Is my child gay?
June 24, 2005 9:48 AM   Subscribe

Could my preteen son be gay?

He is a sweet, tender-hearted, hyperactive kid. He has been seeing a psychologist all year for his anxiety, negative self-talk, etc. He hangs out only with girls. They all love him. He has had an adorable girl friend all
year. He has almost no guy friends. He gets very nervous around boys his age. He has a hard time going along with the guy talk. I should add that he is bright, athletic, and very good-looking. His anxiety over boys, as well as having a lot of feminine qualities makes me think he could be a homosexual. My question is how can I know as a parent and how can I best parent him?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (54 answers total)
Before you get the almost certain litany of responses to your question, just remember that he's a kid.

My response is that he needs to hang out with other guys his age, regardless of his sexual leanings. How you encourage that, I don't know, but his relationships with other guys will positively affect his understanding of himself. There's a whole host of gender-based emotional identification there.
posted by jazzkat11 at 9:55 AM on June 24, 2005

Well, nervousness around guys doesn't mean he fancies them, necessarily. Most preteen straight boys aren't nervous around girls, just uninterested. It sounds quite likely that he's mature and intelligent, which is why he's hanging out with the maturer people around him -- which are girls, at that age.

I think jazzkat11's right in that he needs to hang out with other guys, but have no idea how you'd engender that situation.
posted by bonaldi at 9:59 AM on June 24, 2005

What are his relationships with adult males like? Males of all ages are competitive and some men (you do not have to be gay) opt-out from the dealing with the whole competitive, one-upsmanship, macho crap. Were I in your situation I would pay close attention to how the adult men in your sons life treat him. Are there adult males around who make your son feel uncomfortable? Pressuring him to play a particular sport, telling him how he should feel (you're not tough enough, suck it up, be a man, don't be a quitter)? I would look out for stuff like that.
posted by mlis at 9:59 AM on June 24, 2005

I'm sorry to hear that your son is going through a rough time. I hope the professional help is making a difference in his happiness.

I'd suggest that you parent the son you have right now rather than worrying yourself about the son who might reveal himself to you one day. He might be gay. He might be straight. He might be a straight kid who reads gay to a lot of people. He may have very good reason to be nervous around boys if, hypothetically, he has been targeted and bullied by them. Or he may not mesh well with other boys because he's brighter and more mature. He may get more comfortable with other boys as he enters his teens.

If he is gay, how would knowing that that help you make him happier and more comfortable right now? If he's gay and preteen, he may not even be able to articulate what and who he is right now.

Love him for who he is and help support him through the anxiety. Don't worry about this or that hypothetical and lose track that he's your unique son with his own gifts and problems.
posted by maudlin at 9:59 AM on June 24, 2005

Or maybe he's just an effeminate straight boy. Why do you feel like you have to do anything as a parent other than being supportive?
posted by cmonkey at 10:00 AM on June 24, 2005

There's nothing natural about "going along with the guy talk." He may be avoiding the pressure to maculinize himself, which is pervasive and actually quite oppressive, but that can be a phase, and it doesn't necessarily relate at all to what gender he wants to have sex with. You mention that he has a girlfriend but you suspect he's gay. Is it just me or does that sound weird?

Give him the space to grow up to be the kind of man he wants to be, without giving him a complex about being a "girlie fag."
posted by scarabic at 10:11 AM on June 24, 2005

Could be anything... maybe he's gay, maybe he's trans, maybe he's just more comfortable around girls. Let him be who he is, be supportive, and his sexuality will sort itself out in due time.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 10:12 AM on June 24, 2005

My question is how can I know as a parent and how can I best parent him?

You can best parent him by letting him be the human being — your son — that he is, and supporting him if he chooses to discuss the sexual details of his personal life with you, by letting him know you're happiest when he is happy in his own life.
posted by Rothko at 10:13 AM on June 24, 2005

How can you best parent him? maudlin gives great advice: love the kid you have.

How can you know if he is gay or not? Short of outright asking him, you can't. Do you really need to know? I'd ask myself this: how will knowing change anything? Will it help you be a better parent? Will it help your son?

