There’s a reason he hasn’t come out to you yet.
By Dave Holmes
Making your way through this cruel, confounding, ever-changing world is difficult. Something make you anxious this week, or any week? Lay it on me at email@example.com. I’m here to help you minimize the damage you will necessarily inflict on the world just by being alive.
So, what’s your problem?
I have a 17-year-old son, and I am fairly sure he is gay. He is not out, although I don’t know if he might be to any close friends. What’s hardest for me as his dad is that I know that this time of life can be confusing and frustrating to any kid, and I only know the experience of a straight guy. I can’t imagine how much harder or more complicated it must be for him. I would love to be able to be more supportive of him, but I certainly am not going to confront him.
Since your column a couple of weeks ago was advice for coming out to your family, my related question is: What advice do you have for the family of someone who hasn’t yet come out?
Mark, you are one hell of a father, so first and foremost: thank you. You’re attuned to your kid’s developing identity, you’re not trying to change him, and you’re considering how your words and behavior will affect him down the road. I’m not a parent, but I know these are all difficult and necessary things. You are actively improving your son’s quality of life just by thinking about them. Well done.
Here’s a story to illustrate what you should definitely not do. Years ago, when I was not much older than your son, I was at home on a Sunday night flipping through the TV channels with my mother. Not much was on: a Murder She Wrote we’d already seen; a Parker Lewis Can’t Lose she wouldn’t have understood; probably an actual opera in Italian on A&E or Bravo, because that’s actually what those networks used to give you. I paused on our local PBS affiliate, where a huge choir was singing, and after a few seconds I realized it was the Gay Men’s Chorus of some city or another doing a fundraising concert.
I stopped there, just to see what would happen. At this time in my life, I was 99 percent certain I was gay, though nowhere near ready to spring it on my parents. We had no gay people in our lives back then, no way to gauge my family’s level of tolerance. And here it was: the most passive, least courageous way I could drag the topic into the family room, kicking and singing.
We had no gay people in our lives back then, no way to gauge my family’s level of tolerance.
We watched as they delivered a rendition of what I remember as “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” because either they or my memory are unforgivably basic. But it was gorgeous. Stirring and brave and subversive, coming as it did in a time before marriage equality was on the map, a time when you only saw gay people on the news. I got chills.
Then they finished, and my mom turned to me and said, “I really pity them.”
I switched it to Parker Lewis and left the room.
Now, I am comfortable telling you this story now because it was ages ago, she has come a long way since then, and also there’s a zero percent chance she’s ever going to read this because it’s on the computer. But it stands as evidence that sometimes saying nothing is the stronger choice
Good on you for not point-blank asking your son whether he’s gay. You are probably going to be the last person he tells. That doesn’t mean that he doesn’t trust you or that you didn’t make it an easy enough process for him. It means one simple, inescapable thing: Once you have told your dad you’re gay, there is no going back. You have given your final answer, and you are locking it in. And what if it all just lifts one day, and you wake up straight, and then you get married and have to spend your whole wedding day wondering whether your dad is thinking about what you told him that one time?
Right now, if your instinct is correct, your son is sorting through all of his competing urges and trying to determine which are his and which belong to society. Right now, everything is possible. You are probably correct that the confusion and frustration he’s experiencing is different than what you and all teenagers have gone through. But as to whether it’s harder, it’s all relative. This is the only adolescence he’s ever going to have. And as you know from personal experience, it’s not like straight teenagers are dying for their parents’ involvement in their relationships and identity development. Right now, he has to be secretive, not because he’s gay, but because he’s 17. And if his personal experience is indeed tougher than his peers’, then he will end up tougher than his peers.
I’d love to say that you should do a big, showy “Hey, I sure do like those gay people” at the dinner table. I want to tell you to find out when Brokeback Mountain is on HBO and then accidentally turn it on right at the beginning when he’s in the room. I wish it were as simple and CBS-sitcommy as invite the gay guy from work to family bowling night. But it isn’t. Don’t do any of these things. At this age, kids are not only wildly self-conscious, they are also you-conscious. They know what you’re trying to do and what you’re asking without asking. Any well-meaning attempt to raise The Topic is only going to make him more nervous.
