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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

SL Letter of the Day: Bonus Advice for DUD

Posted by 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.


Comments (26) RSS

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@19 Bojac6, WELL SAID. Thank you.
Posted by longlostfriend on February 25, 2013 at 10:51 AM · Report this
That letter from Mouseandclown made me actually cry, which is awkward because I'm at work, so fuck you man. That was beautiful.
Posted by Al Cracka on February 22, 2013 at 12:43 PM · Report this
Oh, don't be such a fucking special snowflake.

Be careful? Not only would your dad have said the exact same thing if you had been seeing a girl, he would have said the exact same thing if you WERE a girl.

Girls can find themselves pregnant, infected with a temporary or permanent STD, dead of AIDS or something else, beaten up or raped for fucking the wrong person, et cetera. Boys who go for girls can find themselves on the hook for her pregnancy, infected with a temporary or permanent STD, dead of AIDS or something else, beaten up or in jail for fucking the wrong person, et cetera. The only one of those that doesn't apply to you is getting pregnant/getting someone else pregnant. OF COURSE YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO BE CAREFUL, STUPID.

That and I flat-out disbelieve you when you imply that you would have graciously accepted all the approaches you suggest now. If Dad had started oh-so-casually talking about "some other gay kid he knew" and what he would be doing about Circumstance X, you immediately would have thought "ZOMG! He's trying to weasel his way into The Talk! Oh shit ohshitohshitoshitwhaddamigonnadonow." Which is pretty much exactly what any teen, gay or straight, would be thinking any time the parent attempts something so obvious, oblique or not.

Yes, accept your kid's relationship at face value. Yes, do everything in your power to show support for your kid's developing relationships and sexuality. But no, being gay does not garner you a free pass on the "be careful" talk, or most of the other talks either. If it would apply to anybody else -- and most of the good quality stuff does -- then it applies to you too.
Posted by avast2006 on February 21, 2013 at 8:56 PM · Report this
very bad homo 23
Mouseandclown might need some therapy.
Posted by very bad homo on February 21, 2013 at 2:45 PM · Report this
Jesus, you're 42 and you haven't gotten over your parents fumbling their statement of support for you? Fuck, those feelings were understandable when you were a kid, but sometime in your 20s you have to start trying to pull your head out of your ass and forgive your supportive parents for their understandable, and pretty minor, screw-ups.
Posted by Park on February 21, 2013 at 11:49 AM · Report this
TheMisanthrope 21
@19 Applause.
Posted by TheMisanthrope on February 21, 2013 at 10:36 AM · Report this
Helix 20
@1 I'm straight and I did on dates when I was fifteen, and no one really missed much if they didn't.
Posted by Helix on February 21, 2013 at 9:48 AM · Report this
To Mouseandclown:
I don't know your situation with your parents, I don't know the context and the tone, and, as a nearly 30-year-old straight guy, I don't know what it was like to grow up closeted. But I want to speak up in defense of "be careful."

"Be careful" is what my mom said to me just a few months ago. I was competing in a national event in my parents' home town and they came out to see me. My mom prides herself on knowing and getting along with most of my friends. She asked about a woman she saw me talking to and I said I was thinking of asking that woman out. "Be careful" she said, but I heard "The last time you mentioned a girl to us, she broke your heart. You were madly in love, and for a while so was she, and you two worked for a long time... until you didn't. You were depressed and you let yourself go. You gained weight, had no clothes that fit for months, and were let go from your job shortly after. We were worried about you. We called so often not to annoy you, but because we thought you might be spiraling downward and would do something rash. So be careful, your heart could get broken again."

"Be careful" is what I said to a lady friend of mine. She'd met a guy at a party and he had just invited her to his place for a movie. "Be careful" I said, but she heard "We didn't know most of the people there, and I'm not sure why he was there. He's probably a nice guy, but maybe he's not. You're a good friend and I don't want to see you hurt, Make your first date somewhere public, wait till you get a sense of who he is when you haven't been drinking before going to his place. Bad things happen and you hear stories that start out this way all the time. So be careful, you don't want to be one of those stories."

"Be careful" is what one of my closest friends, and also an ex, said to me. We were talking about the girl I had mentioned to my parents and how things were going with her. "Be careful" she said, but I heard "I like her, she seems really good for you, so don't mess it up. You have a habit of coming on really strong and being clingy and needy. It's one of the things that drove us apart, and I don't want you to make the same mistake again. I've seen you mess it up with other girls and then feel bad about it, which is a shame, because you really are a wonderful guy. So be careful, you want this one to work out."