On preview, pretty much what every one else has said.
posted by idest at 10:16 AM on June 24, 2005

What they said above, and also: Read How to Raise a Gay-Friendly Child. He'll figure out in his own time what his gender identity/sexual orientation are. The best thing a parent can do is to let them know that they love and support their child no matter how that turns out.
posted by matildaben at 10:19 AM on June 24, 2005

If you want to encourage socialization, sports is an obvious answer. The way boys relate to each other in a competitive team environment is very similar to the way men relate to each other socially and professionally. It can be a very positive experience, provided your son finds an activity he enjoys. If he has some success, that can help with the self-esteem issues too.

Now, I'm not saying you should throw him into football or soccer (unless that's what he wants to go out for). I had great experiences as a teenager in an individual sport, flatwater canoeing. My problem was the opposite---I had the opposite problem coming from a mostly-male household relating to girls. The key was that the club was mixed sex. Both girls and boys were my training partners and teammates. You might find that a mixed-sex sports environment, like swimming, gymnastics or even martial arts, is the best fit for your boy. He can be comfortable around the girls, while getting to know how to deal with a structured male team system.
posted by bonehead at 10:21 AM on June 24, 2005

sure, any pre-teen kid could turn out to be gay. does it matter?

Nothing you describe makes it sound like he's anything other than slightly nerdy, fwiw, but maybe you're getting a vibe you can't quite put into words. In any event, don't worry about it, and just support whoever he turns out to be. It's good in general to make sure it's clear (in a casual way) that all possibilities are fine, but I wouldn't push him to identify as anything in particular at this stage. Some people know from the time they're 3 and other people are still juggling options at 25, so just let him come to his own conclusions in his own sweet time.
posted by mdn at 10:23 AM on June 24, 2005

Your son does sound a lot like my brother when he was that age. He's bisexual.

I'd be careful about being too obvious about your suspicions with your son. My mom thought I was a lesbian for years -- I'm not -- and it really bothered me, because I felt like she wasn't accepting me for who I am (ie, a late bloomer on the dating scene who happens to behave in some unstereotypical ways, gender-wise).

Maybe you could watch some upbeat movies about families with gay people in them when your son's around, and just let him see that you have empathy for gay people and don't think there's anything wrong with homosexuality. When he's ready and if he's gay you'll have laid the groundwork for more open discussion.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 10:27 AM on June 24, 2005

you know, even if I'm staunchly heterosexual, sometimes in the US I've been mistaken for "possibly gay" -- it turned out it was for quite silly reasons like a certain appreciation for handmade shirts, the ownership of a quite well-cut suit, a keen interest in women's fashion, the ability to determine the designer of a woman's outfit (and, often, its size), a strong allergy to crude locker-room talk, the lack of comprehension for many obscure rules of the (otherwise very beautiful) game of baseball, etc.

then, those people realized I just have "European ways", whatever they might be. being European, they are indeed appropriate, I hope.

maybe your son is just that, a little more, I don't know, refined than some of his male contemporaries. maybe he just digs the company of girls. I'm 35 and I have more women friends than male friends -- that doesn't really make me "gay".

you know, this reminds me of a famous hair stylist I once socially met, a total womanizer, who explained to me quite happily that "what would you rather do, spend all day in the company of balding men, and having to touch their heads all day while talking for the 100th time about last week's soccer game and having to give them a shave, or spend your day in the company of women touching their heads and getting to know them really well discussing their personal lives?".

the answer seemed obvious to me. he's one of the least gay men I've ever met.

maybe your "gaydar" needs to relax a little -- he's just a little kid. and if indeed growing up your son turns out to be gay as a teen, just try to love him more -- he'll have to take a lot of shit from a good chunk of the world, that seems eager to discriminate against gays. he'll need his family's love and support even more than your regular teenager.
posted by matteo at 10:28 AM on June 24, 2005


Because it's your problem. Not theirs.
posted by neilkod at 10:31 AM on June 24, 2005

He hangs out only with girls. They all love him. He has had an adorable girl friend all
year. He has almost no guy friends. He gets very nervous around boys his age. He has a hard time going along with the guy talk. I should add that he is bright, athletic, and very good-looking.

Hell, this describes me now. Granted, "athletic" is a stretch and "very good-looking" might be flattering myself, but still.
posted by rafter at 10:33 AM on June 24, 2005

"If you want to encourage socialization, sports is an obvious answer. The way boys relate to each other in a competitive team environment is very similar to the way men relate to each other socially and professionally. It can be a very positive experience, provided your son finds an activity he enjoys. If he has some success, that can help with the self-esteem issues too."