At this age, kids are not only wildly self-conscious, they are also you-conscious.
The one thing you can do, which I suspect you’re already doing, is to make him feel like a secure and separate person. To chisel away at the shame our culture hangs on all of us. To make him strong in his opinions and choices, even when they wouldn’t be yours. Discuss the news of the day with him, and when he makes a point that differs from yours, thank him for giving you a fresh perspective. Do what you can to make him feel like he can stand on his two feet, even when he’s standing apart from you. It’s a skill he’ll need, no matter which side of the fence he eventually lands on.
No matter what you do, know one important thing: He’s 17, and he’s probably going to react by rolling his eyes and going to his room. That’s what I did when my own father subtly tried to engage with me long ago. Teens can’t help it. It is their job. But trust me: Your son is listening, and he won’t forget it. (And Dad, wherever you are: I see now what you were doing playing so much Wham! in your car, and I appreciate it.)
But again, by simply being the kind of person who asks a question like this, you are doing more than most fathers. This kid is lucky to have you. We all are
Complete Article HERE!
By Alison Walsh
My elder son David was fifteen when he told us he was gay – not that he had actually intended to tell us quite then.
He said he was meeting someone but was evasive as to who this might be? I forced the issue never expecting to hear that this was some guy he had met on line through a gay website.
Alarm bells rung at the possible danger!
David must have guessed we might find the news of him being gay difficult as he kept repeating, “It’s OK Mum, there’s nothing wrong”.
My husband’s first thought was “I love my son. I don’t want to lose my relationship with him”.
As for me, I have an unfortunate knack of sometimes putting my big feet in things.
Whilst reeling from the shock, thankfully I avoided saying anything that my son would feel hurt or rejected by.
We both understood that what mattered most was for David to stay believing in himself and to know that our love and support was unconditional.
David appreciated the way we had accepted his sexuality and to stop us feeling anxious, he agreed to cancel the internet date.
Having “come out” to his friends and immediate family, David visibly looked happier by the day.
Now the ball was in our court. Was it our turn to “come out” as parents of a gay son? Would that be fair to David? Was it for him to decide who and when to tell others or not? At the young age of fifteen, we felt it was. That made it much harder because I wanted to feel accepted too.
Up to the point when David told us he was gay, I had no knowledge or experience of what being LGBT+ meant.
My head was full of fears which were further fuelled when I went on-line and came across far right materials discounting LGBT+ as wrong and blaming being gay on abuse or an unhealthy mother-son relationship.
Was I a bad Mum? I feared being judged. I was worried now how David would be treated. Would his school teachers who had praised him as a role model now think less of him?
Would he find himself rejected as unsuitable to be an RSY Summer Camp Leader?
Having brought my boys up to feel strongly Jewish, I now felt anxious that this might not sit comfortably with fully accepting and supporting David’s sexuality.
My Jewishness is all bound up in family and home, celebrating Friday night and all the family traditions. So for validation and support, I turned to my Jewish roots. As I said, I wasn’t ready to “come out” publicly and so like my son before he “came out”, I turned to the privacy of the internet for help. I tapped into Google “Jewish Mum of gay son” and up came “Parents of Jewish Gays and Lesbians” with a number you could phone in confidence.
Going for the first time to the group “Parents of Jewish Gays and Lesbians”, I was scared as to quite who I would find there.
The wonderful thing was how unbelievably just like the two of us the other parents all were. They could have come straight out of any Shul – parents anxious to do right by their children. We were no longer on our own.
Hearing from other parents and sharing our own story in a Jewish group in which we felt understood and accepted, helped us feel better. The first pernicious lie it immediately destroyed for me was the idea that being gay had anything to do with upbringing or by extension anything I had done or not done. It was a fact of life, period.
