Our son came out to us today. Now what?
October 23, 2006 6:17 PM   Subscribe

My 20 year old son came out to my wife and I this morning. I want to support him and understand his lifestyle and decisions better. Where do I go from here?

Looking for reading material, sites, or books. From reading Metafilter this long, I think I was pretty well-prepared to handle the news. I have accepted his decision and want to be supportive. My initial reaction was calm and I thanked him for having enough confidence and trust in me to tell me. My wife is having a tougher time than I am. My wife is also accepting/supporting but is having coping troubles. We know its his decision and we respect it. We dont want to create discomfort or distance.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (38 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Firstly - recognize it's not a decision.
posted by tristeza at 6:24 PM on October 23, 2006 [12 favorites]

PFLAG is a good place to start.

Remember that this is still the same kid you raised, and know, and love -- you don't have to rethink everything through the new filter of "my Gay kid."
posted by desuetude at 6:33 PM on October 23, 2006

PFLAG (parents and friends of lesbians and gays) is a great get-started place. They have a lot of great information and dos and don'ts for family members trying to be supportive. You might want to see if there is a chapter near you. I had a few friends who came out in high school and college who had parents who were, at best, skeptical and PFLAG helped them a lot. They have specific resources for people of faith and people of color among others, in case either of those fits your situation. The only thing I'd add to their list of suggestions is that your wife may need to work on her coping on her own and with you, possibly not with your son. My friends' parents often wanted to sort of rehash all their concerns and anxieties about gay people with my friends. That may be okay depending on your family situation, but it often made my friends feel bad and weird. Since your wife has you, the two of you can work out some of that stuff together.

Part of the process will have to do with whether your son has been out for a while and only recently out to you, or whether he's newly out to the world. If it's the latter, he may bemore fragile about his own sexual identity and less able to help the two of you grapple with this. If he's been out for a while and is comfortable in his own sxuality, it may be something that you can all talk about together more easily and more quickly.
posted by jessamyn at 6:36 PM on October 23, 2006

The decision was in coming out. As I understand it.

Having known many gay folks, I would have to say that by far the things that cause them the most life-long torment is when parents cut them off, or somehow treat them as being less than human or as undeserving of the parents love.

So you've nailed the most important thing. (just try to help your wife get on board with this. It seems she'll need some support too.)

My advice? Continue to be open to discussion and continue to love.

On preview, jessamyn is right on, as always!

Good luck to you all and your son will lead the way if you let him.
posted by snsranch at 6:46 PM on October 23, 2006

You and your wife have done the best thing you could have done for your son. You "allowed" him to be himself.

Agreed with tristeza - it's not a decision, nor is it a "lifestyle". The only decision he made was to come out. He could have stayed in the closet for years and never been honest with you, or even himself. That would be the true tragedy. Your son will likely be happier and more productive in the world because he's able to be honest. Congratulations on raising a son who knows himself so well and trusts in you both. My only concern is that you felt you had to ask this anonymously. I hope that some day you'll be able to proclaim openly and proudly that your son is gay.

Until then...

I don't know how old your son is, but if he's under 21 you might want to try finding a local queer youth group. I would suggest some, but don't know where you are.

Here are some links though:

Resources for Parents of Queer Youth
Pflag has been mentioned. They have email lists where you might find others in search of similar answers.
HRC has information for coming out to family members that might help you understand in something of a reverse engineering way.

If you would like help in finding local information and/or support please feel free to contact me via the email address in my profile. I'll point you in the right direction locally.

Seriously, congratulations on being awesome humans.
posted by FlamingBore at 6:48 PM on October 23, 2006

Call your local PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) chapter - I'm assuming you're in the U.S., but if not, they do have international chapters.

And congratulations! You have raised a son who loves and trusts you enough to tell you the truth. As tristeza noted above, he hasn't decided to be gay - but he did decide to tell you. It isn't easy; many of us never tell our parents.

Please, don't ask your son about his "lifestyle." He doesn't have one. He has a life, which isn't really very different than anyone else's life; he'll go on dates, he'll fall in love, he'll go through break-ups. He'll also have jobs, and/or school, and all the regular, daily drama that goes along with those things. If you've had the sort of relationship up to this point where you ask him about work/school/dates/movies/political opinions and so on, please continue to do so. He really is the same person he was yesterday - you just know more about him now, and as you clearly love and support him, that can only be a good thing, right?

