My 11-year-old son recently informed me that he steers away from telling the truth when someone asks him whether his Dad is gay or not. How should I best tell him how to handle this situation?
My partner is always with us for athletic and school functions, so many kids and their parents may already know I’m gay. My son insists he has no problem with me being gay — he’s known and has lived with me his whole life — but I am concerned about him hiding it from other people. If someone specifically asks him if his Dad is gay, do you feel it’s okay for him to hide the truth? Is he ashamed?
He’s not ashamed of you, he is just protecting himself. There is a difference. He needs to assess situations and decide for himself if the benefits outweigh the risks. Even though you are living openly as a gay men, aren’t there times when you still choose not come out? To the bankteller? To the door-to-door sales person? To the waitress who assumes you and your partner are brothers? Not coming out in these situations has little to do with shame or pride, and much to do with what is practical or safe in any particular setting.
Showing up with your partner to school functions but not being certain that his friends’ parents are aware of the situation sends a mixed message to your son. He could be doubting if he can tell his peers since you have not specifically come out to their parents. If it is important that his friends’ parents know you are gay, set the example for your son by talking to parents on your own. After you have done that, tell your son who you told and give him a general sense of what their reactions were.
As for your son’s process of “coming out” about his family, respect that there are times when the risks just don’t seem worth it, and let him know that you are OK with that. On the occasions when he does come out about his family it needs to be because he wants to, not because he’s worried about being a bad son or betraying his father if he doesn’t. Much depends on his school environment, the state you live in, how supportive his extended family is, how volatile the politics are in your area.
He’s 11 years old. His coping and reasoning skills are different from the ones you have developed as an adult. Those differences can be easy for gay parents to forget, especially if, like many children of LGBT parents, your child often behaves as a precocious mini-adult. Let your son be a kid and set his own boundaries. That’s not about being ashamed of you.