A Dad said that the last thing he would ever wish on his son would be to be imprisoned in an unhappy marriage hiding his sexuality. That hit home and made me rethink the dream I had been nurturing of one day seeing my son under the Chuppah with grandchildren to follow. My son had his own life to lead. I just wanted him to be happy and true to himself. And so in the group we parents chatted on into the night. We discussed why it was that so many of our LGBT+ children were going to Shul less? Did our LGBT+ children no longer feel they could count themselves as proper members of the club?
Perhaps like me before I became aware of LGBT+, our kids assumed by default that within Shul life their sexuality was taboo and that they would not be understood or accepted unless they hid their sexuality.
To be fair, if I joined any club, I would want to feel that there was someone there a bit like me and that I wasn’t just going to be tolerated, but actually wanted by the club.
My journey has been much easier than for some as being of my own making – struggling with my own prejudices. Thankfully the positive attitude of both our Shul and my son’s school explains why David has never felt ashamed of his sexuality and why both his friends and our Shul friends when told have had no issues.
In the twilight zone before feeling ready to come out to the world as a Jewish parent of a gay child, it helps to share feelings in the trust of absolute confidentiality with likeminded parent souls who understand. I am now Co-Ordinator for the parents’ group, “Parents of Jewish Gays and Lesbians” which helped me so much and which I would like to see there for other parents.
It is a really important group not just for the parents but also for LGBT+ children as “happy parents make happy kids”. Unfortunately the group is hardly known about so if you get a chance to tell others about the group, I would ask you to please do so.
Complete Article HERE!
Parents play a key role in shaping sexual decision-making among adolescents — especially for girls.
A 2016 review of more than three decades of research found that teenagers who communicated with their parents about sex used safer sexual practices. Likewise, new research from Dutch investigators who studied nearly 3,000 teenagers found that young adolescents who reported feeling close with a parent were unlikely to have had sex when surveyed again two years later.
Notably, both research teams found that daughters benefited more than sons, and that the effective conversations and relationships were typically had with mothers.
According to Laura Widman, lead author of the review study and an assistant professor of psychology at North Carolina State University, “parents tend to talk about sex more with daughters than with sons, and we can speculate that that’s what’s probably driving these findings. Boys may not get the messages as frequently or have the kind of in-depth conversations that parents are having with girls.”
Given the results of her research, Dr. Widman said that she “wouldn’t want parents to get the idea that they only need to talk to daughters. In fact, it may be the opposite. We need to find a way to help parents do a better job of communicating with both their sons and daughters so that all teens are making safer sexual decisions.”
That parents have more frequent conversations with their daughters about sex and sexual development may be prompted by biological realities. Menstruation, HPV vaccination (which remains more common in girls than boys), and the fact that birth control pills require a prescription might spur discussions that aren’t being had with sons.
Yet experts also agree that gender stereotypes play a powerful role in sidelining both fathers and sons when it comes to conversations about emotional and physical intimacy. Andrew Smiler, a psychologist who specializes in male sexual development, noted that women generally “have a better vocabulary for talking about feelings and relationships than boys and men do. Fathers may be a little more stoic, more reserved and more hands-off.” And, he added, “they may play to the stereotype of trusting boys to be independent and able to care for themselves.”
These same stereotypes can also tend to steer the conversation in one direction with daughters and another direction with sons. When parents do address sexual topics with their teenagers, they typically adopt a heterosexual frame with boys playing offense and girls playing defense.
“We usually view our girls as potential victims who need to be protected from pregnancy and rape,” says Sheryl Ziegler, a psychologist who provides mother-daughter seminars on puberty and sexual development, while boys are often cast as testosterone-fueled prowlers looking for nothing but sex. These assumptions often drive how parents approach the conversation. Dr. Mary Ott, an associate professor of pediatrics at Indiana University and the author of a research synopsis on sexual development in adolescent boys observed that, “when parents talk with boys, there’s an assumption that they’ll have sex and they are advised to use condoms. Whereas for girls, there’s more of a focus on abstinence and delaying sex.”
