The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

What If Your Kid Is Gay? (Or Not?)

It’s a question posed to some parents, and especially — in one form or another — gay parents. I was asked this question during an interview with Slovenian television (of all things). The question got cut from our segment of the interview, which instead included a short clip of me talking about gender roles (or the lack thereof) in our household. But when I saw that Details magazine has tackled the question, it seemed like a good time to address it.

Of course, Details didn’t ask this question of gay parents, but focused instead on heterosexual men. And not just any heterosexual men, but heterosexual men who have gay friends and are “okay” with gay people. To a point.

Jerry (not his real name) is an unapologetic Hollywood liberal. He drives a Prius and supports Barack Obama. He’s as open-minded about homosexuality as a fortyish heterosexual Little League dad can be. In fact, as someone who’s responsible for the day-to-day operations of some of TV’s biggest comedies, Jerry might as well be the mayor of Gayberry. “If I’m on a set and there are no gay people, I actually get worried,” he says.

Geoff (not his real name) is the same way. A history professor and author in New York City, he is surrounded by a veritable gay army–his editor, his literary agent, his closest confidants (“Gay, gay, way gay,” he says)–and that’s the way the happily married 42-year-old father, whose idea of heaven is courtside Knicks seats, likes it.

But while Jerry, Geoff, and other progressive dads of their generation are more than happy to down margaritas and watch Project Runway with gay friends, they’re not so comfortable with the idea of their own offspring going the way of Dumbledore. And only on the condition of anonymity will they elaborate on why, exactly.

“That,” Geoff says after a pained sigh, “would be tricky.” He explains that it was worrisome enough when his 6-year-old son watched the Hannah Montana movie recently “with a little too much glee.” Jerry too has reckoned with the issue. When his son, now 8, was 3, “he made us buy him a princess costume for Halloween. I thought, Oh, shit. Here we go. But then we went to his friend Joshy’s house, and Joshy said, ‘You can’t dress up as a girl.’ At which point my kid threw Joshy to the ground. I thought, Okay, we’re gonna be fine.”

I wonder what answers they might have gotten if they’d asked gay dads. We get that question all the time, except it’s asked a little differently, in a different context: Are you worried your child might turn out to be gay?

That’s usually our cue to start quoting the research saying that most kids with gay parents turnout to be heterosexual. We’re supposed to cite that research to allay some heterosexuals’ anxieties which stem from another statistic: that children with gay parents maybe slightly more likely to “experiment” with same-sex relationships, or — more to the point — more fluid in their definition of gender roles and more tolerant in their attitudes towards non-heterosexual behavior. (Maybe it’s because they don’t learn homophobia at such an early age.)

So, when people ask me that question — “Do you think your kids will be more likely to turn out gay?” — I have a very simple answer.

I don’t care.

It’s immaterial to me whether my kids turn out to be gay, bisexual, heterosexual or transgender. What’s important to me is that they turn out to good, responsible, compassionate people. They can be all of those things regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. As a parent, it’s not my job to push them in one direction or the other. (As if I could even if I wanted to.)

I guess my approach is similar to what my first therapist said to me. Coming out at 12 years old led to a lot of bullying, which left me depressed, angry, and suicidal — all of which landed me in therapy. At my first appointment, I sat down and said to my therapist, “There are two things you need to know if we’re going to work with each other. One is that I’m gay, and the other is that I’m not here to change that.” Once he stopped being stunned at hearing this from a kid my age, he said to me probably the best thing anyone could have said to me at that time.

“Let’s just work on the whole person, and let that part fall into place where it will.”

And that’s what I intend to do as a parent. Hell, that’s my job as a parent.

But as a gay parent, I’m “supposed” to reassure people by saying something like “There’s a 90% chance that my kid, and any other kid with gay parents, will grow up to be heterosexual.” Because, the implication is, there’s something wrong with being gay.

In other words, I’m supposed to think — somewhat like the dads in the Details article, who are alright with their gay friends — that being gay is OK for me but not for my kids. Oddly enough, unlike the dads in the Details article, I’m not supposed to want my kid to be like me.