Or, you know, not. I attribute some of my deep seated misanthropy and hostility to much of American male culture as a result of my folks ecouraging me to overcome my shyness and lack of interest companionship with other boys (for similar reasons outlined in the initiation post above) by playing Little League. It was among the most unpleasant and traumatizing experiences of my life and deeply underlined my already well-set negative self-image.

FWIW, I'm a very hetero adult male. But I loathe American male competitiveness with a burning passion.
posted by mwhybark at 10:42 AM on June 24, 2005

Don't make any assumptions.
posted by Count Ziggurat at 10:55 AM on June 24, 2005

My question is how can I know as a parent and how can I best parent him?

Your son may not know himself just yet. I'd say a very important thing for you to do at this point is to make sure your son knows that being gay is OK, and that you send a strong message that you would not disapprove of his being gay, would support him, and so on. There is a hell of a lot of misinformation about homosexuality out there confronting kids; do what you can to dispell it.

If you create an open and non-threatening space around this issue, you son will be much more likely to come out to you if he determines he is gay.
posted by profwhat at 11:00 AM on June 24, 2005

I don't know if your son will be straight, gay, transgender, or maybe trans and straight (I think I covered all the possibilities there!) I have known people who would identify with your description of your son and they generally turned out straight, some were gay or transgender, some were just very creative and artistic people who for whatever reason were sometimes read as gay, because our society oftentimes has really out-moded and prescriptive notions about the range and types of behavior people should exhibit if they are male or female.

In any case whether he is gay, straight, or transgender, that is what he is. You parent him the same way you would parent any child, by being there for them, by being trustworthy, trying to be consistent, and by showing that you won't go over the top or make a big deal about things. That you won't intrude on his privacy, but will be there to talk to if he feels he needs to. Let him sort his own way.

Also I would absolutely let him choose his own friends, not try to "encourage" him to have more male friends. This will just drive a wedge between you both and I don't see how the sex of the people he chooses to hang out with is important.

Sure, offer to pay for or arrange an extra sport or activity if he wishes, but let him choose that sport or activity.

But, don't assume anything.
posted by lucien at 11:06 AM on June 24, 2005

Ah, don't worry too much about it. He's not even a teenager yet, for Chrissakes. He could hit puberty and turn into the gruntingest, crotch-scratchingest "Hanging out with women is for fags" womanizing boy you ever met.

No matter where his love pulls him, you should let him know that homosexuality is OK by you (if it is), and if you happened to have a gay kid you wouldn't give a damn. It'll help him to not become a homophobe and if he does turn out to be gay cut down on the self-hatred monumentally. I wouldn't have "The Gay Talk" with him where you sit him down and spell out these ideas to him, that would be weird and he'd come out of it confused and worried that you thought he was gay and even more confused about his feelings. But when you see an article about gay marriage or gay bashing or whatnot, feel free to let your outrage show in front of him.

If homosexuality isn't OK by you . . . well, I would do more reading about homosexuality. And if you really, really, really can't change your beliefs, the best thing you can do is to not let him know your feelings about the subject at all unless you actually catch him with another dude, at which point you can have the "I don't like teh gay but I will always love you" discussion.

There's also PFLAG, if you're looking for more support. But that's jumping waaaay ahead. Above everything else, don't make any assumptions about what he is or isn't until he's older.

If you're worried about him not making friends with other guys, well, it sort of sounds like he never got the hang of hanging around guys, and it's a bit hard for him to start now. Remember that preteen-teenage boys can be quite intimidating in large, close groups (like on sports teams) if you're an outsider and don't know the method to the madness. I mean, not that this isn't true of girls, but it sounds like he's doing fine with them.

Does he have any male relatives around his age he could hang out with? Or any youngish (<3 5) male, non-parental relatives or close family friends at all he could hang out with? and if none of those, any strong>small clubs or groups that he could join that would provide a non-competitive environment (for the reasons mwhybark discussed), like 4-H or a good Boy Scout troop (er, though depending on the troop the Boy Scouts might not be so happy-happy with the cultivation of not-homophobia). Better yet, find co-ed groups that are small enough that it isn't feasible for boys and girls to break off into their own cliques and would allow him to associate with guys while still feeling like he was in his element. You want to find non-stressful, relatively supervised situations for him to learn the "hard ways of men" without feeling forced or anxious, something that getting him to join a sports team can certainly do. I guess I'm thinking of ways to ease him into things--he may just not have ever gotten the hang of hanging around dudes when he was younger.

