I’m in touch with a shockingly low number of people from my high school days. I think I realized that I had little in common with many of them, other than a love of D&D and Monty Python, and that wasn’t enough to build adult friendships on. One I’m still in touch with, however, it a woman I’ll call X. She’s married to a great guy, who’ll be Y for purposes of this exercise. And they have an awesome kid whom I’m calling Z. Yes, I know, I’m all about openness, but I think you’ll understand why I’m being protective in a moment.
Z’s a great kid…he loves D&D, he’s funny, imaginative, enthusiastic, exuberant…and he just came out to his parents. Which blows my mind, because he just turned twelve a short time ago.
X and Y turned to me as one of their closest gay friends for advice. They’d suspected he might be gay, but now they were full of questions. Z had told them that he was attracted to both men and women, and they were baffled by this. Was this normal? Did I think it was a phase? What should they be telling Z to help him be prepared for life ahead? In other words, they had a lot of very sensible questions that I think most parents have when they find out their child is gay, and they were looking to me for some help.
I was quick to reassure them on many points. I offered advice. We had dinner to discuss it, and I feel like they went away with better understanding, with better feelings about the whole situation, and with a more realistic view of what’s ahead. I feel like there could be other people out there who’re either struggling with acceptance, or with concerns for someone who they love who’s out. I thought I’d share the basics of what I told them.
Thank you, Dr. Kinsey
So one thing that struck me was that they were both surprised to have Z tell them that he had sexual feelings for both men and women. Neither one could ever remember having sexual impulses towards their own genders. Had I had those feelings? Was this strange?
I was happy to explain that waaay back in the 1940s, Dr. Albert Kinsey was doing some pretty amazing work on male sexuality. Kinsey concluded that “Males do not represent two discrete populations, heterosexual and homosexual. The world is not to be divided into sheep and goats…it has seemed desirable to develop some sort of classification which could be based on the relative amounts of heterosexual and homosexual experience or response in each history… A seven point scale comes nearer to showing the many gradations that actually exist.”
Dr. Kinsey’s scale, known as the Kinsey Scale, or the Heterosexual-Homosexual Rating Scale, is numbered from 0 to 6, with 0 being exclusively heterosexual and 6 being exclusively homosexual. Numbers 1 through 5 indicate some level of bisexual activity or interest and are probably far more common than 0 or 6. What’s more, Kinsey recognized that one’s scale rating could change over the course of one’s life (though personally, I think that has more to do with activity than interest.)
I was able to assure X&Y that I actually know many, many people that lie in the Kinsey 1-5 range. They have interest in both…have had experiences with both. Just because they’re Kinsey 0 and I’m Kinsey 6 doesn’t mean that Z doesn’t fall somewhere around a 4 or 5.
They asked me if I thought he might’ve said that he likes women as well just to mollify them. I told them of my own experiences. Once I finally accepted that I had sexual feelings towards men, I refused to believe I could be exclusively homosexual, partly because of a strong religious belief and not WANTING to be gay. I mean, it’s not a cakewalk now, but when I was a kid, it was like a nightmare. So to make the idea more palatable to myself, I told myself (I was out to no one then) that I was bisexual…despite the fact that I had no sexual feelings for women.
I actually clung to bisexuality for years, only finally giving up the idea when a woman whom I had every romantic feeling for in the world and not one bit of sexual attraction for flat out asked me. “You don’t want to have sex, do you?”
I looked down at my plate, because we were having dinner. “I guess you’re right…I love you a lot…I just don’t feel for you that way.”
“Do you think that maybe you’re not bisexual after all? That maybe you’re gay? You know that’s okay, right?” She was smiling at me.
I smiled back. “I…wow…yeah…I’m gay. I guess I can finally admit it.” It was like she’d taken the weight of the world off of my back with that smile.
So I told them that Z might be saying he’s bi because he’s confused, or doesn’t want to be gay, or doesn’t want to paint himself into a corner, or because he is, in fact, bi. The important thing was to let him figure it out and be cool with whatever his decision was.
