I'm a 37-year-old single father with a 14-year-old son. I've raised him on my own, with help from friends and family. Our relationship isn't perfect, but no major issues. Over the past year, however, I have become increasingly convinced that he is gay. I've found gay porn on his laptop (yes, I snoop; I'm his dad), he's shown ZERO interest in girls, and he has always been a tad effeminate, though that's probably an unfair stereotype. I have no problem with gay people and if my son is gay, while it'd require a bit of mental adjustment, I'd love and support him.
My son has a friend, let's call him "Gomer." Sometimes they're here when I'm not, and often they're alone together with the door closed. If Gomer were a girl, these things wouldn't be allowed. I've had the (straight) sex talk with my son, and he knows that I don't want him to be sexually active yet. I have no specific knowledge that anything has happened between them. But if my son were gay, I would have stricter rules regarding male friends. BUT HOW DO I BROACH THE SUBJECT?
He's a sensitive kid, and I worry he'd lie or resent me. And if he's not gay, I worry I could seriously damage our relationship by suggesting he is.
Dad Under Duress
"In an ideal world, Dad Under Duress would take a roundabout way to encourage his son to come out to him," says John Schwartz, a father of three, and the author of Oddly Normal: One Family's Struggle to Help Their Teenage Son Come to Terms with His Sexuality. "Instead of a direct confrontation — are you gay or what? — DUD could make gay issues a part of the day's conversation. Discuss issues like same-sex marriage and stories in the newspaper that bring up LGBT themes. In that middle ground between pushing and ignoring, his son might decide that his dad is safe to come out to."
Whenever possible, queer kids should be allowed to reveal their sexuality on their own timetable, Schwartz emphasizes, but there are times when a parent has to force the issue. For instance, if a not-yet-out gay kid is in crisis, or if a parent stumbles over evidence that a not-yet-out gay kid is doing something risky, a parent should go the "are you gay or what?" route. You already know your son is gay — "Browsers don't lie," says Schwartz — and the fact that he might be breaking house rules may rise to the level of "are you gay or what?"
"If he'd tell a hetero boy to keep his door open, a gay boy should get the same message," says Schwartz. "He's not being insensitive. He's being the dad. He should keep in mind, though, that if his son is already having sex, telling him he can't do it at home is likely to send them off to places — to school, to a car — where getting caught could have bigger consequences than getting grounded."
Let's recall why — generally speaking — parents frown on straight kids having friends of the opposite sex in their bedrooms: An unplanned pregnancy can derail two young lives. While a couple of gay boys can get into trouble, and while sexually transmitted infections are a concern, Gomer isn't going to knock up your son. So if your gut tells you that your son would be traumatized if you forced him to come out, you might wanna let him think he's putting one over on his clueless dad.
John Schwartz shared your letter with Joseph Schwartz, the gay son whose coming-out story John tells in Oddly Normal. Joseph thinks it's time for a gay sex talk.
"Gay kids need sex education more than straight ones," Joseph says. Even the best sex-ed classes focus on male-female. "There's less reliable information about gay sex than there is about straight sex," Joseph says, so gay kids turn to the Internet — or to porn — for information. And, as Joseph points out, "half of it could be physically dangerous, and the rest is poorly explained."
"If he's lucky," says Schwartz, "DUD lives near an LGBT center with a youth program, which will help his son find a community and also get a healthy dose of sex-ed and risk reduction. If not, he could be in for an uncomfortable conversation or two. But the underlying message you'll be sending is that you care, and that you're the dad."
Oddly Normal is a terrific book, and any parent with a queer kid should read it — and since any kid could be queer, every parent should read it. You can follow John Schwartz on Twitter @jswatz, and there's a good interview with Joseph Schwartz at the Atlantic: tinyurl.com/oddlynormal.
What are the effects of perpetuating the myth that gay men should all be tanned and chiseled Adonises? Because that is all one sees.
Not All Adonises
In the last 24 hours of media consumption, I've seen my fair share of tanned and chiseled Adonises. I've also seen pictures or video of Bayard Rustin, Barney Frank, Harvey Fierstein, Harvey Milk, Daniel Hernandez Jr., Ian McKellen, Evan Wolfson, Jinkx Monsoon, Jared Polis, Bruce Vilanch, Alan Turing, George Kalogridis and more. All great guys who have made or are making a difference, but not one of whom ever aspired to be an underwear model.
Images of perfect male bodies can fuel body-image issues. Gay men in particular are at higher risk of anorexia, bulimia and "bigorexia," a.k.a. muscle dysmorphia, a.k.a. "gay dude who lives at the gym." So images of tanned and chiseled Adonises can do harm. But if all one sees are Adonises, then that's all one is looking for.
Yes, the media focuses too much on the young and the hot. But if you're not seeing gay men of all ages, shapes and colors, it's because you're choosing not to see them. Open your eyes.
Find the Savage Lovecast (my weekly podcast) every Tuesday at thestranger.com/savage.