Help with my 12 year old son
December 18, 2006 11:47 AM   Subscribe

Help, am I crazy? I am concerned over my 12 year old son. He has always been a sensitive kid, has a lot of stuffed animals in his room and cries easily, but lately he has started to become very effeminate in his mannerisms. He does play a lot of sports, but he is the least aggressive kid on the team and always afraid he is going to get hurt.

He doesn't show ANY interest in girls. He actually has started having a limp wrist and holding his pinky out when he drinks. Now before you think I want to change him, I don't. I'm just curious if all this means he is gay, and how do I be the supportive mom if he is? I love him dearly, but know it will be a very difficult time for all if it is true. Do some boys act like that growing up and ended up straight? Am I looking to deep into things? I see lots of boys his age he hangs out with and none of them act like this. I don't want to overreact either, but it has been on my mind lately. Any help/advice you can give will be appreciated.....
posted by justamom to Society & Culture (60 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
He's only 12. Maybe he'll turn out to be gay, maybe not. Give it a few years. Treat him the same way you always have in the meantime.
posted by ludwig_van at 11:48 AM on December 18, 2006 [3 favorites]

In this case the first answer is the best answer. Listen to ludwig_van
posted by Kellydamnit at 11:52 AM on December 18, 2006

In order for your son to grow up into a normal well balanced person, you should encourage him to do what he wants. Don't give him any anti gay propaganda and let him know what being gay is and that it's ok.
You can't turn him gay or turn him straight. He'll turn up the way he is. Don't be scared that telling him about gayness will make him gay.

I wish my parents would have understood that.
posted by PowerCat at 11:53 AM on December 18, 2006 [1 favorite]

This recent question might help: Our son came out to us today. Now what?

Also, I'd say that he's a bit young for you to be worrying about this kind of thing. 12 year olds aren't supposed to be showing any interest in girls, and if you son is gay, his own self-identification is at the very least a year or two down the road, and quite likely farther off than that. If he comes out to you, it will likely be another year or more after that.

For now: don't force it. I had a rather traumatic experience where my mother asked me if I was questioning my sexuality...let him come to you on his terms. What you can do is make sure that he knows that you love him and support him no matter what (no need to explicitly define the "no matter what" part), and to make sure that you're not giving him any indications that you're homophobic. If your son really is gay, which is by no means a certainty or even likely, he will be much better adjusted and come out to you sooner if he knows that you'll be supportive and accepting when he does.

Also, my favorite coming-out-to-parents resource, which you may find helpful:
posted by awesomebrad at 11:54 AM on December 18, 2006 [1 favorite]

Is anyone hurting your son? Is your son hurting anyone, including himself? Is he abusing drugs? Is he in academic or legal trouble?

If the answer to all of these questions is "no," then your son will be very happy if you quit watching him so closely and let him live his own life. Sure, you're curious, and you don't think you're scrutinizing his every move, but I'll wager that he does.

If you want to know what his sexual orientation is, then wait until he introduces you to a date or asks you for advice. Otherwise, hold your horses.

I'll let other, angrier MeFites be the ones to abuse you about the whole "limp-wrist, pinky-out" stereotype nonsense.
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:55 AM on December 18, 2006 [3 favorites]

Ditto ludwig - he's 12 and he probably doesn't even know whether he's gay, straight or martian. In addition, 12 and the younger teen years are a very gawky and weird time for kids. Just continue to love him and support him and treat him the same as always. Encourage him to be true to himself and make sure he knows you will love him no matter what.

I love him dearly, but know it will be a very difficult time for all if it is true.

Why not stop worrying about it? If he is gay, it doesn't have to be a difficult time at home unless you and his father make it one. I have to say that I find your fear of teh gayness kind of unsettling. It seems like you might have some work to do on yourself to be accepting of your son for who he is regardless of his sexuality.

Also he might just not be that much into sports. That doesn't make him gay, just like all the girls I went to school with who played lots of sports didn't turn out to be gay either. Stop reading into little things. You're driving yourself nuts.
posted by tastybrains at 11:56 AM on December 18, 2006

12 is only....6th grade, right? From what I recall, most of the boys in the 6th grade aren't overly interested in girls yet; they're still running around farting on each other.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:57 AM on December 18, 2006 [2 favorites]

A lot of boys around that age start expressing their budding sexual natures in ways that they will later reject. Your son may end up being gay (it happens), but I wouldn't put much importance in any of the things he's doing now at all. He may, in fact, end up a fairly macho dude! I would follow the general advice given here - don't screw him up by asking about his sexuality or anything like that. Be supportive and allow him to follow his interests to the extent that you would any 12 year old. Pubescent kids are, well, weird . . . so don't worry too much about it.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 12:02 PM on December 18, 2006

I don't think you need to worry about this, unless he has suddenly lost all his friends as a result of this new behavior, in which case, a little counseling might be helpful for him to get 'back on track' socially-speaking.

He's a little young to be interested in girls much. If he's concerned about getting hurt in sports, you could point him towards non-contact sports like track and cross-country, or just talk to him about his fears and address that issue on its own. The limp wrist/pinky thing sounds like a normal 12 year old trying out something new he probably saw on TV. If he gets negative feedback from peers, he'll probably stop.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 12:08 PM on December 18, 2006

justamom, I was him in 6th grade.

