I am a gay dad of two boys, ages 10 and 13. I came out to them a year ago when their mother and I separated. We are struggling to find the right way to discuss sexuality with our sons as they hit adolescence, given the fact that they have a gay dad.
Should we proceed differently than we otherwise might? I find resources about being a gay parent, and other resources about parenting teenage boys, but what about when the two are combined?
All children need healthy, shamefree information about sexuality. The fact that you are gay does not alter that. The opportunity for you and their mother, however, is that you already know that sexuality is much more complex than the simplified sex ed which typically reduces sexuality to sexual behavior — and presumes anything outside of a heterosexual marriage is “bad.”
Using gender neutral language like “partner” will communicate to your boys that you don’t have a set idea about what gender(s) they should be involved with. Non-heterosexist language can start even earlier with phrases like, “if you get married” and “if you have kids someday,” rather than the standard, “when you get married and have children of your own…” It’s notions like that which have made gay people feel like their only option is to stay in the closet and get married.
Regardless of a child’s sexual orientation — or that of their parents’ — they will encounter situations where they will hopefully make smart decisions. Children need their parents to offer the information gently and firmly so that they are prepared when these situations occur. These choices include if, when, and how to be sexually involved.
The only thing that could be different for your children is that they might feel pressure from their peers or from themselves to “prove” that they are straight by having sex before they are really ready. Wanting to stop questions like “If your dad is gay, then are you gay, too?” some kids of gay parents want their peers to know that they have “gone all the way.”
Helping children build lifetime skills for healthy sexuality is more than making sure they know how to use a condom. They need to have the maturity and self-confidence to insist on safer sex, and to avoid or get out of situations where they feel pressured. It’s not too early to talk about sexual choices with pre-teen children. And when it’s too late, it’s too late. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy reports that two out of three teenagers have had heterosexual intercourse by age 18 — 25% did not use any form of birth control their first time.
Finally, as a father you could benefit from talking with other fathers who are dealing with similar issues. Check your community to see if there is a group of gay parents you could join, or look into online listserves.