosexuality makes them feel safer and less ashamed. This is actually a good thing. The sooner a kid can acknowledge his sexuality and deal with it, the less “closet time” they have to endure – even if they never decides to publicly come out. Closet time is not productive time…at all.
So what do you do when your 15-year-old son tells you that he is gay?
Things To Do Immediately:
- Give him a hug
Immediately. Kids (and, well, grow-ups, too) can be terrified to tell you that they are gay. Even if you have shown nothing but love in the past, in their mind this changes everything and there is always the possibility of rejection.
- Tell him you love him no matter what
Be as clear in this as you possibly can and use that “What I Say Is Absolute Law” face that only parents seem to possess. This is no time to assume that “he knows how I feel”. This is game time, people. Time to step up to the parenting plate and take control of the situation. By letting your son know that no force under heaven or hell could make you stop loving him you are adding stability to his world which is in turmoil and setting a foundation of love that he is really going to need in the coming years. Your home needs to be a refuge for him; he has already been hit with a thousand different voices arguing over his situation and that is just going to get worse. You really need to establish yourself as a person of safety for him. That starts here.
- Put your own feelings on the backburner
You might not have any gay friends or really have had any experience with gay people. Honestly, it may creep you out a bit. You may also be overcome with sadness for the pain that your son has already felt (and will yet feel) because of his sexuality. Your world has probably been turned upside down along with his. Why your son? All that will have to be addressed later. Your son will be hyper sensitive to any level of discomfort that you express. If you have to keep repeating in your mind, “he’s still my son, nothing’s changed”, do it.
- Talk about it (once the crying stops)
He might not say much in the initial conversation (or he may talk for hours), but he probably hasn’t really discussed it much with anyone. Especially if you’ve had a safe and loving household in the past, you are likely to be the first people he has come out to. Talking allows him to express himself in a way that he likely has never done before, but also shows that you aren’t scared of the issue. If you feel you cannot discuss the issue without showing signs of discomfort, then tell him that you don’t have to talk about it then (not that you don’t want to talk about it), but you will tomorrow (or Sunday, or whenever, but there should be a definite time and it should be soon – this will help him feel as though you aren’t avoiding it).
- Go for ice cream
Or to a movie or mini-golf or whatever you like to do together. This will let him know that life goes on-your family-goes on and as far as your relationship goes, nothing has changed.
Things To Do In The Next Few Weeks:
You should probably have a couple of conversations in the next few weeks. Ask questions and don’t be scared to ask personal questions if you feel it is appropriate. This will help him once again feel like you aren’t uncomfortable with the issue and therefore aren’t uncomfortable with him. It also encourages honesty. Be honest in return…but tactful. Encourage him not to dwell on his sexuality, but make it clear you are always available to talk if he wants to. Always.
- Suggest counseling
After the initial conversation, there is a bit more flexibility in your dialog with your son. It’s now okay to admit that you don’t know and understand everything when it comes to homosexuality and may need professional help in finding out more. If you feel there may be a need for counseling (even if only to encourage dialog), suggest it. Make sure that your son knows that you aren’t suggesting counseling in order to “fix” him (especially if he mentions feeling “broken” or “messed up”). Counseling probably shouldn’t come up in the initial conversation so he doesn’t feel like you are going into “damage control”. Suggest going as a family (parents+him).
- Suggest talking to the bishop, if necessary
If your son reveals any sexual transgression, recommend that he talk to the bishop. Do so gently, but firmly. Make it clear that his sexuality does not exempt him from keeping high standards or obeying family rules. This shows that you don’t equate his sexuality with sin and neither should he. In the next few weeks, it would be appropriate to reaffirm the Law of Chastity in an “it applies to everyone, even you” way. Be careful and find out all the facts, however, in order not to equate any possible sexual abuse experienced by your son with sinful behavior on his part.
Things Not To Do…Ever:
- Don’t say “you’re too young to know” or “it’s just a phase”
If he is talking to you about it, trust me, he knows. He has already spent years (I know, he’s only fifteen, but still, years) dealing with the questions and confusions. Even though I didn’t allow myself to think it until I was in my late teens-early twenties, I first had the anxiety-filled suspicion that I was different before puberty and by sixteen the thought of it would send me to the bathroom to vomit. Trust me, he knows.
- Suggest that anything “made him gay”
This includes playing with dolls, not playing sports, not being there for him, being too smothering, tv, friends, movies, soy, etc. This places the thought in his head that his sexuality could have been prevented and the guilt-trip that this will send him on will be Trans-Siberian (i.e. big-time guilt).
- Call him names
Ever, ever, ever. What the crap was the matter with that woman?
- Talk to other people as if he is straight
You by no means need to broadcast your sixteen-year-old son’s sexuality on the internet, but the minute you respond to your nosy neighbor asking why your son doesn’t date much with “he hasn’t found the right girl yet” you are sending mixed signals. You may be trying to respect your son’s privacy, but likely he’ll feel that you didn’t believe all that business about loving him no matter what and that you are actually ashamed of him. Trust will be lost. Discuss with your son how to address the issue. Maybe the most appropriate answer to nosy neighbor ends up being, “mind your own business”.
- Fail to stick up for him
Sure, you son may be in drama club, choir, cheer squad, and dance club which makes you wince as polish your football state championship ring, but your kid should never hear you belittle his talents or interests to others. I wasn’t the most athletically inclined growing up, but I often heard my parents praise my academic accomplishments or “creative abilities”. They encouraged my talents, even if they weren’t necessarily the talents that were valued by others in the community.
What if it is “too late”? What if your son came out years ago, ending in a huge fight with everyone getting it wrong, big time? The good news is that there are very few things on this earth that you can’t recover from – and this isn’t one of those things. The longer the time has passed, the longer it may take, but you can still let your gay son know that you love and accept him, which will make sure that fewer and fewer videos like the one mentioned above appear on YouTube.
Note: Most of the time, I write specifically about homosexuality as it relates to gay men. I do this simply because that is the perspective with which I am the most familiar. Most of what I write applies to gay women as well, but I don’t have any lesbian friends (that I know of) and I am uncomfortable to speak for a group that I have so little experience with. So, I guess what I am saying is, if I am ever off base, Samantha, feel free to bust me on it. K?