Q. I think my 14-year-old-son who is an only child might be gay. It is something I always had in the back of my mind because he has always been different and quite effeminate, but now I feel there are more definite signs in what he is saying and what he is wearing, etc. To be honest, I feel I would be fine about it, though part of me would be sad that I won’t be having any grandchildren. I would worry a lot for him though. We live in a small rural town and I’d worry that he would get picked on or bullied if he came out as being gay. I think my husband, who is very religious, will have a bigger problem if our son is gay. When I raised the possibility directly with my husband, he was clearly uncomfortable and dismissed angrily what I was saying. I want to do what’s best for my son. Should I ask him directly or wait until he tells me himself?
A. While it is impossible for you to know from the outside what your son’s sexual orientation is (this is something private for him to work out) it is good that as a parent you are trying to be sensitive to him about this important issue.
Whether straight or gay, lots of teenagers struggle with their sexuality as they work out who they are. Teenagers who finally identify themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual, often find the teenage years particularly challenging as they can feel left out and isolated, especially if they live in families or communities where there are no positive gay or lesbian role models and where there might be widespread homophobia. Indeed, the stress on these teenagers can be great, and they are at a higher risk of depression and other problems. In helping your son through these issues, the important thing is to give him the message that you love and accept him no matter what his sexuality is.
However, it is a delicate issue as to how direct you should be in raising the subject of sexuality with him. If you asked him directly whether he was gay or not, though he might be relieved that the subject is in the open, he also might be deeply embarrassed. He could even react negatively or feel insulted by the question. At 14, he might be still working out his sexual feelings and coming to terms with his orientation, and not be ready for a direct conversation with his mother about it.
In the first instance, it might be better if you are more indirect and subtle in your communication. For example, if the subject came up on the TV or in a newspaper article, you could express a supportive and sensitive view about being gay and communicate the view that people should be accepted and not judged for their sexual orientation.
You could also speak positively about gay role models in the media or in your local community or even within extended family, especially if your son did not know they were gay. You could respond positively and listen to anything he says about the subject. Many teens will sound out their parents to see if they will respond supportively before they tell them something difficult or important in their lives. The key is to give your son the message, indirectly or directly, that you haven’t a problem if he is gay and that you love him regardless. Many gay teenagers do draw comfort from the fact that their parents are okay about their sexuality and it does make it easier for them to come out and talk to them when they are ready.
In your question, you also ask about how your son might be treated if he came out as gay. This is a concern as male teenage culture can still be quite homophobic and a teenager who comes out could be at risk of being teased or bullied. This is especially the case in peer groups that they can’t choose, such as in the classroom. Though there has been a lot of progress in recent times, and schools and youth groups try to promote a more positive culture, it makes sense that young people should be cautious about who and when they tell, and make sure to start with friends and family members they trust.
Even though you might feel that you would be okay with the possibility that your son might be gay, it is important to acknowledge that for many parents this would be a great adjustment. Just like most teens who are gay themselves take some time to come to terms with this fact, so too do their parents.
For many parents, it is often initially experienced as a loss, in that they have to envision a different future for their children that they were not expecting. There are some good Irish organisations that provide information and support, both for parents and teens adjusting to being lesbian gay bisexual or transgender, such as belongto.org that you may be interested in contacting now or later.
If your son did come out as gay, his father might find this more difficult than most especially if he has traditional views about homosexuality. If in the future your son does indicate that he is gay and wants to tell his father, it might be a good idea for you to first talk this through with your husband and help him prepare how to respond.
Even if parents have initial difficulty with accepting their child’s orientation, their love for their child is greater and they can still communicate a positive message. If your husband is religious, there are many religious groups that promote a compassionate understanding of homosexuality that he may be interested in finding out more about such as the Lesbian and Gay Christian movement lgcm.org.uk.
Finally, it is important to acknowledge that you may be jumping the gun with your worries about your son’s sexuality. While it is important that you prepare yourself to be sensitive and understanding as to what your son might tell you, it is also important to give him time and space (as well as privacy) to first work this one out by himself.
John Sharry, Irish Times, September 2011. John writes in The Irish Times Health+ every Tuesday.