I'm a lesbian, and my feelings about girls at his age sound a lot like your son's feelings about boys. But I don't believe this stemmed so much from Teh Gay as lack of socialization with them--that's why I would urge you to encourage your boy to hang around other boys his age. Believe me, middle-school and high-school are going to be hell for him if he doesn't get a little used to hanging out with his gender now, and his anxiety problem will just get worse. You don't want him to be in college and unable to comfortably interact with his roommate because he never learned how.

Even worse, he'd be gay and unable to comfortably interact with that cute guy down the hall because of deep-seated anxieties.

But maybe I'm just projecting. I'll stop rambling now.
posted by schroedinger at 11:11 AM on June 24, 2005

It isn't yours to decide, and it isn't yours to DO anything about. It is only your job to create an environment that makes coming out a comfortable thing if it ever does happen. So when the crush talks begin, try using gender neutral language ("Is there a special someone?" or "Anyone caught your eye?" is much better than "You got any girls you like?"). Remember that for ALL children, discovering their sexual self is a big deal and awkward. You wouldn't rush a heterosexual child into that any more than you'd rush a homosexual child into that. He may turn out to be a gentle straight man, or a metrosexual (like every man I've ever loved). Discovering one's self takes a while, so just create a loving environment and be open to whatever he throws (or doesn't throw) in your direction.
posted by abbyladybug at 11:15 AM on June 24, 2005

I agree with mwhybark: absolutely don't make him play sports--I wouldn't even present it as an option if I had kids, but that's my own trauma speaking...

More to the point, I think bonaldi has it dead on...
posted by hototogisu at 11:19 AM on June 24, 2005

If I were a preteen, and my parents made mistaken assumptions that my sexuality was something they needed to intervene in -- "son, we realize you're gay -- and we just want to let you know it's okay" -- I think it would be quite upsetting.

Then again my dad used to toss Playboy magazines onto my (straight person's) bed. And I suppose if I were gay this would have been an upsettingly bewildering set of expectations in its own right.

I agree with the poster who said it will sort itself out by itself. I'd be hesitant to see it as a potential catastrophe of the future that needs your intervention today.

I say follow the Prime Directive.
posted by inksyndicate at 11:34 AM on June 24, 2005

It sounds like a noncompetitive martial art like Aikido could do him some good. Martial arts at that age generally attract more boys, but it's still a mixed-gender, supportive environment. There is no direct competition and machismo. It could cultivate some self-confidence and provide an outlet for the hyperactivity.

I agree and re-emphasize not to force him to do anything, but if he was into the idea, it might be worth pursuing.

Everyone else seems to have covered the rest.
posted by rfordh at 11:43 AM on June 24, 2005

I'm a little freaked out by this question.

For starters, isn't it just a little too early to start assigning the kid into a sexuality box? He's a pre-teen, ferchrissakes! Let him be a kid.

Second, wtf is the matter with hanging out with girls? Even at that age, they're a helluva lot more mature than the boys in the class. Who the hell would want to hang with grubby, aggro, stupid, and self-centred pre-teen boys when there are clean, nice, smart, and caring girls around?

What in the name of all that is small, blue, and holy makes you think that his behaviours indicate "gayness" of any sort? Homosexuality is about who you are sexually attracted to, not clothes, lisps, hanging out with girls, distaste for hunting, or whatnot.

And finally, even if he were sticking his little boner up another boy's ass, he isn't "gay" at this stage of his life. There are a lot of years left before his brain gels into its adult form, hormones settle down into adult form, and gonads make it clear to him what sex he prefers. Whatever he is doing now as a pre-teen boy may be completely different than what he does as a late adolescent or adult.

In summary, I say leave the kid alone. It is very doubtful that he's particularly worried about sex, or even particularly thinking about sex. Don't bother messing with this aspect of his being until he's well into teenagehood.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:59 AM on June 24, 2005

I think you'd be well served to stop obsessing about the gender identity of your son. Focus on who he is and what he's doing, instead.