Parental concern about the negative consequences of adolescent sexual activity can reduce “the talk” to a laundry list of don’ts. Don’t get a sexually transmitted infection, don’t get pregnant or get a girl pregnant and don’t proceed without gaining consent. Critical as these topics are, Dr. Ziegler points out that they can “become the focus, so much more than having a quality conversation about why we are sexual beings, or talking about all of the ways we can express love.” And failing to acknowledge the pleasurable side of sex can, according to Dr. Smiler, hurt the credibility of adults. “When parents only acknowledge the scary side of the story,” he said, “teenagers can devalue everything else the parents have to say.”
So how might we do justice to conversations with both our daughters and sons about emotional and physical intimacy?
Over the years in my work as a clinician, I’ve come to a single tack that I take with adolescent girls and boys alike. First, I prompt teenagers to reflect on what they want out of the sexual side of their romantic life, whenever it begins. Why are they being physically intimate, what would they like to have happen, what would feel good?
Following that, I encourage each teenager to learn about what his or her partner wants. I urge them to secure not just consent, but enthusiastic agreement. Given that we also grant consent for root canals, gaining mere permission seems, to me, an awfully low bar for what should be the joys of physical sexuality. Dr. Smiler adds that any conversation about consent should avoid gender stereotypes and address the fact that boys experience sexual coercion and assault and “include the idea that boys can and do say no.”
Finally, if the parties are enthusiastically agreeing to sexual activity that comes with risks — pregnancy, infection, the potential for heartbreak, and so on — they need to work together to address those hazards.
Research suggests that this shouldn’t be a single sit-down. The more charged the topic, the better it is served, and digested, in small bites.
Further, returning to the topic over time allows parents to account for the rapidly shifting landscape of adolescent sexual activity. We should probably be having one conversation with a 12-year-old, an age when intercourse is rare, and a different one with a 17-year-old, half of whose peers have had sex.
Is it better for mom or dad to handle these discussions? Teenagers “want to have the conversation with someone they trust and respect and who will show respect back to the teen,” Dr. Smiler said. “Those issues are more important than the sex of the person having the conversation.”
How families talk with teenagers about their developing sexuality will reflect the parents’ values and experiences but, Dr. Ott notes, we’re all in the business of raising sexually healthy adults.
“We want our teenagers to develop meaningful relationships and we want them to experience intimacy,” she said, “so we need to move our conversations about sex away from sex as a risk factor category and toward sex as part of healthy development.” And we need to do so with our sons as well as our daughters.
Complete Article HERE!
If you don’t, let me tell you who will…
Many parents find it difficult to talk about sex and intimacy with their children. No one ever taught them how, and it’s understandably uncomfortable. But like anything else, as a parent you need to figure out how and when to discuss sex and intimacy with your child before society does.
Today’s children are at greater risk of developing a warped view of sex and intimacy than ever before. They desperately need you to explain to them your view of what healthy sex and intimacy look like.
When I use the phrase ”warped view” I’m not referring to kinky sex practices or alternative sexuality. I’m far more concerned about the average views regarding sex and sexuality and how they are communicated.
Research shows that young people receive most of their modeling around sexual behavior from the media — in particular, pornography.
Don’t misunderstand me. This is not an anti-pornography stance. My concerns here revolve around the fact young people are getting the majority of their information from such an impersonal source.
While attending the recent TED Women Conference, what I heard from speaker Peggy Orenstein chilled me to the bone.
Orenstein conducted research focused on girls and sex. She performed an in-depth interview with a group of 70 racially and ethnically diverse girls between the ages of 15 and 20 who identified as either college bound or already in college. Among the group, 10 percent placed themselves on the sexuality spectrum as being either lesbian or bisexual.
Research shows a high prevalence of sexual assault occurs on college campuses. Even in our modern culture we still have difficulty navigating discussions of consent without the inevitable spiral into talk of “false allegations.”
As the mother of a 14 ½-year-old son who has been raised in a complicated family, I strive to give him the tools necessary for negotiating the minefield of sexual and intimate relationships.
- He has a variety of people he can talk to about these decisions who I know will always have his back.
- He knows that he needs to discover his own desires, likes, and dislikes.
- He knows that his body belongs to him.
- He knows about consent.
