What If My Kid’s Gay?
How Do We Know If They’re Marching Toward the Pride Parade?
Wednesday, August 31, 2011
It’s probably unwise to wonder this aloud, but that’s never stopped me before: What if you suspect your child is gay? Or—you know—will be gay eventually?
My own boys seem humdrumly hetero thus far, but I’ve known lots of kids who bucked traditional gender stereotypes to the extent that I wondered if they were gays-in-the-making.
A person’s sexual orientation can be neither truly discovered nor fully revealed until said person is, well, sexual. And yet there are those kids …
“My daughter has always wanted boy toys and boy clothes and her best buddies are boys. I’d say she was a possible future Chaz,” says a friend of mine, only half-jokingly. “But it’s hard to say. Boy clothes really are more comfortable, and boy games more fun. Ever play Pretty Pretty Princess?!”
Another friend suspects her kindergartner may wave a rainbow flag one day. “He loves to play beauty shop, has known the difference between mascara and eyeliner since he was three, and will always comment on a new haircut or dress. He’s obsessed with drawing hearts and rainbows and has told me that he’d like to marry boys,” she says. “Perhaps this is all typical 5-year-old boy stuff … but my guess is that it isn’t so much.”
How do we know, though, if they’re merely staunch individualists, or if they’re in fact marching toward the Pride Parade? More importantly—why do we care?
Though we may have hunches about our kids, experts say we can’t ever really tell.
“A parent’s suspicions can run ahead of a child’s awareness,” says Texas psychologist David Sabine. “But no one ever ‘knows’ before the gay person knows about it personally.”
Or, as gay Iowa psychiatrist Loren Olson says, “We don’t become ‘gay’ until we begin to self-identify as gay.”
And it’s important not to rush them.
“I didn’t come out until I was 40,” says Dr. Olson, author of Finally Out: Letting Go of Living Straight, a Psychiatrist’s Own Story. He played football as a boy because it was expected of him, but what he really wanted was to dance, sew, and twirl a baton. “I would have been very threatened [as a teen] if someone had said, ‘You don’t like sports; you must be gay.’”
Even if you’re way gay-friendly—even if you’re Straight But Not Narrow, as the new online campaign advocates—you might be uneasy about having a gay child. It’s not the easiest path through life.
“We want to protect our children from whatever pain we can,” says Dr. Olson, who has two daughters and six grandkids himself. “Being gay presents certain difficulties, including bullying, rejection, shaming, and, of course, in extreme cases, hate-related aggression.”
So, what can we do with that sizable wad of worry? How can we prepare ourselves—and our kids—for what may well be an anxiety-taxed discovery process for both parties?
First, advises Dr. Sabine, “Let go of the idea that you have any say in the matter, or any influence. It would be like trying to ‘worry’ your child into being six feet tall rather than 5‘6”. It’s simply above your pay grade.”
Then show your kids that you’re on their side—whichever side that winds up being. “When the issue of homosexuality comes up in a movie or in the news, let your children hear you express acceptance of those who are gay,” he says. “Even though my children are apparently straight, they’ve heard me say, ‘If God decides that a certain number of children will be gay, I wish God would give me one so that I could love them and support them the way that they should be.’”
Starshine Roshell is the author of Wife on the Edge.