Then again, I think society might be well served to stop obsessing about everyone's gender identity, so what do I know?
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:01 PM on June 24, 2005

Hmm. I think it's completely natural that you're wondering, and I think it's great that you want to be supportive.

To me, schroedinger's answer above is right on.
posted by widdershins at 12:11 PM on June 24, 2005

Sure, he could, and don't worry about it either way—as everybody else said. I'm very impressed with the quality of response in this thread.

Uncle Renzo, you... you... European!
posted by languagehat at 12:14 PM on June 24, 2005

I was almost exactly like that when I was a kid. hell, I'm still a lot like that, and I'm not gay.

...OR AM I?
posted by mcsweetie at 12:39 PM on June 24, 2005

A good way to get him hanging out with a mixture of genders could be theater (straight or gay). It would have to be something he's interested in, but theater-folk tend to be open, caring and kind, and willing to embrace anyone.

Theater teaches healthy self-expression and community, and if he's also into sports, it could lead to a very well-rounded guy.
posted by crickets at 12:41 PM on June 24, 2005

I don't have much advice to add to the excellent responses already here, but I can add a personal observation.

Your son reminds me of me. From the time I was in nursery school, most of my friends were girls (I'm male). And I've always been uncomfortable around men. I don't like sports. My favorite topics of conversation are what people are thinking and feeling. I prefer movies about relationships to car chases. So I have a hard time finding things to do and talk about with "traditional" males. On the other hand, I can talk for hours with most women.

But I am straight. In fact, I am SO straight that I can't think of a time -- even once -- when I've been attracted to a man. When people say, "that man is handsome" or "that man is ugly," I can't tell the difference. It's like something is missing in my brain when it comes to men. (I wish this wasn't so. I think being bisexual would be much more interesting. And I wonder if a slight bisexual component is necessary for hetero male friendships, a slight desire to "flirt." Maybe my lack of this desire makes make friendships uninteresting to me.)

By the way, I'm talking about relationships with straight men. I've had very few. On the other hand, I've had tons of friendships with gay men. I'm almost as comfortable with them as I am with women.

Naturally, many people have assumed I'm gay. It doesn't really bother me (though it did a bit when I was single and trying to get a girlfriend). I'm not.

Of course, your son might be gay. But I just wanted you to hear from one straight guy who shares some of your son's "symptoms."

One other thing: there is an ugly reason why I don't tend to befriend men -- besides my dislike of sports and other types of traditional male bonding. I REALLY hate to admit this, but it's because I don't like competition for women's attention. If I'm in a room full of women, I want them all to be paying attention to ME. I'm sure most straight men feel this way, but it's a bit more extreme in my case. It's totally under control. I deal. I'm always polite to other men. But it does affect my desire to be friends with them.
posted by grumblebee at 1:02 PM on June 24, 2005

grumblebee, that's not ugly, that's normal. Maybe you're more of a regular guy than you think. Let's get a beer and go watch strippers.
posted by jonmc at 1:04 PM on June 24, 2005

johnmc, thanks for the support. I don't really agree though. I'm not down-on-myself or anything. But I DO wish I could stand another guy getting some attention now and then. Anyway, this thread isn't about me. I just wanted to give an example of how someone could be straight and prefer women to men.
posted by grumblebee at 1:15 PM on June 24, 2005

If he's good-looking and girls like him and he's not terribly masculine, then it's just natural that he'll gravitate toward female friends. He's just making the most of his social options. Kids don't always have the presence of mind to think that perhaps their behavior isn't totally well-rounded. They do what works, they move toward the shiny objects in view. They stick to the people who treat them the best. If he is athletic and handsome and popular with girls, it's quite likely that other boys see him as some kind of hotshot or prima donna or threat.

Perhaps your son is more concerned with loyalty or warmth in his friendships, and gets that more from girls than boys. I've been there, too. Again, it doesn't necessarily have anything at all to do with sexual orientation.

No contact whatsoever with one entire gender is definitely a gaping hole in his social development, though. I'd consider it a problem, an imbalance to be addressed, but not necessarily an indication that he's gay.

How many gay men socialized only with girls as kids? Certainly some but I don't know how reliable an indicator that is.