Is It a Phase? Is It a Choice?
Although they asked me if I thought it was a phase in the email, I think they already knew what I was going to say. “Well, I dunno…I’ve been in my gay phase a long time…all my life, basically. You guys think you’re coming out of your straight phase any time soon?”
By the time we had dinner, they’d talked about it. “Not a phase,” they said. “And not a choice. It’s genetic, right? That’s what everything points to. I mean, why would you choose to be different if you had the chance to fit in?”
Yup. They got it. Nuff said.
Was It Their Fault?
They actually didn’t ask me this. They asked Z. Now, Z’s a hell of a smart kid. He’s got some heavy food allergies, and I thought his answer to this was perfect. When Z asked if it had been something she’d done, Z looked at her and said, “Mom…you didn’t cause me to have food allergies. And you didn’t cause this.”
Man, that kid’s smart.
What Should They Do?
This was really the question. I knew it from the moment they asked, and I smiled and I told them, “You’re already doing it.” They’d told Z that whatever he was was fine with them. They loved him unequivocally.
I reinforced this. I told them to remember that nothing had changed. “It’s still Z we’re talking about. He’s still into drama, and loves certain classic and doesn’t like others. He’s still into D&D and not into sports. You just know something now that you didn’t know before. It doesn’t change anything.”
I think this is really what everyone wants to figure out. What should they do when they find out someone is gay? They answer really is…nothing. Just be there. Support them. Salute them. Be proud of them. Love them. Everything you were already doing…keep doing that. Unless you’ve been trying to get them a date with someone of the opposite gender. You can stop that.
I told X&Y that they were in for everything they were in for before Z came out to them. Now they might have to approve or disapprove of his boyfriends rather than girlfriends, but nothing had changed. My Mom was great about this. Once she knew I was gay, she was there for me. She told me straight out that she didn’t care for one of my boyfriends (smart lady), and she told me how much she liked Steve right away when she met him (SUCH a smart lady). She was the only witness at our wedding, because it was just a little low-key city hall affair…the big party was later when Steve’s parents came out to visit and we celebrated both his graduation and our wedding. Would any of that have one bit different if we’d been Andy and Eve or Steve and Andrea? Not one bit for any of our parents.
The one thing they’re really concerned about is homophobia. And justly so. It can show up in strange places, as I’ve explained before. To quote Motoromouth Moms Mabley in the movie musical of Hairspray, “Love is a gift, but not everyone remembers that. So you better be ready for a whole lot of ugly coming from a whole lot of stupid.” (That may not be perfect…don’t have it right in front of me…but it’s something like that.)
Z is lucky. His school has a zero tolerance bullying rule, which I salute. I don’t know if he plans to come out to more of his peers, but, if he does, he’s picked a pretty good time and place to live. Massachusetts is pretty cool with gay folks, and this day and age is more friendly towards gay folks than any I’m aware of. Still, “whole lot of stupid” out there, so I hope he’s careful. But, like I say, he’s a smart kid. I’m confident he’ll be smart, and I know his family will be there for him, as will I.
It’s stunning to me to think that this kid I’ve known for years has had the courage and conviction to come out to his parents at age 12. I’m blown away. I applaud him, and I will tell him so personally when I next see him. It’s obviously important to him that they know, and I reminded them, “You should be flattered he wanted to tell you…that you didn’t have to find out by accident…that he didn’t try to creep around behind your back.”
Finding out someone you know is gay isn’t about you…it’s about them. It’s important to be there for them, and to support them. Take it as a compliment. This is something that’s a very intimate part of them, and they care enough about you to let you know it.
The best thing you can do for them is to be there. Give them your support and your love, and then just incorporate it into what you know about them and don’t make a big deal about it. In the long run, nothing’s changed. They’re still the person you love. This shouldn’t make one whit of difference as to how you feel about them.
Has anyone close to you come out to you? Did you know ahead of time? How did you feel when they told you? Let us all know.