This is where I think that the site where I found the link to the Details article got it wrong. (Though, given that it’s written by the same guy who advocated biological warfare on queer fetuses , there’s really no other way for him approach the subject.)

The men interviewed in this article also reveal the power of common grace — a lingering shadow of moral conscience. The hesitation concerning their sons and homosexuality — almost a panic — is a subtle sign that they possess a moral knowledge that complicates their moral reasoning. They want to be okay with their sons and homosexuality — they just can’t.

Christian parents and Christian churches had better think ahead to this question — What would you say if your son (or daughter) came out to you on the sin of homosexuality?

Those who believe (or say they believe) that homosexuality is not a sin can only respond with some form of what the world calls acceptance. But, as this article reveals, this is often a false acceptance.

Christians know that homosexuality is a sin — that it is not the Creator’s purpose for our sexuality. The Christian parent’s response to the “coming out” of a child is surely shock and grief, but also an opportunity for grace and witness. At that point the child needs those Christian parents to be deeply Christian. We are indebted to Details for reminding us of that

I think they’re leaving out something incredibly important and influential: our cultural concept of masculinity; and, specifically, the economy of masculinity that leads all the way from the playground to the boardroom and the battlefield (and points in between). Every father in that Details article knows his exact standing in that economy. He knows not only where he stands, but he knows where he wants other men to think he stands.

It’s something John Stoltenberg distilled in his essay “Why I Stopped Trying to Be a Real Man.”

So I got to thinking: If everyone trying to be a “real man” thinks there’s someone else out there who has more manhood, then either some guy has more manhood than anybody-and he’s got so much manhood he never has to prove it and it’s never ever in doubt-or else manhood doesn’t exist. It’s just a sham and a delusion.

As I watched guys trying to prove their fantasy of manhood-by doing dirt to women, making fun of queers, putting down people of other religions and races-I realized they were doing something really negative to me too, because their fear and hatred of everything “nonmanly” was killing off something in me that I valued.

I think these men, and probably many men with sons, see or want to see their masculinity — or their ideal of masculinity — reflected in their sons. There’s either a sense of anxiety that their sons won’t be or relief when their sons turn out to be “all boy.”

As his path of devastation moved into the kitchen, a young father leaned toward me with a flush of admiration in his voice and said, “He’s all boy” He’s all boy. I’ve heard that phrase a lot since then, and it always strikes me as a strange thing to say.

…What “he’s all boy” really means is: Whew! This kid’s not going to be one of those fragile pussy-willows who takes two hours to shave. Maybe everyone else is going soft, but our boyo’s still got that Y chromosome roaring like a steam engine.

My guess is that in some part of themselves, the fathers in the Details article see their sons reflecting upon their own masculinity. And, for better or worse, homosexuality is seen as “nonmanly,” to borrow a phrase from Stoltenberg. Each of them, to some degree, have lived their own personal memoir of masculinity. Consciously or not, their son’s represent the next chapter, which is based — of course — on the first.

I’m guilty of it myself in a way, except that I mused about raising a “little gay boy” who’d have been a lot like me, up to and including playing with Barbie dolls. But this weekend, I watched Parker doing something I’d never have done as a boy: running joyfully up and down the court, playing basketball. I even went out on the court with him at first, and kicked a soccer ball around with him until he joined the other kids.

Sure, I had a brief flashback to my childhood, and the torment I experienced in phys. ed. (I caught myself wincing over my lack of athletic prowess, and hoping the other dad’s weren’t watching.) But, for the sake of being there for my son, I got over it. It wasn’t until later that I remembered a scene from my own childhood.

I played with dolls. My sister’s dolls; both baby dolls and Barbie dolls. It wasn’t like I didn’t have toys of my own, but I just preferred the dolls. My playing with dolls was the catalyst for the first time I remember getting the message (somewhat indirectly) that I wasn’t measuring up in the masculinity department.