Perhaps the trick is for him to find male friends that suit his needs, not to thrust himself into a male culture he doesn't like. The male culture of "two-for-flinching" and "don't be a fag" is certainly not for everybody at all times.
posted by scarabic at 1:22 PM on June 24, 2005

Hey, let him try ballet. Soccer. Baseball. Macrame. Whatever. The thing is - let him make his own choices, then accept them. Only that way will he naturally discover who he actually wants to be. Your ambitions for him are secondary to all of that. He's not really a sexual being as we know it yet.

Whatever he is doing now as a pre-teen boy may be completely different than what he does as a late adolescent or adult. - Too true.

< / gay dad of a probably straight girl>
posted by dash_slot- at 1:39 PM on June 24, 2005

If you want to encourage socialization, sports is an obvious answer. The way boys relate to each other in a competitive team environment is very similar to the way men relate to each other socially and professionally.

God help us. I avoid association with that style of guy whenever possible. Sports bring out the shitheels like nothing else, and the guys who see every aspect of life as some extended competition are just about my least favorite people on the planet.

If your son wants to try a sport, great. If not, do not go there.

Data point: not gay, got along with other guys just fine growing up. Just not the assholes.
posted by cortex at 1:51 PM on June 24, 2005

It sounds like a noncompetitive martial art like Aikido could do him some good. Martial arts at that age generally attract more boys, but it's still a mixed-gender, supportive environment. There is no direct competition and machismo.

It's not actually true in general that martial arts at that age involve no direct competition and machismo. I took shotokan karate for about 5 years in exactly the pre-teen/teen range and it ranged from somewhat competitive to extremely competitive, depending on the dojo and the sensei. Aikido on the other hand may very well involve no competition at that age, at least if it's taught correctly - I wish I did aikido then and not shotokan karate. However, my experience was that a good part of the competitiveness was brought in by the students (esp. the male students), so even aikido may not be free of it.

That said, if you're going to try to get your kid involved with a sport, aikido seems like a really good choice (much preferable to the conventional football/baseball/soccer options). In any martial art though, you should have some idea of what goes on in that particular dojo and make sure you trust the sensei. There are some karate instructors (this won't happen in something like aikido) who feel, for instance, that breaking boards is an integral and necessary part of doing karate, and you may prefer to disagree on behalf of your child (I'm glad, for the sake of my hands, that my parents removed me from that dojo).
posted by advil at 2:03 PM on June 24, 2005

i'm with five fresh fish and grumblebee, too ... this question makes me feel uncomfortable as i feel like it's saying a straight kid has to act a certain way, hang around the boys instead of the girls and be interested in certain activities ... it seems like you're coming up with some stereotypes here

gay and straight are defined by what sex you're attracted to, not all the stuff you've listed ... i have a lot of sympathy for gay men in this society, because i've been mistaken or accused with hostility of being one so many times, simply because of my interests and personality ... a lot of straight people like me have had to put up with this bullshit, too, and we hate it
posted by pyramid termite at 2:41 PM on June 24, 2005

i know it's natural for a parent to care, but i'd say just let it be. what does it matter whether he's gay or not? just make it clear that whatever it is, he will be loved.

for what it's worth i never had many friends, and young agressive male behaviour really bugged me. anyway, that's how i am and that's fine by me. the various attempts by my parents to make me "do stuff" were kind of tedious - i don't think they helped any.
posted by andrew cooke at 2:54 PM on June 24, 2005

grumblebee, let's go get a beer and talk about our feelings.
posted by matildaben at 3:00 PM on June 24, 2005

He can't, he's coming out with me and pyramid termite to party. We're gonna go see a broadway show, then head out for drinks at the Phoenix. The next morning, it's pedicures and manicures for the three of us.

I can not think of a less appealing social environment than that of a group of stereotypical "men," except perhaps the social environment of a group of pre-teen boys. Ugh.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:30 PM on June 24, 2005

I'd love to talk, matildaben, but I don't drink beer. I prefer girly drinks.
posted by grumblebee at 3:32 PM on June 24, 2005

Sounds like me at that age, and I'm a happily married straight guy who likes naked chicks a lot. Andrew Cook's and Bonaldi's and Grumblebee's comments are spot on.

Macho teen male behavior was irritating to me, my friends were mostly girls (although part of that may have been me just hoping to see them with their shirts off) and I spent a LOT of time alone reading.