I didn't date all the way through high school -- I was more interested in technical stuff, video lab, computer games... I wore overlarge clothes. I hung out with the theatre geeks in middle and high school, many of whom were genuinely gay. I was genuinely clueless about and disinterested in girls -- asexual would be a better description. I didn't kiss a girl until I went away to college at 20, and didn't lose my virginity until I was 21. (I've made up for lost time since then.) Most of my friends since puberty have been girls and I'm far closer to my mom than my dad. I was never abused 'cept for my peers, who always thought I was 'odd' until they got to know me -- I had a lot of friends, but few 'best' friends and very few causal acquaintences.

I'm now 26, have a great career in business computing, a beautiful girlfriend that I never would've gotten to know if I was a macho macho man, and I play soccer and dodgeball for fun.

So no, don't worry. Chances are that your son hasn't caught teh ghey. But shame on you for thinking that you should change the way that you love him and treat him if he was gay.
posted by SpecialK at 12:09 PM on December 18, 2006 [1 favorite]

yeah, agreed, "pubescent kids are, well, weird." the best environment you can give him is one where it doesn't matter to you which or what or with whom, and one where he knows he's loved, safe, and supported either way.

i will say that i was 12 when i first became self-aware of my own sexuality (pubescently weird as i was), when i fell in love with my best friend. it was the beginning of a long road ahead, and i was lucky enough to have family support, both verbal and nonverbal, through most of it. your son will figure it out on his own, just love him through it.
posted by atayah at 12:10 PM on December 18, 2006

To be fair, I don't think the poster is afraid of the gay. I think she is worried that her kid will be discriminated against.

That said: He's not gay OR straight or anything at all. This is all a journey of self-discovery and I very much doubt that anyone can start, let alone complete that journey by age 12.

It's also much less of a big deal to be gay nowadays than it was in the 80s, when Americans were scared shitless by the AIDS epidemic. The growth of the internets has made it possible for support networks to reach people who would otherwise be isolated from their peers.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 12:10 PM on December 18, 2006

I think you're worrying too much, yes. During puberty kids are dealing with a whole lot of stuff, and it can be overwhelming, and because they are not mature people yet, they can try out a lot of different ways of dealing with the stuff they're exposed to. Some of those ways will be good mature ways; others will be stuff that doesn't work and gets rejected.

What strikes me about the whole thing is how uncomfortable you are with a) the idea that your son's sexuality might not match what you think it should and b) the idea of actually talking with your kid about things that are on your mind.

I'd suggest with respect to a) that you communicate clearly that you respect and love your kid unconditionally. These messages are received powerfully during puberty and help a kid to feel free to build a sense of independent self-worth.

With respect to b), it can be very difficult to communicate with an adolescent - making him aware that you have questions and concerns about him, without making him feel like you are dumping your concerns or your opprobrium on him, or that he is to feel guilty for the way he's made you feel.

Still, communication between parents and children is very valuable. You'll feel better if you're able to have some. "Hey son, you know you're starting to look like a little pansy?" is probably the wrong approach. "Have you started to think about dating?" might be one of many that have a chance of getting somewhere.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:12 PM on December 18, 2006 [3 favorites]

12 year olds aren't supposed to be showing any interest in girls

some good answers so far, but the above is pretty inaccurate. It varies, but boys tend to hit puberty around 11 or so. From my own memories of that age, I might have been afraid to actually talk to a girl, but I was certainly "interested" in them.

If he has hit puberty, than he probably knows who he feels sexually attracted to. But yeah, that is a very weird and scary thing to discuss with your mom at age 12, whether you like boys or girls, so proceed with caution.
posted by drjimmy11 at 12:13 PM on December 18, 2006

Oh, and as for effeminate mannerisms, I believe it's a genre that's being marketed to 12 year olds these days - it's called "emo" or something. Google up "Bright Eyes" for more.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:14 PM on December 18, 2006 [2 favorites]

Just continue loving him very much. More importantly, continue accepting him very much. If he is going to be gay there is nothing you can do and nothing to worry about, except for how other people will treat him. At least if you love and accept him he will have some sanctuary. I think the hardest part of being gay is often the rejection from parents. If your son is gay, please don't do that to him. Please also let the acceptance be complete and total.

Of course, as others have said, it is a bit early to be drawing these conclusions. Effeminate does not equal gay. I would wait to see whether he takes a boy or a girl to the prom.
posted by caddis at 12:14 PM on December 18, 2006

I was that quiet, sensitive, somewhat effeminate 12-year old who didn't like sports, and 13 years later it turns out I love the ladies. Give it some time, don't drop hints or put any pressure on him, and remember it doesn't matter who he chooses to have sex with eventually as long as he's happy (and safe of course).
posted by SBMike at 12:18 PM on December 18, 2006

I slept with stuffed animals until I was twelve (I stopped because I could tell my dad strongly disapproved), but it most likely because I was lonely. I didn't have many friends, and so the stuffed animals probably survived as companions (and spaceship crew).

As my wife will attest, I'm most definitely not gay, but, what would it matter.
posted by drezdn at 12:25 PM on December 18, 2006

As with SpecialK, SBMike, and drezdn, I wasn't a particularly manly 12-year-old, and i turned out to be straight. I also really wasn't interested in girls until I was at least 13, and I think that's not uncommon at all.

But you're worried about teasing? Don't be. Rest assured: He will be called gay by his peers. And then he'll get over it, whether he is or not.
posted by anildash at 12:32 PM on December 18, 2006

Warning: I'm largely unqualified to give you advice as a parent since I've never been one. But I was pretty effeminate as a young boy (still am, really).