I was sitting in the middle of the family room playing with one of my sister’s dolls, combing and styling its hair. My mom was a few yards away in the kitchen, and my dad was sitting behind me, on the couch, watching the television. He was also watching me, because from behind I heard him ask my mom “Should he be doing that?”; playing with a doll, that is.

The conversation continued as though I weren’t in the room. My mom rationalized that I might have a daughter some day and that I’d have to know how to do her hair. So it was okay. Now that it was safely wrapped in a frame of presumed heterosexuality, I could continue playing with dolls. But the question had been posed, and the seed planted. Normal boys (who grow up to be real men) didn’t play with dolls, as I enjoyed doing. Shortly after that, I was given a Ken doll and a G.I. Joe. I promptly stripped off their clothes was very disappointed with what I found or — more precisely — didn’t find.

That’s who I was. That’s who I am. But my son is who he is. As a parent, it’s my job to nurture that. It’s my job to protect that. It’s my job to help him become his best self, not to determine for him what that self should be.

I know all too well the hostility directed at kids who don’t conform with gender norms or compulsory heterosexuality. If either of my sons turned out to be LGBT, I’d want the to know about that, and to know that I will stand by them and stand up for them without reservation or hesitation. When Parker was just shy of a year old, his birth mother wrote and told us why she chose us as his adoptive parents. She said thought because we were gay and an interracial couple that we had “overcome prejudice and discrimination” (her words, not mine) and that we were best equipped to help him do the same. Whatever he grows up to be, whomever he happens to lo love, that’s exactly what I will do. The same goes for Dylan, our four-month-old.

What I want is, as clichéd as it sounds, for them to be happy. I want them to be healthy, and live their lives in a way that harms neither themselves or others. I want them to be able to stand on their own two feet. I want them to be able to take care of themselves, to care for others, and to try and leave the world a little better than they found it.

There’s nothing in all of that requiring them to be anything other than who they are. Which is just what they ought to be.

12 Comments

  1. I have asked myself that question more than once. It probably started when my oldest decided that pink was his favorite color around 3 until he was about 6 and a classmate told him pink was for girls, so he shifted his favorite to red! He had a baby doll, Jack, he loved and cared for from 5 until he gave it to his sister when he was about 8 (he still directs her to care for him properly and will ‘play house’ with her and be Jack’s daddy on occasion.) I think the hand off happened after a playmate came over and asked why there was a *doll* in his bed. He said “It’s my little sister’s!” He is gentle and calm and doesn’t have a sporting bone in his body! I’ve said many times in the past 10 years, if or when he tells me he’s gay, I will not be surprised.

    However, if/when that day comes, I might be a little sad. Not because I think it’s wrong or morally objectionable, but because as his mother, I would hate to see him subject to the inequality and discrimination that I’ve seen my friends suffer. Aside from the public issues, he’d be cut off from an aunt that loves him but is very religious and could never accept it, and a grandfather who thinks gay people are ‘sick.’ (you’ve met him, he’s a real charmer, ain’t he?) it’s the same sadness I feel when watching him deal with ADD, or my other kid dealing with depression at the ripe old age of 11. The sadness I might feel if one were blind, or lost a limb or had some other hurdle to negotiate in their lives. I want thinks to be good for them, I want them to be happy and successful. Anything that gets in the way of that would make me unhappy. Hopefully though, if the conversation ever does happen, my kids will have it a little easier, as they’ll have parents that love and support them through it all.

  2. Ditto. ditto. ditto.

    People keep referring to my two as “All boy” – and I am very ambivalent about this.. since it seems to imply that his soccer skills/car “vrooming” is more important than cooking or playing house. Since I have no witty reply, I just nod and think about the “All boy” with the mad soccer skills (which he got from his mom) who can also knit, cook, and is awesome with young kids.

    I do have a selfish hope that whomever my son(s) chooses to love, is someone I like too. My hubby gets along great with my siblings, siblings’ partners and my parents – and this closeness as adults I treasure.

