I’m writing about my 14-year-old son. He’s my only child and his father and I are divorced. I think he might be gay and I don’t know if I should try to talk to him about it or what I should say.
While cleaning up his room on Friday, I found a box in his closet. The box contained a lot of my clothes and several packs of my cigarettes (mostly empty). I also found letters that he had written to me but never gave me.
In all the letters he tells me how good he feels when he dresses up in my clothes and “smokes like a woman” and how he wants to be just like me, and that he hopes I’ll understand. In the letters he says that he’s been dressing up and smoking since he was twelve and that smoking makes him feel feminine.
I’m not sure what to do. Should I just pretend I never found his box or should I try to talk to him about it and not mention what I found in his closet? I like to consider myself open-minded and I think I can accept his sexuality and the smoking, but I don’t know how to bring up the subject in a way that won’t scare him off or make him feel as if he can’t trust me.
I don’t know what kind of agreement of privacy and boundaries you have with your son, but it’s hard to image that while you were cleaning the room of a child who is old enough to do it himself, you found it necessary to not only pick up after him, but also tidy up the inside of his closet. And not just that, need to tidy up the inside of a mysterious box and then…ooops…accidentally read his letters.
I’m thinking this wasn’t an innocent discovery. You were looking for something. And you found it.
Two main issues here: gender and smoking. I’ll start with gender.
The most important thing is that you are not freaking out and not plotting to “fix” him or kick him out of the house. His letters say he was afraid to tell you, so he needs to know that it is safe for him to be open with you. You can do this without actually revealing that you violated his privacy. The fact that he is stashing your clothes is a great excuse to bring it up casually. He might reveal everything right away, but more likely your conversation will go something like this:
You: Have you seen my [item of clothing of yours that you know is in the box]?
You: Hmmm…I can’t seem to find it. Are you sure you haven’t seen it anywhere?
You: Well if you do want to borrow any of my clothes, that’s just fine with me, as long as I get them back, okay?
Son: WHAT? Mom! Oh my god! What do you think I am, some freak or something?
You: I don’t think you are a freak at all. I know that some men like to try on women’s clothing, that’s all. It wouldn’t make you a freak and it wouldn’t make me love you any less.
Son: Whatever, mom…
You: Well, if you want to talk to me about anything, I’m here for you, any time. You know I love you no matter what, right?
Son: WHATEVER, MOM!!!
Kids are listening, even when they make a point to communicate to you that they aren’t. By leaving the door open, he will know he doesn’t have to fear your reaction.
Now, about the smoking. That needs to be a separate, and more direct conversation that you have not once, but several times. Obviously seeing you smoke has made an impression on your son. You, the most influential woman in his life, are a smoker. As a result he associates smoking with femininity. Cut that association right now. Tell him how you are addicted to cigarettes, and that there is nothing desirable or feminine about struggling with an addiction. If you are not willing or currently able to quit, then at least stop smoking in his presence.
Be specific and explicit about the affects of smoking. According to the American Legacy Foundation, limited research suggests that the rate of smoking in LGBT communities is twice the rate of heterosexuals who smoke. What’s more, 80% of smokers get hooked before they turn 18. For more information targeted at youth to prevent or stop tobacco use, visit the link page on American Legacy Foundation’s page of links directed to young people.
On the issue of gender identity, with your love and reassurance that there’s no reason to be ashamed, your son will have the freedom to figure out things our for himself. He may be gay, transgender, or a heterosexual who likes women’s clothes. In the meantime, help him stay safe and healthy. There is nothing “open-minded” about accepting the fact that your 14-year-old using tobacco. Help him quit for good before he falls victim to this life-shortening habit.
“Listening to Gender Variant Children: A Humanistic Strategy for Advocates”
A lecture by Shannon Minter, NCLR
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