Well, yah, he might be gay. He might be transgendered. No matter what, he's being himself. In either case, you should be aware that yes, boys can be nasty and will pick on any kind of "unusual behavior". You need to be supportive of him no matter what. You might want to have a therapist available to help with any social pressures he may feel or to talk about things he might not be comfortable talking to you about.

Since he does enjoy sports, you might want to encourage him to take up a self defense class- judo or aikido. These will give him general self-confidence in any possible confrontation that may arise. He may be bullied and one way to handle that is to learn good threat assessment skills and how to handle possible physical confrontations.
posted by chairface at 12:34 PM on December 18, 2006

All those people telling you how awful you are for being worried about your son being gay are not helping at all. I can't imagine that these people have any idea what its like to be a parent.

Of course she's worried about it. She doesn't have problems 'accepting herself.' Thats just ridiculous. She's worried about how difficult her sons life is going to become if this.

Bottom line is that at this point there's nothing you can do but let him be. More importantly, you may want to discuss with your husband (if he exists- you don't say one way or another) the best way for the two of you to handle this if it does happen, but for now, let him figure this out on his own.
Trust me, he doesn't WANT your help.
posted by Thrillhouse at 12:50 PM on December 18, 2006 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thrillhouse, thank you. I will always love my son no matter what, but I want to learn how to best help him. Thanks for seeing that. It will be a difficult life, society is that way, if he is indeed gay. His father and I are not together anymore, but we both get along well and share the responsibilities of raising him. and rest assured his father is not so macho that he would reject him for being gay. I want him safe and secure and able to grow up and be who he wants to be.
posted by justamom at 1:04 PM on December 18, 2006 [1 favorite]

Some boys are sensitive and "effeminate", and also straight. Yes, this means he may be picked on. I recommend lots of hugs, at least till he's old enough to hate them.

Someone upthread suggested cross country or track. That's usually a great suggestion for athletic kids who aren't necessarily football or basketball players.
posted by muddgirl at 1:05 PM on December 18, 2006 [1 favorite]

I have two sons, aged 16 & 19, neither of which have dated much- the older one, a couple of brief flings that ended pretty disasterously (i.e., dated close friends, broke up, and lost the friendship as well); the younger one is still pretty much scared of girls.

Although they both seem to be interested in girls, I wouldn't be too surprised if one or even both came out as gay at some point.

My reaction is- so what? If they both are, I won't be a grandfather (at least biologically). Other than that, I don't think it's that big of a deal.

For the record, they are both musically inclined, prefer classical and showtunes to pop and hiphop. Both are pretty awkward with respect to sports.

For you, it's an issue that will resolve itself one way or the other; just sit back and let it unfold. For an involved, caring parent, this can be really, really difficult, but it is part of letting your kids grow up.

A book my wife found helpful when our boys were about that age (although it is not geared toward coming out or anything like that) is A Fine Young Man by Michael Gurian. It gives some good insights on what boys are going through during this time in there lives.
posted by Doohickie at 1:07 PM on December 18, 2006 [1 favorite]

Just to put it out there: I was your son in 6th grade, and I knew damn well that I was gay even then. So, it's possible that he'll come out to you later. The best thing you can do for him, in my opinion, is encourage him to pursue the interests he enjoys (sports, art, whatever), and remind him how proud you are of him. Be a loving, supportive mother (as you clearly are, judging by the way this question is phrased); by establishing yourself as someone who accepts him and supports him no matter what, you'll make it easier for him to come out to you in high school (if he's gay at all, which he may not be). All you can do is wait and see. I realize that telling a mother not to worry is a lost cause, but try to focus your worry appropriately. Everyone gets picked on; worry about instilling in him the confidence to recognize how petty and scared those other kids are.

Oh, and keep this in mind: if he is gay, it might be difficult for him to come out to you. He might tell his friends first. He might tell other relatives first. Try not to be hurt if you're not the first to know. I found it much more difficult to come out to the people closest to me because it was so much scarier; I was terrified (without reason, thankfully) that my mother would react badly, and I put off telling her for as long as I could.

Just keep up the good work, Mom. You're doing fine.
posted by Help, I can't stop talking! at 1:08 PM on December 18, 2006 [1 favorite]

Or Ultimate Frisbee. It's a team sport without the stupid macho overtures and hyper-comeptitiveness. It changed my life when I started playing it in high school. There are summer leagues and pickup games all over the place. A great way for sensitive kids to get some confidence and get into shape.
posted by SBMike at 1:10 PM on December 18, 2006

I think having a well thought out plan of action for the first day he comes home in tears--shock is maybe a little more likely-- from being 'teased' (insipid pallid euphemism!) about being gay is an extremely good idea.

I'm with anildash that it will happen; in the meantime before the mean time, I would go with Ikkyu2's strategy of openhearted and good humored watchfulness (if I may so characterize it).
posted by jamjam at 1:12 PM on December 18, 2006

Best answer: You are not crazy. For the last 12 years, you have probably been able to protect him from or fix the hurts -- it's been your primary job. Now, you know he may be about to face some pain that you can't stop and you can't fix. You have a feeling he's going to get hurt, and all you can do is hope the foundation of love and strength you've tried to build for him to date is enough. It's a fearsome moment in parenting -- the scary side of that fierce love.
And it is the challenge of parenting a pre-teen and teenager -- watching them go through the pain of becoming, giving them up, year by year, to themselves.