"Be careful" is what I said to a friend. He'd just confessed that he's completely resigned to being single, because every guy his age that he meets is either in a relationship or doesn't want one. "Be careful" I said, but he heard "Don't let this make you jaded and cynical. You're fun to be around, smart, and dedicated, there is a guy out there for you. Don't be so resigned to this fate that you pass up one a good thing, because you can't see it for a good thing. You need to keep putting yourself out there, because otherwise you'll turn this into a self-fulfilling prophecy, where you are always single and bitter and nobody is going to break you of that. So be careful, he could be the next guy you meet."

"Be careful" is what I will say to my child. He or she when my kids come home from high school and talk about a boy or girl they are starting to date. I'll hopefully already have had the safe sex talk with them, but that's mechanics. This is love and no amount of lecturing can get through on that. "Be careful," I'll say, and then continue to make sure they hear, "this is something that was almost certainly going to happen and I couldn't stop it if I wanted to. But I don't. I just want you to know that this relationship is a young one, and while it may end up seeming like the center of the universe, it isn't. You have so much growing and changing left to do, I certainly wasn't fully mature or fully myself into my late 20s. It probably will come to end, and it probably should. If you are smart and caring about it, though, you'll grow and learn about yourself and what you want from life. If you aren't, it can cause bitter and resentment for years to come. Your life is ahead of you, and while this may feel like it's the center of the world, there will be plenty more to come. So be careful, know that this relationship does not need to define you."

"Be careful" is what we said. And whether it was a friend in need or a relative doing fine, we said it because it needed to be said. You, Mouseandclown, say that you feel confident they would have treated a straight relationship it like it mattered. Again, I don't know their attitudes, I don't know you, and I am not trying to defend the actions of your parents 25 years ago. I can't, and I probably don't want to. But in each of the examples I gave, "Be careful" is what was said, but what was meant is "I love you. I care about you and don't want to see you hurt. What you're about to do is dangerous and has so much potential to cause you pain and hardship. But we're not saying don't do it. We know this is something that is worth the risk, something you should do. I love you and don't want to lose you. So be careful, and know that no matter what happens, there is a person that cares enough about you to tell you that."
Posted by Bojac6 on February 21, 2013 at 9:00 AM · Report this
The only disagreement I have with the LW is his annoyance at parents saying, "Be careful."

What the Fuck??

Look if my son (now 13) knocks up a girl at 16, who pays for the child support? Not the minor, the parents of the minor. Who has to worry about a grandchild being brought up by a single parent? The grandparents. When my son turns 21, then he is suddenly liable for another 11 years or so of child support (which I, as his parent, will goddamn well vigourously enforce).

And if my son is gay? Gays, particularly gay teens, continue to be murdered and commit suicide, be raped and be taken advantage of by police, older, amoral chickenhawks, and others.

"Be careful?" Goddamn right I'll tell him to be careful! There are a LOT of mean sonsofbitches out there (male and female).
Posted by Hairhead on February 21, 2013 at 8:32 AM · Report this
I find both of these letter writers insufferable. VOMIT.
Posted by Dunnwood on February 21, 2013 at 12:20 AM · Report this
What I see from mouseanclown is a lot of assumption that ANY concern and ANY disapproval of a gay child's choices are due to some underlying nonacceptance of their sexual orientation.

When I entered my teens as a straight girl, my mother told me to be careful. I would wager that a fair proportion of humanity has heard similar warnings from parents, parents who either felt uncomfortable taking the conversation further or felt (probably rightly) that their teenagers would die of embarrasment if they made a big production of the thing.

That's not to say that this intepretation by a closeted gay kid is not understandable. You have a teenager (drama!) with a Big Secret (even more drama!). They will likely interpret EVERYTHING through the lense of that secret. That's why I hope DUD can get his son out of the closet sooner, rather than later. The sooner it's out in the open, the less opportunity his son will have to mine hidden rejection out of what actually is normal parenting. Even when the boy is out of the closet, DUD will probably commit some "sin" of being insufficiently cool about his son's sex and relationship life, making him exactly like every other parent of a teenager, gay or straight, that has ever walked the Earth.
Posted by Lynx on February 21, 2013 at 12:07 AM · Report this
sirkowski 15
Mouseanclown sounds like a whinny ingrate.
Posted by sirkowski on February 20, 2013 at 10:43 PM · Report this
As a mother, I honestly don't get the whole "coming out" thing. I mean, yes, on a societal level I totally get it. But on a personal level? Uh-uh.