- He knows to treat his partners with respect and not to be judgmental.
- He also knows that talking about these things, though potentially embarrassing, is essential to having healthy and satisfying long-term sexual relationships.
As an intimacy coach and a psychologist, I remain concerned for those kids raised in homes in which their parents never even mention sex, the children whose parents are never physically affectionate in front of them, and those in homes in which too much adult sexual behavior is seen.
Paul Bryant, a professor of telecommunications at Indiana University Bloomington, highlights the trouble faced by children learning about sex through pornography in his “sexual script theory” regarding the sexual socialization of teens.
For today’s teen, pornography lays down internal scripts for a variety of sexual behaviors and scenarios.
If parents do not present an alternative view, the only model for how to behave in sexual relationships will come from media — not just pornography, but from music and music videos as well. Without the safeguard of knowing they have a non-judgmental parent to discuss with what they see and learn, they have no meaningful way to understand and consider the positives and negatives among the variety of sexual scripts they see in order to weigh their feeling about the perceived possibilities.
There is no easy fix to this discussion.
As adults, we need to examine the way we relate to sex and how we talk about it with each other. As we become more comfortable talking about sex with our own partners and peers, we will become more confident about discussing it as a parent as well.
To get you on your way, here are 4 steps you can take to begin addressing the problem and have conversations with your child about sex — starting right now.
1. Take a look at your own experiences of sex and sexuality.
If you have experienced sexual trauma, this is the time to resolve any issues that remain charged or live for you. You may need help to do this or you may already get help through your social support network.
If you haven’t experienced sexual trauma, this is the time to look at any issues, stuck places, and/or negative thought patterns you have in relation to sex and sexual relationships. You can work through this on your own, with your partner, or with your social support network as well.
2. Learn about what is normal for your children at each stage of development.
Try to do this without judgment. Have a look at what your children are being exposed to in your wider culture. Each of us has our own moral code, and moral codes are constructed whereas sexual development is built as part of a biological process.
You may believe that masturbation is a sin, but this is a moral belief. Biologically, ALL children discover that when they touch their genitals, it feels good. This is the way human beings are constructed. Healthy and comprehensive personal development depends on the combination of biological, psychological, spiritual, and moral development, as well as development that is culture specific.
3. Create a safe space to have intimate conversations with your children.
This may seem like a given, but many homes offer no safe space for a child to bring up issues around sex and sexuality. In many families, these topics are dealt with by simply handing children reading materials. There are some excellent books out there to help children with all manner of topics relating to sex and sexuality, but books are not a substitute for a home environment that fosters safe conversation.
Your children need a place where they can get questions answered. Start creating that safe space to talk about emotions first (if you haven’t already). Once your children are used to talking about more difficult topics and you are used to dealing with these without judgment, with acceptance, and in a way that fosters growth, then you can begin to have the talks about sex.
4. Find out what is age appropriate for your child and pitch your conversation to that level.
Talking to a five-year-old who asks where babies come from is very different from answering a question about how you get pregnant from a 10-year-old. Keep the conversations short and sweet. Do use videos, audio recordings, and books as aids, and encourage your children to come back to you with questions.
Set up a consistent routine so your child knows there will always be a time and a place to bring up these topics. If you’re not comfortable having these sorts of conversations with your child OR your child is too embarrassed to talk to you, make sure you have an alternate trusted adult (or a few) the child knows they can feel free to approach. Children thrive when they have more than one viewpoint to consider about this amazing, yet complicated part of life.
Remember that this is a process that will continue to take shape throughout your child’s development.
If you do so, then your young adult will also come to you with questions and your adult child will be much more likely to create satisfying intimate relationships for himself or herself.
Children who have self-knowledge and an understanding of the joy and dangers of sex are at lower the risk of becoming victims of sexual assaults.
The more knowledge you possess, the more quickly you are apt to take a firm stance, and therefore the more likely you are to be seen by a perpetrator as a difficult target. Perpetrators go for the softest targets they can find, so the harder a target you make yourself, the more you lower your risks.
So go have that talk!
Complete Article HERE!