Terrance Heath

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

Filed By Terrance Heath | April 23, 2008 10:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Living
Tags: child care, parenting, parents

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.

Crossposted from The Republic of T.


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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.)

Ain't that the truth Terrance? I used to get this question a lot when I was on the speaker's bureau for the Center. "What should I do if my kid is gay?" My answer: love them.

Personally, I don't really want to think about Paige having sex. LOL

She wandered back and forth somewhat in that way kids do. She knows that it's not the gender but the love that's important and that she's free to date either gender she wishes.

I find it interesting when people talk about boys playing with dolls. My son, who is gay, never played with dolls. His friend, who is not gay, played with dolls when he was little. I played with cap guns when I was a little girl and I'm not gay. So I think what toys you play with won't necessarily be an indication of what your sexuality is.

I've met many "macho" gay men, and many "effeminate" straight men. You can't always tell a book by its cover.

We all have to learn to accept our children for who (and what) they are. I strongly believe in unconditional love for our kids. As a member of PFLAG, I've met many kids whose parents have thrown them out. That, to me, is the sin. Most kids don't come out to their parents for fear of rejection. The reason they may not grow up to be healthy, well-adjusted adults is not because they're gay - it's because of their parents' narrow-minded attitudes. Once my son came out and knew he was accepted, the burden was dropped from his shoulders and he was able to live his life freely and openly. That's what we should want for all our children - gay or straight!