On preview - what everyone above has said!
posted by rtha at 6:53 PM on October 23, 2006

And I have to echo the first post: It is not, not, not a decision to be gay. I'm a gay guy myself, I've been out to my family for years, and let me tell you, it is something that you always are and always have been. Some people do a better job of denying it than others, but sexual orientation is pretty much an inescapable fact.

That said, thank God you're the kind of parent who wants to be a good parent through this. You've already just guaranteed your son a better, happier life purely through *that* decision. I know in the case of my parents, the only thing they were really concerned about is the fact that being gay in this country at this time can't help but make somebody's life harder -- discrimination, health risks, violence, difficulty in building a family, etc. -- and nobody wants that for their child. The key thing there is to know and trust your child: to know and trust that they are smart enough to be safe sexually and culturally, and emotionally strong enough to deal with discrimination. Obviously I know nothing about your son, but if he's a good kid, then the important thing is to tell him that you know that, and to let him know that while you are scared about what his being gay could mean for his life, that you believe in him and trust him to be both happy and safe. And if you *do* worry that maybe your son is emotionally fragile or has a reckless streak, well, maybe you can talk to him about that in a way that's not stern, authoritarian, or lecturing, but genuinely concerned. It'll have to be your judgement as to whether or not you think he'll respond to that.

My coming-out process was pretty painless -- my parents were, overall, very accepting pretty much immediately -- but if you have any specific questions, I'm sure myself or any other gay MeFites would be perfectly happy to answer them.
posted by logovisual at 6:54 PM on October 23, 2006

After I came out to my parents in my early 20's they (and I) went through some interesting stages/phases. They accepted me -- "we love you;" "you're still our son," etc. My father quickly shifted into a mode of researching "reparative therapy" (i.e. "You can change, if you want to...") -- sending me books and even offering to send me to the Netherlands to work with a specific therapist he'd located. It was until after one memorable and quite strong argument -- one in which I was able to convince my father that I didn't choose this path and that it had taken years for me, myself, to come to terms with my sexuality -- that he started to truly come around. BTW -- later both parents said that they had always "known" that I was different from their other children and suspected that I was gay.

As above, PFLAG is a great resource.

I also suggest:

"Loving Someone Gay"

"Beyond Acceptance: Parents of Lesbians and Gays Talk About Their Experiences"

"My Child Is Gay: How Parents React When They Hear the News"

"Now That You Know: A Parents' Guide to Understanding Their Gay and Lesbian Children"

I applaud you and your wife for seeking support and direction. Just remember that it took great courage and love for your son to come out to you. He doesn't want to "live a lie" and wants all of you to be a "full family." If you have other children, he may have come out to them a while ago. They could be great resources to whom you can turn, as you process and accept the knowledge (which you imply you always kind knew) of the facet of your son's life. Good luck.
posted by ericb at 6:56 PM on October 23, 2006 [1 favorite]

FlamingBore -- jinx ... you owe me a Coke! ;-)
posted by ericb at 7:05 PM on October 23, 2006

Was just thinking about this in the shower -- I'd say the single most important thing, which I kind of hinted at in my previous comment, is to know what, exactly, it is about this that makes you uncomfortable. Is it the scenario I described, where you're worried about how the world will treat him? Is it concern about how he'll carry himself? Is it a theological or religious issue for you, or concern about what your friends will think? The important thing is for you and your wife to discuss this, as openly and frankly as possible, with each other; and then, when you know what you're concerned about and what you're not, you can consider discussing it with him. The key is that he doesn't feel some kind of vague sense of discomfort to always be coming off of you -- if there's something specific you worry about, it might be better off to tell him about it, for a couple of reasons -- one, so that he thinks about it himself if maybe he hasn't, and two, so that, frankly, he knows what subjects to tread lightly on when talking with you.
posted by logovisual at 7:29 PM on October 23, 2006

I'm not sure you really need to do anything else. You seem to have handled everything well. And there's nothing that's in a book or on a website that can tell you anything about your son that you can't learn from talking to him.

