When Your Own Kid Might Be Gay

Photo credit: Judy van der  Velden

Photo credit: Judy van der Velden

How do you know if your child is gay? It’s hard to be certain because adolescence is often a time of experimenting sexually, often with both sexes. Studies tell us that it is not uncommon for adolescent boys to explore their sexuality with the same sex.

If you suspect your child may be gay, do you, as a parent, know how to approach the topic with him/her? Do you have the right to ask your child? According to Wesley Davidson, guest writer on Dr. Karen Rayne’s site, your kid will tell you she is gay when she is ready. You may be dying to have your suspicions confirmed, but that can backfire.

In this guest post, Wesley Davidson tackles to DOs and DONTs of discussing sexual identity with your child, particularly if you suspect he/she is gay. Below is a useful list of conversational ice-breakers to try.

Here are some key parenting tips:

  • Do not ask point blank: “Are you gay?” Respect personal boundaries. And don’t force a confession. He or she will tell you when the time is right.
  • Reflect on your own judgments about gender and sexuality. What stereotypes do you subscribe to?
  • Ask you child open-ended question such as his/her opinion of same-sex marriage and offer you positive opinions that demonstrate you accept and respect diversity.
  • Do discuss safer sex, STIs, and contraceptive methods with your child.
  • Be supportive. Studies show that positive reactions by parents of gay teens result in happier and healthier youth.

This article was originally published on Unhushed.

BY DR. KAREN RAYNE | KarenRayne.com

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 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.

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rayne2sm DR. KAREN RAYNE With a doctoral degree is in Educational Psychology, Karen provides advice and support to parents on how to educate their children and teenagers about sex and sexuality. Karen’s knowledge about adolescent development and education provides her with a solid background for guiding parents through these tricky conversations. And, as a college professor, helping young adults grapple with sexuality, she is known to change student’s lives. On twitter @KarenRayne

National Coming Out Day: Tell Me Who You Really Are

Credit: Tojosan

Photo credit: Tojosan

Dr. Karen Rayne writes, “We all have something we can come out about, and we will be the better for it.” National Coming Out Day is an opportunity for observance that begun 26 years ago on the anniversary of National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. It’s a day to celebrate coming out and raise awareness of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ) and ally communities. However you identify, National Coming Out Day offers guides to help you meet the challenges and opportunities of living “out-of-the-closet”.

In celebration, Dr. Rayne facilitates a self-reflective exercise in which students share anonymously with the class what it is about themselves that they hide from others. Read the list of student responses below.

This is an exercise that all people should practice, especially during this day of awareness raising.

This article was originally published at unhushed.net 

BY DR. KAREN RAYNE | KarenRayne.com

National Coming Out Day stands as a reminder to the LGBTQ communities every October 11 th that it is important to come out. For people who discriminate against or do not accept people who identify as LGBTQ, learning that someone they love falls into this community is often the first step towards openness.

In my college class last year I wanted to do something to honor National Coming Out Day that would make this experience of coming out very personal to my students. I wanted them to have at least a little sense of what it means to come out as LGBTQ. I started by asking them why people come out and they came up with a great list of reasons. The students were clearly in favor of coming out – they thought it had all sorts of benefits for the individual, their community, and society at large. Then I asked the students why, given all of these good things, people still don’t come out. Again, they indicated a deep understanding of the issues, the shame, the fear of rejection, the judgment.

I pointed out to my students that most of us, probably every one of us, either has something to come out about currently or has had something to come out about in the past. Something that we feel ashamed of, that we fear rejection about. Most people hide aspects of themselves in certain times and places. The students grasped the connection quickly and were nodding in agreement. I asked them to pull out a piece of paper and write down the thing that they have not come out about and you could hear a pin drop. Eyes were narrowed, a few students started pulling out paper and pen, many did not.

One student voiced the majority concern: “Where are these pieces of paper going?”

I answered: “To me. There were many reasons you listed for why coming out is beneficial. I’m asking you to start that process for yourself here and now. Do not write your name on your paper – this is an entirely anonymous process.”

Almost everyone settled down to write. One young man kept staring at his paper and said, “I’m having a hard time even writing this down anonymously.” Then he took a deep breath and started writing. Coming out is an indication of true bravery.

Some people filled a page, others wrote one terse sentence. I collected the papers, mixed them up, and started reading. Here is what they said (I have shortened the three very long ones):

• I lost my virginity in high school and have not told my mama till this day.

• I was raped and that was how I lost my virginity.

• I don’t identify as a part of the gender dichotomy.

• I was “technically” date raped when I was 17.

• I’ve had bisexual curiosity before and experimented before, when I was 13.

• I get excited about having sex with guys with girlfriends.

• I feel like I am unlovable. I feel like no man will ever want to truly be my person I can rely on.

• I’m a virgin.

• I have HPV and have spread it to 4 different guys.

• I’m a heroin addict. Haven’t used (anything) in two years.

• I’ve had an STI before…

• Though I didn’t do this, I’m ashamed that I was once accused of sexually assaulting a girl who was my ex-girlfriend.

• I was abused by a family member as a child.

• In high school I hung out with a lot of guys. One of them was trying to sexually harass me. I was really scared.

• A lot of people think I’m tougher than I really am. In actuality I’m pretty sensitive.

• When I was in 6th grade, I engaged in mutual sexual activities with someone of the same gender. I’m reluctant to admit this to people out of fear of judgment.

• I told an intricate lie to a significant other in order to keep a relationship going.

• At one time I didn’t want my mother to know that I had been promiscuous.

• I had a miscarriage before.

• When I was eight years old, my sister’s husband molested me in my bedroom. I never told my parents.

I often ask students to write or contribute anonymously to class because it allows everyone to offer their perspective. As we look over anonymous offerings there are usually a few people who claim theirs. No one claimed any of these.

Coming out can be extraordinarily difficult. I wish that there were a greater understanding that we all have something that makes us hide, that society or culture tells us we should be ashamed of. The benefits of coming out are substantial, for ourselves, our society, and our culture.

When I asked if anyone had a reaction they would like to share in response to hearing what their peers have not come out about yet, one student said, “I just didn’t know. I didn’t know that all of these people who have had all those experiences were here in class with me. It makes you think and realize that you don’t know people or why they do the things they do and maybe you shouldn’t judge them.” The other students nodded.

Then I took a deep breath did something that was very scary for me. I said, “Turn around is fair play. So now I am coming out to you. I am gay.”

During the rest of the semester students referred back to this activity many times. In the final course evaluations, about a third of the class said that this activity was the most impactful of anything they had ever done in a college classroom. Coming out is powerful and political and personal.

We all have something we can come out about, and we will be the better for it. What do you have to come out about?

rayne2sm DR. KAREN RAYNE  With a doctoral degree is in Educational Psychology, Karen provides advice and support to parents on how to educate their children and teenagers about sex and sexuality. Karen’s knowledge about adolescent development and education provides her with a solid background for guiding parents through these tricky conversations. And, as a college professor, helping young adults grapple with sexuality, she is known to change student’s lives. On twitter @KarenRayne