You are doing the right watching and thinking and seeking answers. Keep loving him and telling him he is the most wonderful boy in the world. Good luck.
posted by thinkpiece at 1:15 PM on December 18, 2006 [4 favorites]

well put, Thinkpiece.
posted by Thrillhouse at 1:20 PM on December 18, 2006

"Do some boys act like that growing up and ended up straight?"


Well, I fantasized about David Bowie and fooled around with other boys when I was growing up. And two months ago, I told my future father-in-law that if he ever hit my fiancee (a woman) again, I'd kick his ass. So if you're asking if "soft" boys sometimes grow up to be real men: yeah. We do.

I know that this is a hard question for every parent. The reason that everybody's reaction here has been so knee-jerk isn't that you're even really saying something 'wrong;' it's just that this is something that most parents screw up royally. Fostering the development of a kid's sexuality is a tough thing to do, because it's something you can never really do directly.

Tips, from someone who hasn't been a parent, but who's thinking about it a lot, and who, of course, was a child once:

(1) Don't worry about your kid's sexuality. And, failing that, never let your kid know that you're worrying about their sexuality.

(2) Don't encourage effeminacy by babying him. (You should note that "effeminacy" and "homosexuality" are two very, very different things. I know a couple of gay guys who are very big and very angry and very mean, and you'd never know they're gay. Also, and this should go without saying, I know gay men who are very effective and happy human beings.) Just be fair and straightforward.

(3) Don't encourage excessive machismo by browbeating him. It's easy, if you're worried about him, to try to "make a man of him" by being excessively harsh. That's why #1 is so important: don't worry. Again, be fair and kind, but don't be cruel and don't be coddling or suffocating.

If you're a parent, those things have probably already occurred to you. All I'm saying is: that's all you can do. Just take care of him, be good to him, and trust that he'll turn out right. Like so many other people in this thread, I wish my parents had done the same.
posted by koeselitz at 1:29 PM on December 18, 2006 [1 favorite]

I'm a straight guy who was an effeminate kid. I wasn't into sports; I was small; I always carried a book; until college I never had a girlfriend but all most of my friends were girls.

My childhood was painful. Luckily, I wasn't lonely. I had enough geeky friends to hang out with, and I was disdainful -- not envious -- of the popular kids. What I wanted (and didn't get) was to be left alone. Instead, I was continually picked on. This went on from first grade until my junior year in high school (at which point I somehow morphed into being a sort of cool geek). Also, when I did become interested in girls, I was out of luck. Girls didn't like me (as boyfriend material) until college.

I had very supportive parents, but there wasn't much they could do. I know this is a terrible thing to say to a mom, but I don't think there's much you can do, either. Other than be supportive. Be there for him. Let him know you love him. Let him know that he can always talk to you about anything (but that you'll respect his privacy). And give him a stimulating homelife.

You can't make friends for him. And though you should step in if his peers start seriously abusing him, he's going to have to navigate his social life by himself. We all do. And many of us have a hard time with it. Most of us turn out fine in the end.

As horrible as my life was when I was a teen, I can't think of anything my parents could have done to make it easier. But looking back, I am grateful for their unflagging support -- and for the safe, interesting environment they created at home.
posted by grumblebee at 1:32 PM on December 18, 2006

Kick back. Relax. Remember when he was a toddler and people kept telling you to pick your battles? Now that he's starting to be a teenager, this advice is better than ever. (FWIW, I have a daughter 23 and a son 15.) Thinkpiece's analogy is a good one. Remember also that your son's imperative now is to begin to burn all the bridges between the two of you: it's time for him to begin to distance himself and for you to facilitate it. This is tough. This is painful. But when it comes right down to it, his sexuality is his business and not yours and you cannot really help him through it. He's got to make up his own mind and figure it out like we all did. And he will - quite honestly, I don't think parents should be all involved in their kids romantic/sex life. Most of us managed to figure it out and sometimes the emotional bruising is what you need to grow up. You cannot protect him forever. And also, you know, if he is gay, than this is a wonderful time to be gay, compared to, oh, fifty years ago. Sure, we have a long way to go, but it's one hell of a lot better than it used to be, so remember that.

I also think there's tremendous media pressure on kids today to define their sexuality much earlier than most of them are ready to. He may be playing around with that a little or even retreating in some ways - kids will tend to regress to what they think of as an easier, simpler age if they feel threatened and that's perfectly natural. My own feeling from my own kids & their friends is that most boys this age, while they may be illicitly thrilled by the whole idea of sex, are honestly not ready for it, not ready to confront it, are terrified of girls and would much rather run around farting on each other. Girls are more advanced, which leads to a lot of that awful middle school angst. 12 - 15 are about the worst years in every way. As for sports, well, if he's afraid of getting hurt, let him drop it if he wants to. I let my kids drop out of sports at that age - they just weren't interested and so why push it? They've never come back at me and said, gee, Mom, if only you hadn't let me drop out of Little League I'd be happy now.

Just make sure he knows you love him unconditionally. If you feel like books would be helpful, like maybe a good overview of puberty or something, do NOT bring it out as a Christmas gift or even acknowledge it's existence. Just leave it casually around - it will disappear and get read, I promise you. Of course I'm the kind of mom who occasionally comes into the house and yells out, "HEY! Are you gay? Have you decided if you're gay or what? Are you dating any GIRLS?" and so on, which ensures good, honest answers from my young teenager ;-) but even though that doesn't work for everyone, he knows the lines of communication are always open and we've had some really good, really long talks about it. He has gay friends - I have gay friends - it's not a surprise or a taboo subject at our house, so that helps too.
posted by mygothlaundry at 1:36 PM on December 18, 2006 [1 favorite]

Just to provide a non-counter-point to Help's statement, I knew damned well that I was straight at 12 and while I might not have yet know what I'd do with them if I got my hands on one, I was certainly interested in girls.

