Dear Virginia, I am a single parent, with no partner on the scene, and I've had a very open relationship with my son, who is now 13. But I was taken aback when he recently confessed he thought he might be gay. I have no idea how to handle this, and I'm worried it might be something to do with the fact that we are so close. Do you have any advice on how best I should react to make him feel comfortable about the situation?
Yours sincerely, Martha
Ever since I can remember, people have been trying to come up with a plausible explanation for why some people are gay and others aren't. Years back, there was a thought that an overbearing, over-loving, smothering mother might have something to do with it (a typical male blame tactic, that) but nobody could seriously think that these days. So don't worry, Martha, it seems pretty clear that gay people are born, not made. I remember my mother, who had impeccable "gaydar", declaring a relation of hers was gay when he was only three years old – and she was spot-on.
Then there was the theory that the youngest son in a family that already had son was likely to be gay, apparently with the implication that the younger sibling had been created with fewer heterosexual attributes in order to enable his brothers to reproduce more adequately. I always thought that theory was a bit bonkers. Or how about the theory that it is all to do with testosterone: boys are created by adding testosterone to a fertilised egg in the womb. A gay person, it was postulated, was someone who had too much of the hormone pumped into them in the womb. Again, it doesn't seem very likely.
The truth is that gay people just exist and will continue to do so, unless society practices some kind of anti-gay eugenics in the future. They exist in the animal world, too – there are gay monkeys, gay dogs, gay birds and, for all I know, there could be gay fish and gay mosquitoes too.
So please, Martha, remove yourself from the blame game and instead start congratulating yourself on producing a son who feels comfortable confiding such very private anxieties (if they are actually anxieties) to you at such a difficult stage in his life.
I would say that it is likely that if he thinks he's gay now, he probably will be gay in later life. However, if he's in an all-male environment and finds himself constantly getting mutual sexual satisfaction with other boys, then who knows? I know that in all-male boarding schools, during adolescence, when testosterone is probably at its highest, there can be masses of homosexual behaviour – but much of that is simply because some boys find it difficult to keep their venting of sexual frustration to the privacy of their own bedrooms.
The way to get your son to feel comfortable is simply to keep an open mind. Reassure him that his sexuality is of no real concern to you at all, because you love him for what he is, not for his sexual preferences. And reassure him that no one really knows for certain about their own sexuality until they are a little older than he is now.
You could also direct him to reputable and established gay organisations for advice. Pacehealth.org.uk is an organisation set up by the Home Office to help family members with issues around gay, lesbian and transgender matters – and they will be happy to discuss things with your son even though he's under 16.
If I were you I'd do my own research first, because there are lots of creeps prowling about the internet who, if contacted, might well frighten him or lead him into areas that might be threatening and abusive.
Ultimately, if you don't treat the issue with anxiety, guilt and as if this is the end of the world – which it isn't – then neither will your son.
Reassure your son
At 13, your son is probably still working through his feelings and I doubt either of you know for sure what his sexuality is yet. But it's great that he has come to you and the fact that you are so close is unlikely to be the reason why he may be gay. You need to reassure your son, tell him that things will not change between you, he will always be your son and you will love him unconditionally. Just be accepting. Don't judge him and continue to be supportive. For more advice, you can contact The Lesbian and Gay Foundation.
It's part of growing up
I am reminded of the jest: A: "My Mother made me a homosexual." B: "Really, do you think she would make one for me?" I don't intend to trivialise the dilemma. Please, Martha, do not believe that, should your son turn out to be gay, it is anyone's "fault". Rather, be reassured that the quality of your relationship has meant that he is able to confide in you. A boy's teenage years, particularly regarding sexual development, are fraught with ifs, buts, hows and whys. This is all part of growing up. Help him understand this and let him know, as you probably have already, that you will be there to support him, whatever transpires.
Being gay is not a crime
Why do you say your son "confessed" to you? It's not a crime to be gay. Your son is showing great bravery in telling you how he feels, and you must have given him the confidence to do so. He may or may not be sure about his sexuality at this age, but above all he needs your unconditional love and support in the face of any negative comments and attitudes he might encounter. Contact FFLAG (www.fflag.org.uk), a mine of information for young gay, lesbian and bisexual people and their families.
Close support is vital
Your closeness to him has no bearing on his sexuality, as I believe this is predetermined at a much earlier stage. But your close relationship is absolutely vital and he needs your support, understanding and love if he is to grow to be proud of who he is. I also had a close relationship with my mother, who was divorced and single when I discovered my gayness at 13. However, we didn't talk about such intimate things and as a consequence I'm only just coming to terms with it at 45!
Don't deny his feelings
Contrary to what many people believe, it is quite common to find homosexual behaviour in the animal kingdom, so humans aren't alone in this. But it is quite possible to repress and deny these feelings and urges for many years, to be involved in a heterosexual partnership, to marry, and to bring up children; as did a friend of mine. He came "out" to himself at the age of 60 and later, to those around him. If he had done so much earlier he could have been much healthier and happier.
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