However, small-minded people assumed then (and some still do, unfortunately, because jerks always assume) that because I had as a teenager and have as an adult a number of gay male and female friends that I must be homosexual. Or maybe it's because I dress well and don't like football.

You'd think all my requests to have my finger pulled would clinch it, but no...
posted by luriete at 3:39 PM on June 24, 2005

grumblebee, I make an awesome blue martini (or blee martooni as we call it).
posted by matildaben at 4:08 PM on June 24, 2005

Okay, matildaben. It's a date!
posted by grumblebee at 7:55 PM on June 24, 2005

I've wondered about both my sons at times. I haven't wondered about it lately, but that doesn't mean things are any clearer; it just means it's none of my business. Luckily, my wife has an openly gay cousin, so we can discuss gay issues without it being about the boys. But through that I think they know they could come out to us and still be loved.

One thing we've tried to do is to get the boys involved in activities. As it turns out, they're both musicians (oldest is majoring in viola in college starting this fall), and the youngest also likes Tae Kwon Do. Before we settled on these, though, we tried several other activities: Scouting, sports, etc. Regardless of how they turn out sexual orientation-wise, they are reasonably well-rounded and socialized.
posted by Doohickie at 8:12 PM on June 24, 2005

Wow, I'm really surprised by the lack of responses from gay people. I always knew Metafilter wasn't a particularly gay place -- not that there's anything wrong with that -- but I thought I'd chime in as a gay guy whose parents handled things just about as well as parents can be expected to handle them.

My parents told me and my two siblings, an older brother (a very macho sports nut who is as straight as an arrow and happily married with a new baby) and a younger sister (a straight woman who's had her own problems with relationships, i.e., multiple relationships with "unavailable" men), one thing over and over as we were growing up: "You are our children, and that means, regardless of what happens in your life, first and foremost, we love you. Always. No matter what, and nothing will ever change that." So, even if we f*cked up, got in trouble, broke something expensive we were afraid to admit to, or -- in my case -- told them I was gay my junior year of college -- never were we in doubt about what the final outcome would be: we would still be loved. And everything else would kind of fall in place after that.

A female colleague once asked me, "Let's say my daughter told me she was a lesbian: what would you have me tell her?" I responded, "I would tell her, no matter what she is, she couldn't love her any more, and you will never love her any less."

But to put a bit of a fine point on this: I would *not* sit down with your son and say, "I just want you to know, it's okay with me if you're gay." That's not the message a pre-teen boy needs or wants to hear -- and, believe me, even if he is, it's going to take HIM a long time before he has the emotional intelligence to deal with it. But there's been a lot of great advice here that says the things you're reading as indications aren't 100% conclusive, and I do think it's possible you could give him a bit of an unnecessary complex when, in the end, he just may be a bit atypical. Although I think moms know things about their kids on unconscious levels.

Regardless, you sound like a wonderful parent who wants to do best by your son. That's what matters most, so you'll do fine. Just love him and enjoy him as he grows and the light he brings into your life. And, if you do that, he'll likely grow up to love others -- men or women -- in a very similar way, which is the most wonderful gift you can give him.

Good luck to you and your son.
posted by mrkinla at 10:43 PM on June 24, 2005

I read a fascinating article by an Eagle Scout that had been kicked out for being gay. He was sad because, according to him, Scouts had been the best place for a gay boy (which could just as easily be any boy with issues with male socializing) to socialize and learn some more masculine-type things in a supportive environment. I think his observation was spot-on.

I'm gay, knew since I was 12 (well, knew what I wanted, it was another year before I knew the word for it). I too grew up with utter disgust for American male competitiveness/sport-obsession. And I was bull headed as could be, so any pushing made me stand fast, and I never ever lost such a contest. (and do I have stories about that! Especially from private school, where I just utterly refused to have anything to do with football).

So you asked your question in this 'gay' context, and yea, you're showing your sensitivity to that possible future issue. I don't need to harp at you about sexual identity in preteens, everyone already busted your chops over that. Rather, I just take it in this parental concern about the whole picture of his socializing.

