I can still remember the fear and dread forming from a place deep within me during my latter high school years—a gradual realization that I would eventually have to tell my parents that I am gay. Just as I had kept it a secret from myself for so long, suppressing the urges and attraction I refused to recognize, I figured that hiding it from my family would be just as simple.
I knew that my family would not reject me due to any religious beliefs—in fact, my Jewish congregation’s lesbian rabbi was one of my mother’s good friends at the time! My hesitation in revealing that I am gay was out of fear that I would be treated differently.
Boy, was I wrong!
Having attended reform Jewish religious school twice a week, going to Jewish summer camps, and taking on leadership positions in my temple’s youth group, I was already familiar with the Jewish values of acceptance and tolerance. My parents and grandparents were no different in their actions—they welcomed and accepted this part of me, and showed love and support as I continued to develop into a young gay man.
But love and acceptance is only a small part of parenting.
My loving parents have been there for me during my best and worst times, many of which were related to my journey in learning what it means to be a gay man. Although I am forever grateful for their support, in retrospect, there are situations that are unique to the gay teenager for which they could have used some guidance in approaching. I hope that anyone parenting a gay teenager today will learn some useful and informative tips that will bring you closer to your child.
1. Your household rules for your straight children should be the same for your gay ones
During my senior year of high school I met my first boyfriend. This eventually developed into my first serious relationship, and as I started to spend all my time with him, I would demand sleepovers (just as I was able to have with my straight friends). My logic was sound: Why should I not be allowed to have my boyfriend sleepover? He is biologically no different than my straight friends.
My parents caved, and although they admitted that they would not allow my sister’s boyfriend to sleep over, they agreed with my logic. My mother even joked that I was in no danger of getting my boyfriend pregnant!
Looking back on this experience, I now realize that allowing us to spend nights on end together distracted from my schoolwork and encouraged my relationship to develop beyond the maturity level most high school relationships attain. Ultimately, if you wouldn’t feel comfortable with a straight child doing something, the same should go for your gay child.
2. Your child WILL have sex; talk to them about safe practices.
No, your gay son or daughter will not impregnate a member of the same sex; however, they are still subject to sexually-transmitted infections and diseases that range from asymptomatic to potentially deadly when left untreated. Abstinence rather than safe sex was taught in my high school, and I felt that I had no one to turn to when I was seeking sex-related information. I felt especially alone because I was closeted during half of my high school years, and having an informative resource for sex education would have proven to be invaluable for me at the time.
If you are uncomfortable talking to your child about gay sex topics, or you feel that you simply do not know enough about this topic, I suggest educating yourself and connecting with other LGBT families through resources like impactprogram.org and the parent’s sex ed corner at advocatesforyouth.org. Not only can you interact on discussion forums and gain the information you need, but you can also contact other families with LGBT members to ask questions and gain insight.
3. Your child needs positive gay role models.
I think this is one of the MOST important ways you can proactively and positively guide your child during these important years. When I look back on my high school experience and growing up in a welcoming, however heteronormative society, I realize that there were no gay role models or public figures I knew of who I could learn from. Even if you have a healthy straight marriage and model a compassionate relationship for your children, the dynamic in a heterosexual relationship is still different than that of a gay relationship.
Your child needs these positive examples in their life to help them learn how to develop healthy relationships. It proves beneficial for gay youth to see examples of happy older LGBT people, something I had no exposure to growing up.
Think of creative ways to expose your child to healthy gay relationships. Make friends with a gay couple who also has children, and let your gay child see first-hand what a happy gay relationship looks like.
4. Your child is sensitive to societal gender constructs; tell them that rejecting these is OK.
Our society puts enormous pressure on our youth to exhibit behavior that is synonymous with their gender. Boys are ridiculed if they show emotion or do not exude physical strength, while girls are shamed if they are overweight, too skinny, or if they have short hair.
I personally experienced this type of pressure at the Jewish summer camps I would attend each year. These hyper-masculine environments were difficult for me to navigate as a closeted gay male, and I think that if my parents were more aware of my internal struggles with my own sexual identity, they would have urged me to explore other summer plans.
Show your son that boys who cry aren’t any less “manly,” and tell your daughter that she can cut her hair short or long and she will still be beautiful. Teaching your children to love themselves during this influential time is the most important part.