So there's plenty of good advice above but I don't know that you can give any credence to the suggestion that his die isn't cast at this point.
posted by phearlez at 1:37 PM on December 18, 2006

My brother, who is now 25, had already started exhibiting some of these types of behavior when he was about 9 years old.

He came out to the family as bisexual when he was 16, and dated a man for the first time when he was 17. At the time, we thought that "bisexual" was my brother's way of easing us in to his gay identity. But later he dated both men and women, and he has now been with the same woman for four years.

Given your son's age, it's too early to know for sure if he's gay, bi, or just exploring his sexual identity.

I agree with people who say that you should accept and love your son for who he is, but the idea that nobody else is going to notice is BS. My brother was accepted by his peers -- though he had many more female friends than male for a number of years. But he was tormented by adult authority figures who wanted him to conform to a more normal sexual identity.

He had a couple of teachers in middle school who thought his behavior was a challenge to their authority. And my grandmother would call him "funny" and make fun of him.

The best thing you can do for your son is love him. If he is gay, the hardest part for him may be coming to terms with his sexual orientation and getting through high school. Just about everyone has something that sets them apart and makes them different. Middle school and high school are the hardest time to deal with this "differentness," no matter what it is. Your son will probably have to handle it on his own, but having you there to support him at home will at least give him a refuge.

Most adult gay men and women these leave pretty normal lives, though, and the idea that their lives are inherintly more difficult and challenging than the lives of their heterosexual peers is less and less true every year.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 1:39 PM on December 18, 2006

You've received a lot of good advice (be patient, tolerant, loving, and not-too-worried), but one thing I just wanted to point out from what I've observed with friends who were nervous about coming out to relatives-

In the event he IS gay, it'll make it a lot easier if he explicitly knows that you are ok with homosexuality. This means talking about it as though it's natural (it is!) and not something to be feared.

He's 12, which means he knows homosexuality exists, but he's likely scared of it (whether he's gay or not). So, feel free to mention your coworker Frank and his boyfriend in the same way you would talk about Bill and his girlfriend.
posted by JMOZ at 1:44 PM on December 18, 2006

No matter what he is or turns out to be, do what you can to foster some self-confidence in him. I can't be the only nerd here on whom it finally dawned somewhere in high school that the popular kids were pretty much just the ones who fronted the most confidence. (Well, and that one rich kid who always had parties at his house.) If he can learn to stand on his own, I really don't think he'll have as much trouble as you fear he will.

Also, from what I understand, picking on each other is just how boys that age operate, so if he's taking any of that too seriously, you might want to have a little heart-to-heart with him (or better yet, his dad can, since he probably remembers). Being sensitive is good, but, you know, being oversensitive won't really help him as an adult either.

It's great that you care so much about your son, but keep in mind that this is the age where you have to start letting go of the reins. Much more than raised pinkies or getting sacked on the field all the time, an over-involved parent can really make it tough on a kid. I'm not saying you give an impression one way or the other in your post, but I can only imagine the temptation to keep him in his happy little childhood bubble must be pretty great right now.

Finally: I can understand why you're concerned, but being gay just isn't the big deal it was even fifteen years ago. Just be there for him. He'll be fine.
posted by AV at 1:47 PM on December 18, 2006

You've already gotten some great advice, but for what it's worth I have to reinforce that you just can't tell what your son is going to be like from some stereotyped mannerisms.

You can guess the end of what I'm going to say, but...

I was NOT your son at 12 years old. I played sports, I got in fights, I was basically a tough little redneck of a kid - trying to sneak my Dad's tobacco, practicing casting lures and shooting a bow and arrow. As I got a little older I dated girls, lost my virginity at way too young an age (to the village bicycle no less), used fake ID's with friends to get into shit-hole strip clubs, and basically fit right in with everyone and everything. Not popular - but just a normal kid - errr... for where I grew up.

Now that I'm older... I don't shop, I'm not a good dancer, I can't dress myself in anything that matches unless someone picks it out for me, and I just got out of the Navy after 10 years as an aviator. I'm one masculine SOB!!

Of course, I've known I was gay since about age 12.
posted by matty at 1:48 PM on December 18, 2006 [4 favorites]

With the supportive mum bit, when I was talking about my kids' futures with them, I made sure to always include all possibilities for partners (when you get married, or enter a long term relationship, your partner, whoever he or she might be, etc ad nauseum), at least until such time my kids said, shit mum, we're straight, no need to cover all the bases. But they knew, that way, that I would be accepting of any healthy relationship.
posted by b33j at 1:48 PM on December 18, 2006

I mean, of course, what JMOZ said.
posted by b33j at 1:50 PM on December 18, 2006

It's also much less of a big deal to be gay nowadays than it was in the 80s, when Americans were scared shitless by the AIDS epidemic. The growth of the internets has made it possible for support networks to reach people who would otherwise be isolated from their peers.