As for your wife, consider that she may be reacting to the fact that your son probably isn't going to have any biological children?
posted by Saucy Intruder at 7:53 PM on October 23, 2006

Think about how you treated him before he came out. Now continue treating him like that.

If he had a girlfriend, think about how you would act around her. Now act that way around any of his boyfriends.

Basically, think of it this way: your son is still your son. He just likes boys instead of girls. There is nothing wrong with this; it's just how he's built. So there's no reason to be any more (or less) awkward around him than you otherwise be. It just means he'll bring Jack home instead of Jill, and if he wants kids it will be more difficult for them to have them.

If you are more sensitive to the human rights issues that directly affect his life (e.g. gay marriage, laws against discrimination in the workplace based on sexuality, etc), that would be super-cool. When I came out my parents were OK with it, but then my mom went ahead and voted for Bush. Her argument was "He doesn't really have a problem with gay people." It was and still is rough for me to handle that decision.
posted by schroedinger at 7:54 PM on October 23, 2006 [1 favorite]

Sorry to beat a dead horse, but it’s a pretty big horse, so…
It’s not a choice. Your son (and I) didn’t chose to be gay any more than you chose to be straight, or chose to like brunettes, or chose to fall in love with your wife. It might be nice (albeit boring) to choose who we’ll love and who we won’t, but humans just don’t have that capacity. Nobody wakes up one morning and thinks, “Hey, my life’s too easy. I think I’ll add a challenge by choosing an identity that exposes me to bigotry and discrimination!” Your son isn’t gay because of something you or your wife did; he just happened to win the genetic lottery.

The best advice I’ve ever heard for parents who are struggling to accept their gay kid is: Don’t put the face of gays on your child; put your child’s face on gays. I think a lot of parents (mine included, lord knows) go through a line of thought like, “All this time we thought he was normal and it turns out he was one of them!” It makes so much more sense, though, to say, “All this time we thought ‘those people’ were radically different from us, but it turns out they’re just like our son!” Because we are, honestly. Your son hasn’t changed, he’s just given you another piece of the puzzle.

I also echo other commentors on applauding your decision to be supportive. Every other gay person I know came through the process of coming out to their parents pretty scarred, so yours is a wonderful gift to your son. Remember that this is difficult for him too, and that he needs your love and acceptance as he decides how he’s going to handle this as well. How you view him will have an effect on how he views himself.

As for reading material… I think the guides above are great. It might also be good to read or see some narrative depictions of the experience. The Best Little Boy in the World is a classic, excellent memoir by a man who was his parents’ golden child, and how he dealt with realizing he was gay. Torch Song Trilogy and The Wedding Banquet are smart, poignant movies that both deal with the coming-out-to-parents-issues in sensitive, accessible ways.
posted by chickletworks at 8:13 PM on October 23, 2006 [5 favorites]

I concur with saucy intruder. I think her reaction is probably more to do with the fact that he probably isn't going to have any biological children. I don't know for sure but it sounds this way to me.

I also concur with what most others have said. Realise it's not a decision he made; it's just who he is. Remember that any boyfriends he brings home to meet his folks is probably someone he loves (in my experience a lot of people think being gay is about nothing but sex; it's love, baby!). And I totally endorse everything schroedinger said. Better advice you cannot recieve.
posted by Effigy2000 at 8:32 PM on October 23, 2006

"I blame Society!"
posted by davy at 8:46 PM on October 23, 2006

Seriously, it doesn't matter HOW he became Gay, and he can still have kids if a woman friend wants one ("turkey baster" comes to mind); he's probably too young to care about this much though. PFLAG is a good idea, but the main thing to do is to cop an attitude of "Yeah, and he's still my son, so so what?" (as my dad did).
posted by davy at 8:50 PM on October 23, 2006

As a 20 year old who just came out to his parents less than a year ago I'd like to add a few points. It's important you communicate to him that while you love him that you'll need some time to process what you've just learned. He, hopefully, should understand this. During this time though, it's important to reassure him that he's still your son and you love and support him regardless of anything. The storm should be over by now though. His fears were probably like mine, namely an immediate negative reaction. Working together with your son, I hope you and your wife will come to have a better relationship than ever with him. I know before I came out I felt as if a wall was between my parents and I. Now's the chance to deepen your relationship with your son, good luck to you and your wife in your persuit.
posted by crypticgeek at 9:11 PM on October 23, 2006

