I'm a 37-year-old single father with a 14-year-old son. Overall he's a good kid. Our relationship isn't perfect – I work a lot and he's a teenager, 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 pay the bill and I'm his dad), he's shown ZERO interest in girls, and he has always been a tad effeminate, though I know that's probably an unfair stereotype. I have no problem with gay people and I support full equality for same-sex couples. If my son is gay, it might require a bit of mental adjustment, but I'd love him and support him fully.
My son has a friend, let's call him "Gomer," who comes over often. 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. But a friendship with a guy isn't sexual … unless it is. I have no specific knowledge that anything has happened between them. Gomer is a nice kid, and I've met his parents. I have no problem with them hanging out. 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 and hurt his pride by suggesting he is.
Dad Under Duress
"In an ideal world, Dad Under Duress would take a slow and roundabout way to encourage his son to come out to him," says John Schwartz, a correspondent for the New York Times, 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 general 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."
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 kid is doing something risky, a parent can and should go the "are you gay or what?" route. In your case, the fact that your son might be having sex in his room, thereby breaking dad's 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 the monster, and he's not being insensitive. He's being the dad. He should keep in mind, though, that if his son is already having sex with his buddy, 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 pause for a moment to recall why parents frown on their straight kids having friends of the opposite sex in their bedrooms: An unplanned pregnancy can quickly 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 isn't ready and that he would be traumatized if you forced him to come out, you might wanna let him think he's pulling one over on his clueless straight 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 tells his dad. While your son might have had sex education in school, 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."
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 casual media consumption – TV news, the Internet, my Twitter feed – I've seen my fair share of tanned and chiseled Adonises. I've also seen pictures and/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, all of whom have made or are making a difference, but not one of whom was, is or ever aspired to be an underwear model.
Images of perfect male bodies can fuel body-image issues in both gay and straight men. Gay men in particular are at higher risk of anorexia, bulimia and "bigorexia," aka muscle dysmorphia, aka "gay dude who lives at the gym." So those images of tanned and chiseled Adonises can do harm. But if all one sees are tanned and chiseled 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, sizes, shapes and colors, it's because you're choosing not to see them. Open your eyes.