Is an 11-year-old son ashamed of his gay dad?

Q:

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?

A:

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.

10 thoughts on “Is an 11-year-old son ashamed of his gay dad?”

  1. He can console himself that his son is confident enough to express his concerns to him, it sounds like a good dad who has the kind of relationship where his son can risk these kind of feelings without worrying about losing love — and he can be glad that his son is probably developmentally on-track. What 11 year old boy doesn’t feel queasy about gays — and how many 11 year olds start to want their parents to drop them off at least a block from their destination and never, ever hug them in public?

    He is beginning to sort out what will be a long process to figure out who he is and what kind of person he will be. Boys that age often naturally start to wonder about themselves, worry about themselves, and want to steer clear of anything that even has a hint of being “gay”. I don’t think that deep down it has anything to do with his actual feelings toward his dad. I guess I’m saying that it may say less about his relationship with his dad than it says about his developing relationship with himself and this is just something he needs to “go through”. I betcha if dad weathers this with him, both will have a strong relationship as adults. At least that’s my hope. My son and I live in a rural, uber-conservative place and I know he/we will go through similar things some day.

  2. Hi, I’m the parent of a 23 year old gay man with a younger brother 18 years.

    I am with the commenter who mentions a simple answer. Your son is protecting himself and his parents.

    He is a survivor as I say; boys learn early on straight or gay that honesty in a “man’s world” doesn’t generally = safe.

    You must be very proud of a son who is so young and who is so supportive.

    Happiness ~
    friend

  3. Age eleven has got to be one of the hardest ages for any child/youth. Anything that makes you different from everyone else can be a challenge – certainly having a dad who is gay would make a kid pretty different – but having a dad who wears socks and sandals would be pretty hard too.

  4. Thank you so much. You are now the third professional with experience telling me that my children’s reactions are developmental rather than value judgments and indications of who they are.

  5. I am a 27 year old male with a gay dad. What you wrote was scarily similar to my experience as a kid growing up. Clearly you know what you are talking about when it comes to issues involving having a gay parent.

    It has only been since college, when I was 22, that I began to speak to my friends and others close to me about my dad. Everyone, including people I grew up with in my small, provincial hometown has been nothing but accepting, understanding and supportive of me.

    However, I still feel untrusting and unable to feel safe with this information out there about my dad. Despite my openness and the seeming support I receive from others, my dad’s identity still feels like a cross that I continue to bear.

  6. I, too am struggling with what to do to support my son through this difficult time. My ex told my son that he was gay on father’s day at the age of 9 yrs. I feel that he should have waited but he didn’t. We live in a very small town, where everyone knows what everyone else’s business is. I don’t want my son to have to bear the cross that should be my husband’s. I am fully supportive of my son’s relationship with his father. However, my ex’s main focus over the past two years has been declaring his gayness. I am an educator. I had people in my school district calling to tell me of my ex’s moronic behavior at local bars (such as open mouthed kissing, hugging and provocative dancing). I am sorry…I am not against being gay…but keep it to yourself. Especially when children are involved. You need to put your child(ren) before yourself and realize that we live in a world of judgment. My son shouldn’t have to defend what his father is and shouldn’t need to feel embarrassed because this is what his father chose to do. I want my son to grow up to be a compassionate person, I just wish I could protect him from the children who will not be compassionate to him. I want to be able to arm him with social tools that will give him the opportunities to be honest yet not be ridiculed for the situation his father has put him in. I am an adult and have found ways to handle this difficult time however it has been difficult. I don’t want my son to be ridiculed and made to feel as an outcast. If anyone has any advise please address it through this site.

  7. “I am sorry…I am not against being gay…but keep it to yourself.” Ouch. Sounds like maybe the son doesn’t have as many issues as the mom. Gays should be allowed to express themselves in the same fashion as their straight counterparts. Instead, in the small midwestern city I live in, I have to fight back the FEAR that comes from walking down a street, holding the hand of someone I care for. And how on earth is hugging someone moronic? Honestly, I think when it comes time for my children to find out their dad is gay, I’m going to show them the absolute normality of it. Let them see me holding hands, dancing with the man I love, kissing him, and *gasp* even hugging him. The fear and anger society implants in everyone, makes it so much harder to come out and accept who you are. It’s only a dirty little secret if that’s what you teach your son.

    I remember a moment in the pool at a hotel my family was staying at. There was a loud, obnoxious heterosexual couple, cursing, kissing and fondling too much for a place with children around (including their own). It got to the point where I was preparing to take my sons and head back to our room. Then, a man comes in wearing a speedo and starts swimming laps. Suddenly the table is turned and the loud straight couple is shocked and appalled by this “vulgar display”. They ended up leaving. My boys and I stayed longer and ended up in the hot tub with the man after he finished his workout. He was French. Completely acceptable to wear speedos and swim. My boys were amazed at his swimming ability and equally aggravated by the actions of the couple. I was proud of them.

  8. If your not honest with yourself, spouse and kids then you are doing more harm then good.

    I told my kids they responded with open arms and questions. Once the questions were answered then they became supportive of gay rights.

    When I told my wife, she said she always knew.

    I asked her why she never said anything. She said their was no reason too! She loves me and I love her.

    I have never cheated on her and see knows that.

    Be honest with your family and don’t let it slip out keeping the secret from them and then they find out on their own is way worse then being honest.

    The rest of the world that wants to judge or hurt you and they will. They don’t need to know anything. You have to protect your family.

  9. Well you’re all wrong. All my friends who have gay parents pretend they don’t care in front of their parents(+partners) but those who are straight hate it, It’s embarrassing, and makes normal people queasy thinking about it!

    Protect the kids, don’t even tell them, TRUST ME, they will find out on their own, the longer they don’t know about your problem, the better.

  10. I am pretty sure that you know deep down that you like guys but you went ahead and married a woman and have a kid with her knowing that you are not turned on by girls anymore so yeah you are pretty much lying and cheating to her the whole time.

    If i was your kid, i would question if my dad would have feelings for me because he likes guys, but I’m pretty sure you do and I don’t think you are ashamed of it.

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