I just wanted to say thanks to Anonymous and all of the commenters on here, but didn't want to start a whole Metatalk thread. My little brother came out at 20 very recently too and shocked us all. I was/am fine with it but my parents aren't dealing as well. Even though I am not the OP, I appreciate the resource, experience, and knowledge sharing and will definitely show this thread to my family. You guys have helped more than one person today. Thank you.
posted by Anonymiss at 9:54 PM on October 23, 2006 [1 favorite]

I came out to my parents in my mid-twenties (having been too shy to do so before that). As staunch liberals, they of course were accepting. Except that, we never again talked about my sexuality, ever again. Nobody asked me "when did you know?" or "did you have a crush on X?" Talk with your son.
posted by Carol Anne at 6:49 AM on October 24, 2006

Phenomenal book The Commitment by Dan Savage.

Give him a copy. Read it yourself. Skip all the gay crap. He's your kid, love him, accept him, dialogue about anything anyone doesn't understand.
posted by ewkpates at 7:13 AM on October 24, 2006

It's important to realize that nothing about him has changed. Only your knowledge of how he feels.
posted by agregoli at 7:17 AM on October 24, 2006 [1 favorite]

Eric Marcus' Is it a Choice? is also good.
posted by brujita at 7:26 AM on October 24, 2006

Firstly - recognize it's not a decision.

This is an belief that, however true it might be in some cases, has been a stumbling block for homosexuality. The easiest way to get something accepted on the margins is to disclaim responsibility - "I can't help it!" - but in order to come to terms with homosexuality as a society we need to recognize that it can be a choice and isn't necessarily something that can be cast as a genetic mishap. If we don't accept homosexuality as a possible option it can always be viewed as a unavoidable defect and at odds with heterosexuality. When it's okay for people to choose to be gay instead of being helpless in the face of a deterministic force we'll be a lot further down the road to acceptance.
posted by soma lkzx at 7:34 AM on October 24, 2006

Somebody posted this link last month. I found it interesting; you might as well.
posted by catesbie at 7:38 AM on October 24, 2006

somz lkzx is right - what's wrong with choosing to be gay?

Ask yourself: "Would this be harder for me if I knew that my son chose to be gay?" If the answer is yes, you have some thinking to do.
posted by medusa at 9:04 AM on October 24, 2006

Think about how you treated him before he came out. Now continue treating him like that.

Exactly. I recently came across an excellent Heterosexual Questionnaire that allows some insight into the (unfortunate) discriminating straight frame of reference your son is guaranteed to face.

posted by rafter at 9:08 AM on October 24, 2006

With respect, I completely disagree with soma lkzx and medusa - people may CHOOSE to ACT ON their feelings and desires, but no one chooses what feelings and desires they have. One cannot choose to "be gay" or not be gay, but one can certainly choose whether or not to persue relationships with the same or opposite gender.
posted by tristeza at 9:15 AM on October 24, 2006

Since he has come out to you, begin preparing yourself mentally for the fact that you will wind up meeting people he has relationships with. After 20 years of imagining the woman he'd marry, it may be strange and uncomfortable to sit across the table from the guy that he's dating. Your son will probably anticipate this and may wait a long time before introducing you to someone he's really crazy about.

It's natural for you to feel this way, and you may have a harder time accepting or liking the boyfriend than you have with your son. Also, it's pretty common that the relief of having finally come to terms with one's sexuality can lead to some unusual or dubious dating choices (this applies to everyone, not just gays). All I can say is please be gentle. Be honest with your son about your comfort levels, and be honest with him about your impressions of people he brings home for you to meet. Ask questions rather than reserve judgments.

The first time I introduced my mom to someone I was dating, she was polite enough to fool my boyfriend into thinking everything was fine, but I knew her well enough to see how miserable she was. She seemed listless and distracted. Because of that, I decided from then on to wait until I'd been dating someone for at least a year to introduce them. My parents have missed out on a huge amount of my enjoyment of life because, while they love and accept me, it is simply too jarring for them to confront the reality of my significant other. After three years, they avoid meeting him or discussing him. I've been out of the closet for years, but family makes me feel like I'm merely in a slightly larger enclosure
posted by hermitosis at 9:42 AM on October 24, 2006

The hardest part is actually over.