I have to disagree with this point. You have to remember- we're talking about a 12 year old child, not an adult. Depending on a number of variables including your geographic locale and private/public school, being an out of the closet gay in school can be a very big deal. Even if the administration's not discriminatory about it (a big if), there's still the students to worry about. Classmates can make his next few years absolutely brutal for any reason they want, and being gay is still a very easy out to pick on classmates.
posted by jmd82 at 1:51 PM on December 18, 2006

If it helps, I went to high school in Connecticut (Westport, to be specific), where our questioner is from. I won't say no one ever called me names (they did), but I had open, respectful, understanding, and supportive friends that I am still close with today. The public school system there was immensely understanding, and I knew of many teachers I could have gone to without fear or shame if there had been an incident worth reporting.
posted by Help, I can't stop talking! at 2:02 PM on December 18, 2006

As a balance to the testimonials from our resident doll-hugging, effeminate children who grew up into totally straight ladies' men, I would like to offer insight as one who grew the other way.

I was 12 when I realized that I was noticing boys they way that other guys were noticing girls. That realization came along with the observation that there was no context in my whole world for a conversation on this matter; I innately knew that it was a huge liability and must be kept completely to myself. I remember being twelve and imagining that I would simply have to go on with my life as if I had never realized this. I would never ever say anything about it. I would never EVER act on it. I would live the normal life that I saw all around me, and I would be happy.

That same year, my little sister asked my mother at the dinner table what "gay" meant and what my mom would do if she found out one of her kids was gay. My mom very cautiously answered that she would wonder whether it was her fault because of anything she had done as a parent, and that she would be very very sad. I took this as a sign that I had made the right choice.

I wasn't considered effeminate, just shy and awkward, and over time I became better and better at hiding my true thoughts and feelings. Of course by the time I was in high school I began to develop severe psychological problems. "Faggot" is a catch-all insult, but when someone said it to me, I felt that they could see right through me somehow. I was paranoid and depressed. My parents tried everything in the world to help me EXCEPT talking about sexuality. And my problems didn't go away until at 18 I finally broke my 12-year-old's vow and began to talk.

What I am trying to tell you is that, as everyone says, it is wrong to assume he's gay. But it is also wrong to assume he's too young to be figuring this out. It is wrong to assume that he has had enough exposure to the world to decide what the implications of that would be, or that he will arrive at a healthy understanding of his own sexuality unaided. It is wrong to assume that he will come to you with any fears or questions he may have. It is wrong to assume that his preoccupation with toys or other immature pasttimes mean he's too young to be thinking about all this; it could just as easily mean that he is hanging on to his childhood to avoid confronting his fears about sexuality.

It is safe to assume that he is going to encounter mocking and adversity in school if his behavior doesn't mimic those of more "normal" boys. And it is safe to assume that he may keep that mocking a secret from you, because it will be deeply embarrassing to him. You may want to consider speaking with his teacher or principal (only if you can trust them to keep it secret and communicate ONLY with you on the subject) and ask them to keep an eye out for this type of treatment; while any direct intervention will only humiliate him further, you need to know whether he is being harassed or demeaned at school. My parents assumed I had lots of friends, and I never once complained to them about what I endured at school, for fear they would make me an even bigger target by drawing attention to it. Thus, years of unabated abuse.

A (gay) friend told me about how when he was in 8th grade, one day he stayed home sick. The principle came to his classroom and lectured the class for making fun of him. "He may act efffeminate sometimes," the principle said, "But everyone deserves our respect and we won't tolerate this kind of harassment." I bet you can guess what my friend faced the next day when he returned to school. Well-meaning direct intervenion can be damning. That is the importance of secrecy-- it gives you a dim window into his experiences, which can help you gauge what you are up against.

YOU need counseling. You need someone to share these concerns with, someone who can make sure you are equipped to handle what comes, and that your decisions are made in your child's best interest. I can't stress enough that you need to begin to be able to talk to your son candidly about sexuality and sex, without it feeling like a loaded subject. It is a taboo subject in so many families, even open liberal ones. Anytime I ever asked my parents a question I felt their fear, and it became a huge deterrent. Welcome him into the world of adults by letting him discover what it is that adult minds and adult bodies are capable of. Being casually introduced to functional gay adults is good for young people no matter what their interests are; straight kids will need a broader view of the world, and gay/bisexual kids will see a window of hope. I didn't meet my first "out" gay adult until I was 19. That was seven years after I realized I might become one.

I don't blame my parents for anything that happened to me. I wish that they had the resources that parents do now. If they had tried to deliberately draw me out, I would have sensed it from miles away and maybe continued to hide. But if I had heard the words, "Son, we heard that people at school are making your life hell. Whether you're gay, straight, or bisexual, you don't have to share that info with us or anyone else. It's nobody's business but yours. These kids at school are idiots and have no idea what they're talking about. We just want to make sure you are safe and feel comfortable at school, and if you ever need help, I hope you'll talk to someone about it, even if it's someone besides us," and I knew they meant it, it could have made a big difference. YMMV. Take AskMe's advice to heart. Print this thread out and show it to your therapist. Talk about it together. That's how you'll figure out what to do, if anything is to be done.
posted by hermitosis at 2:06 PM on December 18, 2006 [15 favorites]

Off-topic (as we are talking about what it means to support a potentially gay son), but related ...

The article -- "Supporting Boys or Girls When the Line Isn't Clear' -- which appeared earlier this month in the New York Times reported on current thinking regarding supporting a child who is experiencing gender-identity and transgender issues.
posted by ericb at 2:35 PM on December 18, 2006 [1 favorite]

I suggest that you and your son's father get together and have a chat about whether you aren't holding him back from growing up. I had parents who were very reluctant to let go of their little boy and I was always socially a bit behind my peers because of that. If you're babying him at home, he's going to have a tough time at school.
posted by teleskiving at 2:56 PM on December 18, 2006

To support much of what was said above:

Kids that age go through all kinds of phases regarding their interests and mannerisms and often "try out" stuff they see on TV or in the movies or from random passers-by. He may forget all about the pinky thing next week.