  3. As a PFLAG mom I respond differently to the question.

    Eight years ago a sixteen year old boy in my Sunday school class told us that he wasn’t going to see us anymore because his foster family was breaking up. My husband and I called his social worker and naively announced we wanted to be his parents. She visited us and after about an hour said, “There’s something I have to tell you. ‘Carl’ says I can because you need to know and he doesn’t think he can tell you himself.” I braced myself for the news that he set fires or tortured animals and she said, in a suddenly-quiet voice, “‘Carl’ is gay.”

    My first reaction was relief so strong it was joy. If the big scary secret about Carl was that he was gay, I was fine. No problem. I considered myself a gay-rights activist. I was cool with it. It wouldn’t be an issue at all.

    I was wrong.

    At first he didn’t want me to tell anyone, and I found myself living in the closet which SUCKED BEYOND THE ABILITY OF WORDS TO DESCRIBE. After a month I just couldn’t take it. I had stopped talking to my mother and my friends. When I ran into people I had to make up conversation. I couldn’t talk about what was on my mind. I could not express my worries or hopes. I could not tell people about the exprience of moving from disapproving of homophobic messages to suddenly being PISSED OFF at them. Suddenly it was personal and I had no time to process it and had promised not to talk to anyone about it. I finally got him to agree that I had to be able to talk to my friends.

    And then a student at the college where I teach was assaulted. Someone who wasn’t a student followed him back from a party, threw him up against a building and started calling him “faggot.” Someone called the security and he was not hurt physically, but he was deeply traumatized. And though he did not know that only months before I had become a mother to a gay son, he came to me for support. The year before I would have been outraged. I still was, but the outrage wasn’t pure — it was mixed with fear for someone I loved.

    I live half a mile from the campus. Suddenly I did not want to let my sixteen-year-old out after dusk.

    He kissed a boyfriend goodbye in a car in front of our house and I had to call the police because the idiot in the house across the street started calling my then 8-year-old a “fag” whenever he went into the yard.

    No matter how liberal you are, finding out that your kid is gay means finding out that they will have to deal with prejudice and hate in a way you did not expect. It means that monsters that only threatened other people’s kids are now threatening yours.

    I tremble as I write this.

    I have seen it in so many parents in their first PFLAG meeting. They come confused, telling us that they have gay friends, they really thought that they were totally “okay with homosexuality” but since their kid told them they just can’t stop crying and they don’t know why. We hand them the tissues and tell them we understand.

    I am afraid I have been too negative here, and I don’t want that. I want to tell you about the joys I experience. How much I love the prom photo of our second foster son and his boyfriend. I love the photo for the joy on their faces and for the pride I feel for them for not backing out when they learned they would be the first openly same-sex couple to attend the prom at their school. I have so many stories I want to share. I want to tell you how about how proud I have am of all my kids, about what it means to celebrate their sexuality, their completeness just as I would any other kid.

    But that is not the whole story. Seeing Fred Phelps on TV saying that God hates gays is a different experience when it is YOUR kid he is saying should be in hell.

  4. A friend of mine once confided that he would rather have sons than daughters because the sons would have a much easier time in the world. Of course he would love the daughters, if they came, but he would constantly worry about discrimination, rapists, etc. I suspect that these fathers in the article are coming from a similar place (the blog’s interpretation notwithstanding).

    That said, I think it’s a shame. Not that one would rather have a worry-free child (as if it were possible), but the very idea that a straight boy is a worry-free child. No, he may not experience the same obstacles, but left to his own devices he may be the one CREATING obstacles for others. That’s no good. Straight boys need our attention and vigilance too.

  5. I think that it’s just really natural for one to want his or her kids to find happiness, and it’s hard for people to relate to happiness that’s outside of their own experience. Yes, ultimately, any good parents wants children to find their own path in the world. But I’m not surprised that there’s something challenging about realizing that your kid is going to take a path with a lot of feelings and experiences that you can’t relate to directly, or share your own experiences with.

    I think it’s unrealistic to expect people to have unconflicted, perfectly politically aware feelings about such basic emotional issues. I think what matters is that a parent can recognize that it’s his issue to work through, not the kid’s.

