by Dan Savage
on Wed, Feb 20, 2013 at 3:47 PM
The letter from Dad Under Duress in a recent column—a letter about his most probably gay son and his probably gay son's possible sex life—struck a cord with me. I was closeted my entire adolescence out of a combination of shame, embarrassment, and fear. I was only out to random people in AOL chat-rooms, people I never met in person, and they were probably mostly or all perverted old men. I came out shortly before my nineteenth birthday and my biggest regret in life is not coming out sooner.
During that time, of course I wanted to have sex. But more than anything—more than anything in the world—I wanted to be able to have a boyfriend. I wanted to be able to date and have relationships. I didn't get to do any of this, and I've dealt with how that has effected me ever since. Even though I can freely date people now, I'll never be able to be fifteen and go on a date, and that's something that I'll never quite get over. So speaking as a gay son, Dan, I'd like to offer my own piece of advice for DUD regarding his son. In addition to everything you've already offered DUD should treat his probably gay son's probable boyfriend "Gomer" like he is his son's boyfriend. Start slow and be subtle, but do it without any questioning or anything else.
DUD should ask his son if Gomer wants to stay for dinner, DUD should invite Gomer to movie night or whatever other "family activities" he normally enjoys with his son, DUD should casually ask if his son and Gomer have plans for the weekend, etc. This would do two things: it would help make his son feel comfortable about coming out and, more importantly, it would validate his son's relationship. Maybe his son and Gomer are having sex, maybe they're just fooling around a little, maybe it's not yet physical. Whatever. Speaking as someone who was painfully closeted in his adolescence, to have a real relationship and have it validated by my parents? That would've meant so, so much to me.
It's certainly understandable that DUD doesn't want his son to be having sex yet, gay or straight, but as you point out, Dan, life as a closeted kid can be pretty miserable. Besides, kids do have sex, it happens. Parents can do things to make it more difficult, but there's no way to stop them. And one other thing: DUD should never admit he snooped on his son's computer, at least not until his son is grown. I think that would immediately make his son lose any trust he can be truthful with his dad.
Just My Thoughts
My response after the jump...
Thanks for sharing, JMT. There was lots of excellent advice for DUD in the comments thread at the Stranger—my home-sweet-home paper—but I wanted to draw attention to one comment in particular, which I'm going to post here so that it goes out folks with the "Savage Love" app read it too. It's long, and it's not particularly relevant to those who don't have gay kids, but those of you who do should read it. Take it away, Mouseandclown:
Sorry, this comment is long.
I have a lot of friends who are parents, and who come to me (their gay friend) with variations on "I think my teenage son is gay, but I'm not sure, he hasn't said anything to me, but I'd be totally okay with it if he was gay, and I think he knows that, but I'm *only concerned* because [dot dot dot]."
Here is what I tell them: When I was 17, my parents told me "we know you're gay," and also "we know you're in a relationship with Fred" (not his real name), and also "we want you to be careful."
I am now 42, and I haven't gotten over it. I mean, on the one hand, it was a relief, because they didn't blow up or throw me out of the house. But on the other hand, I had spent years trying to have them NOT know I was gay, and furthermore they were wrong, I wasn't in a relationship with Fred, I was madly in love with Fred and it wasn't working out and I felt horrible, and I was being careful, really fucking careful, all the fucking time, because I had to be fucking careful all the time because that's what being a gay kid IS, and I really needed my parents to tell me not "be careful" but to just be me and it would be okay and they would love me and they'd have my back, and what's more, somebody else, not Fred, but forget Fred, somebody else would love me, someday, and it would be awesome, and my parents would be there for me enjoying my happiness and joy, not just my "carefulness."
But no, they just wanted to make sure I didn't do anything "stupid" or "dangerous." Which, basically, I internalized as "we think it's risky that you're gay." Maybe they imagined they would have behaved exactly the same way if I were spending a lot of time with a girl—but I had no way of knowing that. And I feel confident that if I had been in a relationship with a girl, I could have counted on them to act like it sort of mattered, not just because of whatever fluids might have been being exchanged.
My point is, don't come crashing into your son's most intimate personal life with your "knowledge" and your "concern" blazing. You don't know what he's going through, and your chances of being 100% correct are much smaller than your chances of getting something important wrong.
His sex life, if he has one, may well be your "business," you being his dad, but it's still his life. And he needs to know that you care about him, and love him, and support him, but also that you want him to have a full and complete life, which means a life not always under the watchful eye of Dad. (I mean, what if he and Gomer are just making out? Is that okay with you? If not, why not? Are you sure you know how you feel about this? Do you think you can communicate your feelings which you admit "require a bit of mental adjustment" to him in a way that doesn't make him feel like "Dad doesn't approve of the fact that I have a boyfriend... which is sort of the same thing as him not approving of me being gay...")
Contrary to popular belief, there are other things going on in teenage boys' lives besides hormones and erections. They also have emotions and (in the case of gay boys) unbelievably difficult emotional challenges coming at them every day. PARENTS ARE ONE OF THOSE CHALLENGES. Your son doesn't know what will happen if you find out he's gay. Will you beat him up? Will you ridicule or belittle him? Will you prevent him from ever being alone with his boyfriend again? You may think it's obvious that the answer to all those questions is no, but you're wrong. Believe me, gay kids have a strong survival instinct, and they know they've got to be ready for anything, and you are one of the most powerful corners out of which anything could come.
Before you even remotely approach the question of him being gay, let him know that you are the kind of person, and the kind of dad, who would never do any of those things.
How, you ask? Well, talk to him about some other kid who you heard was gay, and how great you think that is, and how you really admire that kid for his bravery, and how well you think that kid's parents are doing at supporting him, and how you see them as a model for how you'd like to behave if you were ever in that situation... and yeah, let your son think that maybe you're talking about him but let your son be the one to make the decision that he wants to turn the conversation that way.
I know a dad who has a teenage son named Al (not his real name) who "might be gay." But Al and his dad haven't talked about it. And Al's dad tells me he's okay with the idea of Al being gay. But when Al bought his teenage friend Jim (not his real name) a $30 ring for Valentine's Day, Al's dad told Al "$30 is too expensive." Study questions: How's that going to make Al feel, you think? Do you think Al hears that as a remark about economics? What might Al conclude his dad thinks about Al's might-be-gay-ness?
You have incredible power over this kid's life. He NEEDS you to show him you're going to use that power to make his life as a gay kid better, not worse. He needs to see you DO that. Now. Because otherwise he's going to think your "concerns" are just euphemisms for "I accept your homosexuality, as long as it doesn't actually occur."
So do it. Make his life as a gay kid better. Now. Tell him what you would do if someone harassed a gay kid at his school. Tell him what you think of homophobic assholes in the media. Tell him you're glad being gay is easier now than it used to be and you're looking forward to it getting even easier. Don't tell him you "have gay friends." Invite your gay friends over for dinner.
You can do this. It's what you want to do. It's what you would want to do even if your kid turned out to be actually not gay. So do it.
Then you can talk about your concerns. If you still have them.
More advice for DUD from "Savage Love" readers—gay and straight—here.