I’m the father of a gay son.
It seems like a bald statement, but I see no point in a dramatic or coy buildup.
Close family and friends have known for a couple of years, but I haven’t written about it out of respect for his privacy. I knew I would eventually. But I wasn’t about to say, in effect: “You’re gay? Cool. Can I write about it?”
However, with my son’s permission, it’s time for me to “come out.” Why? Because this is an experience some of you will have and I want you to know it can be OK.
I won’t pretend I didn’t blink. Even though my wife and I were 90 percent sure he was gay by the time he told us at age 19, I felt a bit of a jolt when it was confirmed. That was the part of me that hoped, more than I realized, that it wasn’t true, the part that would have sooner dealt with the kind of “normal” I was used to — boys bringing girlfriends home (I’ve already got three boys!).
I also worried about his future. Would he be happy? Would his life be harder because he was gay? Would it feel socially awkward to talk to people about it, to be at big family gatherings trying to gauge people’s acceptance or discomfort?
What was the “etiquette” around telling people? How often would I have the “My kid is gay” conversation? Certain people needed to know, especially those who say things like “Do you have a girlfriend?” But after a while his sexual orientation became a detail — OK, a significant detail. But it was just one factor about this kid who is still the same person, with all the same positive traits, that he was before he told us which gender he would be having relationships with.
Actually that news was followed by a spate of other rapid-fire announcements. “We’re getting a place together,” “I’m vegan” and “We’re getting a puppy.” Gay, schmay. It was the puppy that freaked us out.
Really, the biggest revelation was how quickly it felt normal. At family get-togethers, we have a great time, like before, except that our one son’s significant other is a guy. Perhaps it’s easier because everybody likes his partner. There’s been little awkwardness. We just hang out and, you know, cook vegan food. As for our son, he seems happy in his own skin, is doing well at university and is engaged in the sort of life-expanding things people his age should be pursuing.
Not every family has an easy time when a child comes out, and I don’t want to diminish those difficulties. However, as my son pointed out, the job of parents is to support their kids. Exactly, and coming out is a time when they really need us on their side.
We can’t control our kids’ sexual orientation, but we have a huge influence over one of the biggest problems non-heterosexual kids have: lack of family acceptance. A recent American study of 224 lesbian, gay and bisexual young people found that those who had been accepted by their families were far better off — six times less likely to have been depressed, eight times less likely to have attempted suicide, and more than three times less likely to have had unprotected sex.
I doubt this study proves much we don’t already know intuitively. LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi, trans) kids need to be loved, accepted and feel part of the community just like anyone else. And whatever the future holds for your family, you can help this generation of non-heterosexual kids — maybe yours, maybe someone else’s — by treating LGBT people just as you’d treat anyone else. Maybe you already do. If you haven’t had the occasion yet, it’s easier than you think.