He felt comfortable enough to come out to you. That's a big step.

Don't treat him differently, because in your eyes as a parents nothing should be different.

Keep conversation open, as the biggest fear would be that "parent cut off" scenario.
posted by PetiePal at 10:36 AM on October 24, 2006

I have a rather unique situation... I'm 21 and gay - I didn't come out to my parents; rather in January I was outed by my brother. My parents had suspicions about who I was dating and asked my brother to do a little snooping. He did, found out I was gay, and reported back to my parents. Suffice to say I am still deeply hurt (the trust I had with all of my family is gone), and am still in therapy over the incident.

First and foremost, it took alot of courage and guts for your son to come out to you. If he's like me, it's probably one of the hardest decisions(choosing to tell you) he's ever made.

Second, understand that you and your wife are going through a "coming out" process of your own. Your feelings may change on a daily basis. Just understand there are resources out there and people that have been through what you're going through, and are more than happy to talk (not preach or condemn, just talk).

Just as it took time for your son to become comfortable enough to tell you, it's probably going to take you and your wife some time as well. Unfortunately there's not really much you can do to speed up the process, it just takes time.

Last, don't do anything that makes you uncomfortable; rather find alternatives that you're more comfortable with. If attending a PFLAG meeting sounds intimidating, try a phone help line, or start an e-mail correspondance. If you're having trouble talking openly with your wife or son, try writing your thoughts down before opening your mouth. If you're uncomfortable with him bringing boyfriends over to the house, maybe try meeting at a more neutral location, like a restaurant. The most important thing is trying to find ways to be supportive that you're comfortable with, not what someone else suggests.

This will be my first Christmas that I will spend away from my family. I wish I didn't have to say that but it is the truth; they have made the situation so uncomfortable(yay evangelical religion), that I don't want to put myself in that situation. From what I've read sofar, it doesn't sound like your son will have to go through that.

logovisual and schroedinger have great comments - Your son hasn't changed one bit - he's just being more open and honest with you. The future image of what you thought he will be might change, but he's still the same person as he was yesterday, and the day before that, etc.
posted by Rowgun at 11:11 AM on October 24, 2006

Let me second the end of FlamingBore's post: congratulations on being amazing parents. While not a parent myself, it is people like you who inspire me to make sure that when the time comes, I will be the best parent I can be. Let's just hope that isn't too soon! :)

This is news to you and you love your son, so of course your first thoughts are to be as supportive and understanding as possible. My recommendation would be to do nothing different. It sounds like you and your son have a healthy relationship, so "more of the same" should be ample. Show interest in his life as you did before; if you asked about relationships, what he did last weekend, how did a "date" go, etc. don't shy away from that stuff now. If you didn't (which is fine) then don't feel the need to.

You should focus (preferably away from your son) on your wife and what resources she may need to realize that your son is the same person today that he was yesterday (and the day before that). The resources already mentioned should suffice, but it could probably be something you guys hash out on your own by open discussion and honest conversation. If she initially needs to be met a little more than halfway, so be it. It will get better with time.
posted by littlelebowskiurbanachiever at 12:52 PM on October 24, 2006

You sound like you're doing a great job as it is.

Remember that as (confused, overwhelmed, scared, a dozen other feelings) as you may be feeling, your son is likely going through the same thing, only much more intensely. You'll all need time to adjust.

But do keep talking to him, as much as possible. Maybe show him this thread and ask him for his thoughts...it's likely that someone here has hit on something he can relate to which might open more dialogue.

One thing to try to keep in mind is that despite stereotypes, for most of us, our sexuality is an aspect of who we are and not a definition. Nothing has really changed other than you have now been allowed to see a much more intimate aspect of him.

He's still your son, and that will never change.


Hello from your future self?

I was in exactly the same position (and yes, it was my brother who outed me) and "lost" my fundamentalist Christian family, what with AoG not being compatible with my..."choice".

I did agree with them that it was mostly a choice...I choose to be honest with myself.