The martial arts suggestion I like, with the cautions others have stated. A boy like yours, gay or not, is likely to find it convenient to be able to kick ass when needed. And confidence can help him avoid that need a great deal.
posted by Goofyy at 11:08 PM on June 24, 2005

Actually, mrkinla, there's quite a few gay people who've posted in this thread, myself included :)
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 8:15 AM on June 25, 2005

The other thing is: as a pre-teen, the son in question is just coming into puberty. I think there are a lot of things hormones do to a person during puberty and adolescence, and chances are your son will be quite different in all social aspects when he's twenty (I'm seeing this with my own sons). He might even think he is gay at this point but could be very solidly hetero in a year or two. When one awakens sexually, one can be stimulated by all *kinds* of things. (It seemed like about 1/2 the boys gym class in my middle school were sporting boners in the showers- not because they were gay, but simply because that much nakedness when they weren't used to it could be very sexually stimulating.)

I think Scouts would be a much higher quality organization if they got rid of all the homophobic and atheistophobic leadership. On the lowest levels (i.e., troop by troop), much of scouting is very well suited to, and even stresses, inclusiveness. I think a few bigoted apples are ruining what could be a great experience for many boys just because they are not part of the cultural mainstream. So they have two options: Hide who they really are and in so doing violate the spirit of the Scout Oath and Law; or be honest with those around them and risk being rejected by a group they love.
posted by Doohickie at 11:21 AM on June 25, 2005

Although I think moms know things about their kids on unconscious levels.

Amen to that. I remember when my mom took me aside and asked if I thought my kid brother might be gay. I said "Don't be silly, just because he's not into sports, blah blah blah..." Boy was I surprised a year or two later when he came out.
posted by languagehat at 11:56 AM on June 25, 2005

Might there be an alternate explanation? I’m thinking Oedipal. I’m sure you’ve covered all bases and have narrowed it down to the most likely, but if he has any issues with his father they may be playing out in his character development. I’ve no idea whether you’re mom or pop, nor of your family’s circumstance, so excuse any wrongheadedness or ill-informed judgement on my part.

Two possibilities, as I see it: one, he worships his father as the idealised ubermensch that he can never live up to (I’m thinking an extremely charismatic, successful older version of your son) or, two, the exact opposite: he wants nothing to do with the old man and is actively (though unconsciously) trying to become his polar opposite. In either case, if he lacks a true father figure / mentor or the relationship is uncommunicative / distant – or is perceived as such – he may be seeking shelter from the self-identification storm in the company of the fairer sex.

Juvenile male (and, lets be honest, female) relationships are all about pecking order and social status. If the father makes the son feel inadequate, or the son feels he has an inadequate / incommunicative father (ie one that he cannot identify with), he will have trouble dealing with the combativeness inherent in teenage relationships – particularly at an age where he’s still forming and testing his own identity. By choosing to socialise with girls, he can manage this process in a far more comfortable and less confronting environment.

As someone who had a difficult relationship with – and sought to identify himself by becoming in every possible way entirely unlike – his own father, some of your observations struck a chord. With two sisters and a loving mother, I’ve always been more at home in the company of women. I value my male friendships and enjoy the competiveness / sparring that they entail, but I’ve never felt as open or comfortable or as deep or intense with a guy as I do with a gal. Most – and maybe all – of that is due to the added sexual benefits, but I’ve still got issues with allowing myself to be vulnerable to being hurt in a male environment that go well beyond simple pride. As a result, I keep a certain distance that just isn’t there with females.

Suggestions? Find your son a mentor, if he doesn’t have one – an uncle, a teacher, a sports coach, an older brother, whomever – someone on whom he can tag a trustworthy male identification. If you’re the father, or if he’s still around and capable of taking on that role, let him become that mentor. The kid’s athletic. Use that. Let him develop his self-confidence and self-worth on the sports field. He can learn to handle the combativeness and push / pull of male friendship in an arena where he has an advantage – his peers will respect him for athletic prowess (it sounds like he’s already got the girls covered!).

Of course, he may just be gay. You (and he) will find that out in due course – if your relationship is even halfway open, he’ll tell you outright. If he is, I think your question is more about your own fears than concern for your son’s welfare. I’ve no way of knowing, but I can’t imagine why you’d need to parent a gay child any differently from a straight one. Different issues may arise, but the same roles and responses should apply, no?
posted by bookie at 11:41 AM on June 26, 2005

I'm late to this party, but jeebus, quit looking for a solution to something that's not a problem. Intervention breeds insecurity.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 6:35 PM on June 26, 2005

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