Have you ever wondered if a child, perhaps even your own, might be gay? If so, you’re not theÃ?Â first parent who has.Ã?Â Perhaps the better question is: How do you handle it if he or she comes toÃ?Â you and says, “Mom, Dad, I’m gay!” When should you start to suspect that your child might beÃ?Â gay? How early do signs of homosexuality present themselves? What do you do if your little boyÃ?Â wants to play with Barbie…or your little girl wants to play with toy trucks in the mud?
For starters, just because a child appears to be drawn to other-gender specific activities or play, it does not mean that they will become gay adults. It’s not uncommon for girls and boys to pretend to be the opposite-sex on occasion, particularly if they see an older sibling or same-sex friends having a great time with a certain activity, such as, for boys, going to town with mom’s make-up kit, or, for girls, physically wrestling each other to the ground. The official psychological term for these types of behaviors is “gender nonconformity.” Young preschoolers may play doctor or imitate adults’ kissing and hugging; these are all signs of normal curiosity and have no bearing on sexual orientation.
We don’t have al ot of data on what kids do and don’t do sexually. Whether and when they do anything depends on psychological, environmental and biological factors, such as, when they start producing sex hormones. Some children experiment with homosexual behavior just as some experiment with heterosexual behavior.
So then is it true that we are born gay? My colleagues in this field of study cannot prove that we are born gay. However, there appears to be a continuum of sexuality; we all fit somewhere on the curve between masculinity and femininity . This could explain why some adult males who claim to have had a tendency towards homosexuality but either because of religion or the desire to have children, they chose a heterosexual lifestyle, were able to do so. For other gay men, that idea is preposterous that they could be anything different than gay.
When do these behaviors in children then start to mean more than just experimentation? Bottom-line: Research shows that if a boy repeatedly, and over a long period of time, plays dress-up, prefers social games to rougher ones, and only wants to be with girls, etc., it may indeed be significant. If he continues to choose these activities over and over again, then it’s likely not a passing phase and it’s often predictive of homosexuality in adulthood in males. (Please keep in mind that not all homosexual males exhibit such feminine characteristics yet they consider themselves gay.) Girls, however, who seem to prefer “boy” things are not as likely to turn out to be gay. We don’t know why exactly. Perhaps it’s because girls tend to do more boy activities naturally speaking or there’s just more leeway for girls to be tomboys than there is for boys to be feminine.
When your child comes to you and says, “Mom, Dad…I’m gay,” what happens or at least what should you do?
BREATHE ~ HIT THE PAUSE BUTTON
We don’t know what it means just yet. What does happen is often hysteria…..internally if not externally. What flashes in a parent’s mind is anything from, “where did I go wrong as a parent” to “what will the neighbors or my family think;” or “now my child will die of Aids” to “this is a horrific sin and my child is going to hell.” Other worries are, “How will society treat my child? What persecution will they suffer? Will they ever be happy?”
EXPRESS UNCONDITIONAL LOVE
Mom and Dad, forget about yourself in this moment. You will never fully understand the tremendous courage it takes for a child to come forward and say, in essence, “this may make be completely un-loveable and broken in your eyes….” What a child needs most, unconditional love and acceptance. They are the same person they were just one minute before this disclosure. Never turn your back! Tell him, “If you think you are gay, it will be alright. We will deal with this. We are a family and we will do this together! There is no shame in being gay. I will always be there for you no matter what. I love you absolutely and completely. Nothing would ever change that. You are and will always be my son!”
MOURNE THE LOSS ~ PREPARE TO EMBRACE TRUTH
Parents need to do their own coming-out process. There is a mourning ~ you need to grieve what you thought adulthood would be like for this child. And prepare to embrace what will be. I think a gay adult child will understand a parent’s mourning. They, too, are mourning what they thought life might be or should be. Perhaps not every gay man or woman feels this way, but many have often said to me, “Liz, do you really think I would choose this lifestyle that the world despises or rejects?” It’s an honest response to something that we have little understanding of or a framework for. An adult child would prefer to see their parent grieve for a period of time than reject them or their sexual orientation.
CREATE A SAFE HAVEN
Educate yourself, deepen your ability to love, and reach out to other parents of gay children. Do whatever it takes to build a safe haven for your child to come and talk to you about his or her homosexual lifestyle. Remember, there is a wide continuum between masculinity and femininity. Keep this is mind as you hear them vacillate between wanting to embrace the gay lifestyle and wanting a traditional heterosexual family lifestyle. Or, perhaps your adult child labels themselves as gay but chooses not to act on that lifestyle. We don’t know how it will be for them; we don’t determine that for them. We are just there to listen; empathize and love.
EXPECT AND MODEL SUCCESSFUL ADULTHOOD
What do we want most for our children? Regardless of their sexual preference, we want them to be loving, kind, contributing people who make the world a better place. Help them identify their natural gifts, talents and abilities. If your son has a knack for fashion or the arts, encourage him to be the best in his field. If he or she wants a successful relationship, model what it is to be a loving, faithful partner. Expect the best from them; gay or straight.
“Straight Parents Gay Children: Keeping Families Together,” Bernstein, R.A.
“Beyond Acceptance.” Griffin, Wirth & Wirth.
Something to Tell You: The Road Families Travel when a Child is Gay,” Herdt & Koff.
“Coming Out, Coming Home,” LaSala.
Documentary: “For the Bible Tells Me So.” (forthebibletellsmeso.org)