My daughter's first romantic/sexual liaison - at age 17 - was another girl. I only figured it out one day after they'd spent a night together and I noticed a hickey on my daughter's neck. Hmm. Well, that explained all the sleepovers. The other girl, a bit older, had her own place, so they'd go over there.

None of us felt the need to comment on the situation. My response was just to change gears and treat the girlfriend as The Important Person in my daughter's life, instead of just as another friend. We included her in family stuff, and I think we all may have hugged more. They were more physically affectionate around the house than they had been.

None of us ever discussed it. There was no big conversation. I think I felt like it was none of my business who she chose to love. Plus her girlfriend was a sweetheart whom we were all genuinely fond of. Nine years later, I think my daughter's had a few male and a few female partners, but we've still never discussed her sexuality. We're very close, but there's just a lot that goes without saying.

Just an alternate scenario to the whole "coming out" conversation, which as a parent I was just a little too shy to engage in.
Posted by quidnunc on February 20, 2013 at 10:43 PM · Report this
BEG 13
I didn't date except maybe once on a rather traumatic outing until after high school, so I have to say the whole "missed the dating thing at 15" is probably overblown.

THAT aside, lots of generally good advice here, although if parents wind up feeling a bit of "damned if they do, damned if they don't," well that's kind of par for course with teenagers to begin with.

Tell 'em you love 'em and support 'em every chance you have and that should help you past your inevitable stumbles.
Posted by BEG!/browneyedgirl65 on February 20, 2013 at 9:29 PM · Report this
Well put, Ms Mama @9. Either way, it's a long process.
Posted by vennominon on February 20, 2013 at 9:25 PM · Report this
rob! 11
I'm with @6. All the people in my closeted childhood who helped me most were non-related adults, mostly childless, who treated me (and talked to me) like an adult.

It makes me squirm a little now to realize it, but I'm sure they understood the essence of who I was much sooner and more completely than I did. I'm forever grateful for their kindness and gifts of time.
Posted by rob! on February 20, 2013 at 8:32 PM · Report this
Sargon Bighorn 10
'Just my Thoughts' is a sack of shit. Saying, "Mostly or all perverted old men." he's talking the way the Christianists talk about Gay people. He has no clue what Gay men and women suffered though so that he can now spew his ageist hate. Those "perverted old men" were in the same place doing the same thing he was going, chatting on line. Dan you gotta take a stand against this shit. Your "Youth Pastor Watch" is filled with YOUNG perverted men, NOT old perverted men as one example.
Posted by Sargon Bighorn on February 20, 2013 at 7:14 PM · Report this
As a former queer kid and now a queer mama I am pretty sensitive to both sides of this story. As a parent you're never going to get it all right and you're certain to fuck up and say the wrong thing at some point. There is no single best way to handle this and you don't need to be nervously trying to script the whole damn conversation in advance. The key, I think, is to keep talking, keep checking in with your kid, admit it if you still have work to do on your own negative ideas about being gay (or trans or whatever) AND THEN DO THAT WORK! The real feeling of rejection we get from our parents--the kind that kills our self-esteem and makes us suicidal--isn't from one conversation that turns awkward, one faulty assumption, one bad foot-in-mouth moment from a parent who is mostly supportive-- it's from a repeated message over a long period that we're not okay, that they can't accept us, and that who we are is shameful.
Posted by QMama on February 20, 2013 at 5:34 PM · Report this
I feel sorry for the gay kid with the too dense parents who has to turn to a 33-year-old non-breeding straight-gal "expert" on what happens when people have children that thinks the "reptile brain" somehow keeps parents from remembering what childhood was like.
Posted by six shooter on February 20, 2013 at 5:33 PM · Report this
DUD shouldn't assume that his son & Gomer are lovers - they may be nothing more than fuck-buddies.

Way back int eh Dark Ages of the early 1970s, I was a late bloomer and started having gay sex when I was 19 and still living at home (conveniently close to my college) with my "Gomer", a 16/17-year-old neighbor buddy.

It was basically a "trade" relationship with mutual benefit: I got to suck dick and he got much-wanted blowjobs several times a week. I turned into the big ol' queer I knew I was, and he got married four times.