It's important to note that puberty/noticing girls or boys is a long way from sexually mature, and shouldn't be evaluated as such. I won't speak for everyone, but while it's fair to say that I always knew I was bi, my understanding of my sexuality at 12 is not the way I understood my sexuality at 15 or at 17 or at 21.

The stuffed-animals thing isn't too uncommon, either, in my experience. He'll give in to peer pressure eventually and drop anything too juvenille, but for now, he just likes what he likes. My fourteen-year-old pseudo-nephew still loves his stuffed animals, too. At home. He doesn't take them to school anymore the way he did when he was younger.
posted by desuetude at 3:04 PM on December 18, 2006

I can think of numerous examples, growing up, where I did weird/stupid/strange things all of which were predicated on a general lack of self-knowledge and need for exploration. As did we all. This included many, many examples of sartorial horror (including a clip-on earring). But in retrospect I can clearly recall my parents basically took it all in stride. They neither made light of it or went out of their way to ignore it. It just was. I can't think of anything that helped me more. Love your boy, and don't worry about it if he seems happy. You are the one person he needs to feel will always be there for him.
posted by docpops at 3:20 PM on December 18, 2006

Just echoing, supporting much of what was said above, especially by hermitosis.

My experience from that age is so long ago that only the human dynamics apply. Society has changed so much since the early 1970s. I'm the one who knew he was "different" but didn't have a name for it. Straight-A student who skipped school but kept up his grades. Sent to a child-psychologist whose most memorable question to me was whether I'd seen the movie Cabaret. I swear it's the truth! I told him I was too young for it. Sometimes I've said that the psychologist knew I was gay before I did.

My mother was supportive and non-directive. My only regret is that she wasn't more expressive of her love, and at times I misunderstood and felt very alone. In retrospect, I know I was always loved, deeply.

That's the main thing. Love your son. Allow him to develop. Don't make any assumptions about who he is or who he will become. No one knows if he will be gay or straight, although he may or may not be starting to figure it out. I don't know much about parenting, especially with teens, but do your best to keep the lines of communication open.

In the meantime, please do seek knowledge, both self-knowledge (counseling, perhaps? It might not have to be more than one or two consultations,...) and knowledge about sexuality and gender identity (since this is a concern). You might want to look at the PFLAG site or talk to some PFLAG parents, if there is a chapter near you.
posted by Robert Angelo at 3:22 PM on December 18, 2006

I just want to say, I know there are a lot of places in the US where being gay would mean harassment and abuse, but if you raise him properly and support him, he will be able to find a welcoming community, even if it means moving away. Any big city in the US will have a cool gay population, as well as most college towns. It's not a big deal being gay in these types of environments, just as it's not a big deal being black, or an immigrant in most urban areas.

Every minority population has to deal with crap from the hegemony; that doesn't stop them from living full and thriving lives. Otherwise I'd have committed hara kiri a long time ago for being a poor, oppressed Hispanic woman.

(And I'm sorry if you think this is 100% false, but it feels like you're using the expected protective "motherly instincts" as a way to couch your homophobia in normalized terms. And don't feel too badly about it, just realize it for what it is. My little brother shows some feminine traits, and sometimes I wonder, and perhaps let that color how I treat him, 'til I snap out of it and realize that he's the bestest little brother in the world.)
posted by lychee at 4:08 PM on December 18, 2006

I'm with Hermitosis. He described my feelings growing up almost perfectly.

I wish my mom had come to an internet board and asked questions, good for you for taking the very, very hard step of not avoiding the issues.

That's all I got, good luck and I hope the best for you and your son.
posted by disclaimer at 4:21 PM on December 18, 2006

It will be a difficult life, society is that way, if he is indeed gay.

It's not that difficult, justamom, really - especially if you have supportive family and friends in your life. You can do a lot to make that happen, however your son turns out. That said, kids can be cruel to effeminate boys; it may help to talk calmly and honestly about that issue, and make sure he's not getting attacked or otherwise bullied, as a separate thing from any possible homosexuality.

There's lots of good info available about gender roles and kids (ericb's NYT link is an interesting place to start, but focuses more on younger children who think of themselves as a member of the other sex and want to dress the part). PFLAG is a good place to start; they helped my dad get over his initial "Was it something I did?" reaction.
posted by mediareport at 4:21 PM on December 18, 2006

It will be a difficult life, society is that way, if he is indeed gay.

Doubly so if he has chronic BO, or is generally just an asswipe. But even though I see smelly asswipes relatively frequently it's surprising that their parents aren't more concerned about the stigmatization and reduced opportunities they will face as adults.

The point being, I would be far more worried if my son or daughter displayed any number of traits that made them unpleasant to be around long before I'd worry, in today's society, about their sexual orientation.
posted by docpops at 4:44 PM on December 18, 2006

I'll let other, angrier MeFites be the ones to abuse you about the whole "limp-wrist, pinky-out" stereotype nonsense.

Oooh! Me! Me! Yoohoo!

The "stereotype nonsense" actually worried me a bit as it seemed to indicate a disconnect with, like, knowing any homosexuals. I mean, sometimes a limp wrist is just a limp wrist -- none of the gay guys I've run into seemed to just walk around with bent carpals unless they were deliberately throwing 'em out there, you know?