  6. Like n3rdchik, I’ve had people comment on my kids “boyness” but one time I remember being really baffled! One of my kids, at about 3 years old, ran headlong into a little girl on the playground. He plowed her over and kept running. (He was and is a huge kid, tall and stocky and always assumed to be 2-3 years older than he is) The girl ran to her grandmother, crying and I ran to my child, and took him by the arm and to the girl to apologize. He offered up his best “sowwie” and grandma said “Oh, it’s fine. Boys will be boys!” I must have stared at her with my mouth open! I said “Well, sure boys will be boys, but they don’t have to be RUDE boys!” I realize this has nothing to do with gay or not gay but it does highlight how we expect and tolerate different behavior from a boy, simply because he’s a boy!

  7. “I don’t care.” Good answer.

  8. Yondalla — that’s what it’s like to be queer in most of rural America. Sorry you had to be introduced to it so rudely, but I’m glad you faced the challenge.

    Terrance — hell of a post. Thank you.

  9. Pingback: Family Equality Council Blog » What if your kid is gay? Or not?

  10. I really am not concerned about what other people think of whatever decisions about sex my now 8 year old son ends up making. My job, as a parent, is to make sure that my son is confident and loving, especially in regards to himself. I do that by modelling that behavior, and letting him know how much I love him, accept him as he is, and am proud of him. If I do my job well enough, he won’t care what others think of him either.

    In our case, my son is an autistic child. So, I’m getting a bit of a dry run with the whole issue of my son being “different”. And what I find is that, so long as I am comfortable with my son’s autism, and am comfortable discussing it with people, they are very accepting. Especially the children. We were at the playground last week, and Evan was being a bit rambunctious, in an autistic way. At one point, he went for the swings, and took one from a kid who may not have been finished yet. I explained that he was autistic, and the kid shrugged and relaxed. Another time, we were at a seaport museum, and he ran up and tried to hug a girl around 11. She shrieked “Get off!”. I caught up at that point, and pulled him away. I apologized, and explained that he was autistic. She immediately softened, and apologized for getting upset.

    What’s my point? I have a couple. The first is that my son’s sexual orientation is nobody’s business but his. For me to worry about that would be tantamount to worrying about his autism, or his eye-color. It’s all just part of the package that God (or Nature, depending on one’s point of view) has endowed him with.

    The second is that there will always be parents who are afraid of their children’s deviation from the “norm”. I see it in the autistic community; parents with fearful and unaccepting attitudes about autism tend to have autistic children who don’t believe in themselves. It is a selfish attitude which stems from the attitude of “how does this affect me?” which pervades our society. I can choose to be one of those parents, or I can choose to be a parent who trusts that Love will provide. I am proud of my son. I wouldn’t change a thing about him. I work every day to be the kind of father he can be proud of.

  11. While I understand parents whose fear is “if my son is gay he’ll be threatened by a homophobic society”, that’s not the vibe I’m getting from the dads in the article (who, in my opinion, would benefit from a few swift kicks in the ass). They’re oozing masculinity issues: if my son’s queer, what does that say about me?

    Like you, T., I don’t care if my son is gay, bi or straight, as long as he makes healthy choices and picks good people to share his life with.

  12. Yondallo, your story makes me want to weep…I sometimes forget because I’m so hippy-sih/liberal and the rest that I forget about how my feelings or ideals would affect someone who is dear to me and my responsibility. Sometimes it’s not so good to be too freethinking as that may hurt too..

    I just know that I find the whole concept of homophobia so very odd and illogical, that it still baffles me.

    I also agree with Mythago-those guys in the article were idiots. Fakers. Faux. The people who’ve posted on this message have genuine respect and interest in others. Those guys didn’t AT ALL-they were more pre-occupied with how they were seen.

    As a black person-this story makes me laugh, as it’s the same reaction I’ve heard when I dated White guys-people who were soo open minded-suddenly thought it was right, what about the abuse we would get?

    Funny old world we inhabit.

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