That said, I think the neutral advice to invite Gomer to dinner etc is right on. Keep ALL possible options open.

Posted by Jared Bascomb on February 20, 2013 at 5:31 PM · Report this
gunmmoontree 6
I'm an auntie to the children in my life. I aspire to "Auntie Mame-dom," but I'm still young @ 33 & working on it. "Part of the village," as I say.

I'm a non-breeding straight gal—tubal ligation (which, as an aside, shows very promising signs of being one viable method of preventing ovarian cancer—the latest & greatest news from ovarian cancer research ((my field of expertise)) is that ovarian cancer ((a definite son-of-a-bitch for women)) seems to most often start in the fallopian tubes)—& it's my opinion that becoming a parent makes most folks forget what it's like to be a kid.
Surely this is the reptile-brain manifesting itself to enable parents to care for their young, & I see its evidence often, but not always in a positive way. (I see this as another bonus for people who have children sans breeding—they remember what it was like to be a kid.)
Parents of queer kids, & I mean queer as in not like other kids, not only gay kids, but children of all stripes: continue, or start, seeking advice from non-parents you trust: We haven't forgotten what it's like to be a kid.
Most parents don't have a clue as to what their kids are really clued into. I distinctly recall knowing that adults had no idea of all that I was aware of.
We all miss out on something in childhood—for instance, I'll never know what it's like to be a popular kid, or join a sorority, both of which are fun & have their benefits, I'm sure.
The best advice I can give parents is to accept your children for who THEY are. You'll do yourselves, & your children, a great service if you can get to know them & accept them as they are. Rid yourselves of your pre-conceived notions about who you THOUGHT they'd become. Gay, straight, queer, whatever. Encourage their personalities & support their individualities.
Hopefully, the children of today's children won't have to worry about this soon-to-be non-issue. You are who you are, & if you're smart, you'll just keep getting better.
Kids: if your parents are too dense, look around for an adult who seems more with it, & seek their counsel. You'll be schooling your parents soon enough. OXO
Posted by gunmmoontree on February 20, 2013 at 5:15 PM · Report this
@1: I know, right? I didn't have any dates until I was 17, and honestly, my high school boyfriend wasn't that great. Fact is, there are a TON of people who don't date when they're 15, gay or straight, for many reasons.
Posted by alguna_rubia on February 20, 2013 at 4:56 PM · Report this
TheMisanthrope 4
@3 I think its sweet that they're trying and asking. You can't fault them for that.
Posted by TheMisanthrope on February 20, 2013 at 4:24 PM · Report this
I'm feeling like an old fuddy duddy, because I read both of these and all I can think is "there is no way for parents to handle their teenagers' sex lives well, because anything the parents do - or don't do- will be wrong, and mortifying, and not enough, or too much...because that's what being a teenager IS".

Yes, parents can absolutely fuck it up, especially when they have gay kids who want and need (or DON'T want and need NOT) to come out to them. Parents who reject their kids due to sexuality are failing, and can do real and lasting harm. But awkwardness and lack of tact and not giving kids exactly the right words that will soothe an aching heart and misunderstanding friendships for relationships (or vice versa) and expressing concern in a way that lands really poorly...that is pretty danged normal.

And in case anyone thinks I just can't possibly understand what gay kids go through, I was one.
Posted by genevieve on February 20, 2013 at 4:20 PM · Report this
TheMisanthrope 2
When I came out to my mother, I was past high school, and this was in the '00s.

Her words, still? Be careful. It wasn't a sign that she wasn't accepting. She said she knew what was out there, and that she always wanted my road to be as easy as it could get, and that society wasn't nearly as accepting of gays as straights. She was telling me to be wary of everybody else out there. Those gay bashing motherfuckers (my phrasing, not hers)? Be wary of them. I thought it was sweet.

In 1988? "Be careful" had a hell of a lot more meaning and emphasis than it did today. Now? Be careful still matters, especially depending on the community.

Also...I LOVED having sexual sleepovers when I was in high school. It was so easy. Kids? If you really want a reason to not come out in high school...its getting to have your friends over for sex, with full parental knowledge of the partner's presence.
Posted by TheMisanthrope on February 20, 2013 at 4:15 PM · Report this
I Hate Screen Names 1
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.
I'm straight and I didn't go on any dates when I was fifteen. It's not that big a loss.
Posted by I Hate Screen Names on February 20, 2013 at 3:55 PM · Report this

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