I am delighted to have a guest blog post from Wesley Davidson today.
Wesley is an award-winning writer. She has written articles on health and childcare for such publications as Good Housekeeping, Adoptive Families, and American Baby She is on a panel of experts for the on-line publication, KIDZEDGE.com. Wesley has been on Internet radio, cable TV, and lectured to business groups.
She is currently collaborating with Dr. Tobkes, a New York City psychiatrist, on an advice book for straight parents of gay and lesbian children. She writes the blog Straight Parent, Gay Kid in which she offers support to parents on raising gay and lesbian children and also writes about LGBTQ issues on gay agenda.com.
Sexual Orientation Doesn’t Necessarily Show Up Right Away
Not every parent is as cognizant as John Schwartz, a national reporter for The New York Times and author of his memoir about raising a gay child Oddly Normal (Gotham Books). In Schwartz’s family, by the time his youngest son Joe came out at age 13, Schwartz and his wife had “progressed from inkling to conviction.” Their toddler Joe wore a feather boa around the house and pleaded for pink light-up sneakers with rhinestones.
Schwartz’s hunch, as it turned out, was right. While some kids may self-identify as gay or lesbian as young as three, others may not know they are gay until their adult years. Time tells.
How Can You Tell If Your Child Is LGBTQ?
It’s hard for parents to know. You can’t necessarily tell by looking at your children if they are gay. Heck, the kids may not even know themselves.
Many teens may wonder if they are gay or bisexual. It’s normal for them to have sexual feelings for both the same and opposite gender partners. They experiment with the same, or opposite gender relationships as they try to discover and develop their identities. Sometimes, their experiences are the signs of their sexual orientation, sometimes they aren’t. Or, it may just be a simple process of questioning.
Gay Is In The Eye Of The Beholder
If parents perceive that all male children must be sports-oriented, “rough-and-tumble” by nature, then they will be aghast at seeing their son playing house or with his sister’s Barbies. Does this necessarily indicate that this child is gay or is this behavior a reflection of society’s perception of how a male should not act or a parent’s read of behavior that’s not boyish or expected ?
Similarly, if a daughter refuses to wear dresses and plays football on a mostly-male football team, is she considered a feminist-in-the-making, a “tomboy” or a future lesbian? It depends on who is judging her according to their standards of how a girl should act.
Don’t Out Your Child
Even if you suspect your child is gay, you don’t want to force your suspicion down his/her throat to try and get a confession. You may be dying to know, but it’s up to your child to educate you when he/she is ready. Your kid may not want to disappoint you with the big news. He/she may be in denial. Or, he/she may simply not know. After all, it’s his/her story.
Offer Acceptance, Not Judgment
Carolyn Wagner, Former National Vice-President of Parents of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) said a good place to start is with a statement that offers acceptance instead of judgment. Accepting dialogue lets Mom and Dad be approachable and open to discussion about sexual identity.
Some Sample Ice-Breakers
Ask open-ended questions with a light touch. It’s non-threatening to talk about others, rather than about yourself. For example:
- What do YOU think of same-sex marriage?
- Should celebrities be outed or feel they have to be come out to their fans? Why should it matter?
- Do shows like Modern Family depict a gay family as normal as the straight ones?
- Why is the teen suicide rate higher for youth who identify as LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Queer) than for straight youth?
- Why are businesses like Starbuck’s and Oreo stepping forward to be allies with LGBTQ causes while others like Chick-Fil-A are thriving while espousing anti-gay philosophy?
- Why do some churches accept gays and others tout condemnation based on their interpretation of the Bible? Isn’t religion about universal love and acceptance of all human beings?
- What does your school do for its diverse population?
- Are most of your friends having sex (define sex as it is interpreted differently by persons, often according to their beliefs and upbringing).
Sometimes teens who are considering coming out start by testing their parents’ perception of being LGBTQ by gauging their reactions to gay characters on television or religious leaders and remarks on same-sex relationship.
Your Kids Need to See You As An Ally
By bringing up these open-ended talks that can be discussed many times, you’re making your home a safe haven where any subject can be broached. In this environment your adolescent is more apt to open up about his/her sexuality.
By now, you’ve probably had the talk about “the birds and the bees.” Hopefully, it’s an ongoing discussion that includes STI prevention.
Just as important as discussions about disease is imparting your values about love and sexuality to your child. By teaching them that civil rights are for all people, you are teaching an inclusive attitude and tolerance for all individuals. These attitudes open the gateway for acceptance and security for your child.
Stability and Permanence
Parental support is so important for a gay child. In fact, studies show that positive reactions by parents of gay adolescent result in happier and healthier youth. In fact, The Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University has ongoing studies that show that gay teens whose parents accept their sexual orientation are less likely to do drugs, be depressed, or attempt suicide than gay teens with parents who react badly to their news about being gay. These conversations can save your child’s life.
Thanks for this great resource! I just wanted to point out it is challenging when gender and sexuality get conflated, and this piece about gay children, uses the acronym that includes trans* people, although may of the suggestions here are most relevant to gay kids.
Especially because parents might not always know, these questions and topics should be conversations in all families, not just those who might have gay kids.
I agree, Sarah. It’s my intention to write a follow-up to this piece that talks about this very issue.
Great to hear Karen!
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