They failed you. You didn't fail them. You'll make your own family.

It does get better. Not necessarily easier, but better.

AIM and email in profile if you're up for talking sometime.
posted by geckoinpdx at 1:49 PM on October 24, 2006 [1 favorite]

I came out to my parents last yr at the ripe old age of 25. While that was pretty damned excruciating, it wasn't as bad as the moment when my dad looked at me and my girlfriend (who had her arm up on the chair behind me, not even around me) and in a calm, deadly voice said 'you two separate.' Kudos for surviving the coming out party but please, please, don't condemn him for showing affection to his partner in front of you. My parents force me to treat my gf like a stranger and it has caused a big, big rift.

Just don't make him choose, that's what I'm saying.
posted by CwgrlUp at 6:44 PM on October 24, 2006

I find the word 'lifestyle' belittling. I can't think of another word which is able to describe an extremely important aspect of a person, an aspect that makes a person different, potentially isolated, and possibly persecuted, and reduce it to a social activity. "Lifestyle" is what clubs you go to and how you furnish your apartment. Even if you believe being gay is a choice -- whether that be a choice of who to love, or a choice whether to come out, or a choice on whether or not to act on sexual desires -- being gay is not a hobby and it deserves a word which doesn't characterize it as one.

Anonymous, I think that keeping communication open with your son is paramount. Besides talking to him about how you both feel -- talking for the sake of talking -- one thing you could consider is discussing how to talk about being gay. Now, he might not have the same reaction to "lifestyle" that I do, but there probably are some things that irk him regarding language and assumptions. It will be very difficult to maintain open communication if he feels like you are judging, and a great deal of awkwardness comes from language. Just meet him halfway -- no, more than halfway -- on language for the sake of politeness. Even if you or your wife do not approve, you son deserves courtesy.
posted by cotterpin at 7:28 PM on October 24, 2006 [1 favorite]

Know that he was probably terrified to come out to you. My parents were the very last people I came out to, and this seems to be pretty common amoung gay people. This is because their parents opinion matters most and, often, they don't really have a clue what that opinion will be. Make it clear that this does not change how you see him. Tell him you love him. Don't stick "no matter what" and "still" onto that "I love you." Chances are that he was prepared for the worst: horrible things still happen to gay children when they come out, even in liberal societies.

Don't treat it as a big deal. As everyone said, he's still the same kid. There's no need to bring his sexuality up in every conversation. You don't have to grill him about having a boyfriend, or ask for the details of his sexual awakkening. If he wants to bring a boy home to meet you, get as excited as you would be if he was bringing home a girl. If he gets dumped, be just as supportive. If you wouldn't have tried to set him up with some friend's daughter before, don't try to set him up with a friend's gay son.

You two sound like fantastic parents, and I think he's lucky to have you.
posted by honeydew at 7:31 PM on October 24, 2006

What everybody else said - the fact he came out to you, and your reaction since, puts you firmly in the "damn good parents" camp already. The advice and links here are excellent.

I just wanted to add a slight, minor note of caution, against trying too hard to "understand" him. It's what everyone means when they say to just carry on acting the same (and cautioning against thinking of it in terms of a "lifestyle", as cotterpin just did). Realise that not only is he gay, but he's also a 20-year old guy. A lot of 20-year-old guys are reluctant to discuss details of their personal lives with their parents.

This may be staggeringly obvious, but don't think that you have to get into "gay culture" to be able to share with him. Don't think that you need to research all the different sub-sets of the gay scene. Don't pressure him to discuss relationships or his friends or what he does in his leisure time any more than you would have anyway. And - this is crucial - if he appears reluctant to talk about aspects of his private life, don't blame that on his being gay. It's not - it's him being a 20-year-old guy.

To reiterate: doing these things is a far lesser problem than rejecting him or avoiding discussing anything with him. Understanding is always better than not understanding. But just be aware that at his age, over-inquisitive parents can push away kids of any orientation - so play it a little cool, just as you should do if he was straight.
posted by flashboy at 5:38 PM on December 18, 2006

Word. Step 1: follow cotterpin's advice and stop calling it a lifestyle.
posted by LGCNo6 at 10:05 PM on December 18, 2006

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