My wife and I have two teenage sons. We are pretty sure the older one is straight, but we’re wondering about our 15-year-old. He enjoys spending time with family friends of ours who are a gay couple, and he has been experimenting with make-up. I want my son to know that if he is gay he doesn’t have to hide it from us. How do I do that?
The world would be a lot healthier place if there were more parents like you.
You seem to be making a good case for joining PFLAG, but you can’t know for sure. Maybe he’s a straight boy who loves make-up. Maybe he’s gay and isn’t ready to tell you. Maybe he just doesn’t know yet.
You don’t have to put him on the spot or push him to come out before he is ready. Create safe space in your family that would help him feel comfortable coming out. Make sure that both of your sons know that you think it’s OK for people to be gay and that discrimination is wrong. There are so many opportunities to talk about it; just keep your eyes and ears open. Use movies, TV, news, and daily incidents as a way to express your views.
SET AN EXAMPLE. Let’s say you’re watching a TV show and there’s a scene with characters who are intimidating or threatening a gay character. During a commercial (or later that evening) you could say something like, “I didn’t like how those guys were being mean to their neighbor just because he was gay. I don’t like to think that things like that happen very often, but unfortunately, they do. I hope that kind of harassment wouldn’t happen in our neighborhood.”
There are also current issues you could bring up in the context of homophobia, such as the Salvation Army, the Boy Scouts, or survivor benefits for gay families of September 11.
AVOID ASSUMPTIONS. Let your children know that you are open to their being gay by using gender neutral language. When you talk about their future, instead of “When you get married, your wife…” try “If or when you find a partner, he or she…”
When one of them says he has a date, ask him, “What is his or her name?” Chances are, if he’s telling you, it’s most likely a girl, but it will sent a signal to your sons that you wouldn’t freak out if either shows an interest in boys.
BE PATIENT. Maybe your son comes out to you next week or next year. Maybe he never does. (Maybe the one you think is straight comes out.) At least both sons will have the cue from you that they would not lose your love if they turn out to be gay. Unfortunately, not nearly enough sons and daughters who come out have that reassurance from their families.
Resources for LGBT/Queer youth and the parents who love them:
created by and for LGBTQ people, 13 – 24 years old
National Coalition for LGBT Youth
Parents, Friends & Family of Lesbians And Gays