I think if Johnny does turn out to be gay, having a mom who is at least marginally hip to what the gay world is really about would be a good thing -- having the first homo she know be her son is probably not. Best to disabuse self-myths before hard questions like "what is gay sex all about" come up. PFLAG might not be a bad place to start whichever the way the kid goes. Knowing that mom actively seeks to educate herself about weird directions her children might go and will actively embrace them is probably good in other areas as well (see also, "What Do I Do When Johnny Decides He Want To XXXX")
posted by Ogre Lawless at 5:07 PM on December 18, 2006

I realize that I inadvertantly painted homosexuality as a "weird direction" which was not my intention. I was honestly thinking of "weird direction" as a catch-all for anything that the child might come up with that they might worry they'd catch heat for from their parents or their peers. My apologies and thanks for the understanding.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 5:10 PM on December 18, 2006

previous thread.

It will be a difficult life, society is that way, if he is indeed gay.

In the modern world, overt homophobia is largely considered taboo, so the discrimination has become more subtle - in exactly the way you express it here, with the idea that you're not judging, but you're sad for the pain your son has to undergo. Well, that pain only exists insofar as people around him are pitying him or otherwise overly concerned with an aspect of his personality. If you can truly get over the fear, if you can truly imagine your heart filling with joy on his wedding day whether it's a bride or a groom at his side, then his life will be that much less difficult.

Sure, other people have to make that adjustment as well, but it's often easier for friends and acquaintances. I know NYC is not representative of everywhere in the country, but being gay is definitely not 'difficult' here. The only gay people I know who suffer (on a social/emotional level - not re: legal issues which are still unfair) due to their orientation are those whose families have not been supportive. As I said in the previous thread, everyone figures this stuff out at their own pace, so don't be impatient or attempt to get "answers" from him. Just find casual ways to assure him that you're cool with it, whichever way things end up, and continue to treat him as you always have. But first I would say, work out if you really are cool with it. It's okay if you're actually a little uncomfortable with the idea - the important thing is to actually work through to an honest level of comfort, not to put up a facade because it's the politically correct thing to do.

As for teasing in middle school, that's an issue for a whole 'nother thread, and ultimately doesn't have much to do with whether he's gay or not - kids are sometimes cruel to whoever seems like an easy target. For that I'd recommend anything which might build confidence - theatre and martial arts were helpful for me in that area. But shy kids will get tormented simply because they're weak prey, whether there are really things about them that are particularly "different" or not. I didn't have many friends until high school & I was pretty sad a lot of the time, but I don't really look back on it as tremendously difficult, even so. I just read a lot of books, which was great.
posted by mdn at 5:54 PM on December 18, 2006 [1 favorite]

It seems to me like the stuff about limp wrists and unbent pinkies is a verbal (well, textual) faux pas. Thankfully, you're not a raging homophobe or anything of the sort. However, pubescent boys aren't the most PC people around... so if you're noticing it and making good-intentioned (but slightly ham-fisted) queries about it, chances are that some of his peers won't be so nice about it.

Whether he's gay or just has effeminate mannerisms, you won't be able to change that aspect. You won't be able to change society as a whole either. So, the one thing you can have an influence on is the way he responds to the sticks and stones that may come his way. Be supportive when someone's made him cry, given him a black eye, or whatever. After he's calmed down, talk with him about it and help him use the incident to prevent/manage possible future ones.

Being called names and being bullied sucks, but it can make a person stronger in the long run, if they mentally deal with it correctly.
posted by CKmtl at 5:55 PM on December 18, 2006

you know, it's so much easier growing up gay these days than say, 10 or 20 years ago. it's all going to be OK.
posted by brandz at 7:27 PM on December 18, 2006

How interesting to come across this thread today. I am an infrequent reader that logged on to Ask MeFi to ask this community a question about my seventh grade son. FWIW, I am not worried about whether or not he is gay. I put it in the same category as global warming-you know, what can I do about it anyway? Anyway, he is more flamboyant than the average 13 year old and extremely friendly and chatty. Here was what I was going to pose to other readers. He has had a college sophmore male take a huge interest in him. They talk on the cell phone, myspace, etc. When the college kid is home (he is away at school, but his home base is here with us), They are always planning "outings" together. We are constantly coming up with excuses for them not being able to go out or one of us goes also, etc. So yesterday my son says this college kid has asked him to spend the night over Christmas break. Well, that did for my husband and me. We finally told our son that he is not allowed to do anything alone with this college kid. We said he can come over for dinner, we will do something along with him, etc.
Our poor son is so confused, but I can't help feeling like this kid is "after" my son. Any suggestions from readers would be appreciated. How to handle our son, how to handle the college kid-we want to show him kindness and acceptance, just not give him freedom with our child. Anything? I must say, when I had kids, this NEVER crossed my mind that I would be dealing with this!
posted by davenportmom at 7:32 PM on December 18, 2006 [1 favorite]

but I can't help feeling like this kid is "after" my son

What was your first clue?

Lady, I'm not sure this is where you need to be asking this question. Dan Savage, maybe. Or maybe down at the precinct.
posted by docpops at 8:00 PM on December 18, 2006

"holding his pinky out when he drinks"

that has absolutely nothing do do with one's sexuality whatsoever.

You should be happy that he's not out knocking up 11 year old girls. From what I read, he sounds pretty normal to me. I was barely aware of my own penis when I was 12 because I was too busy blowing up GI Joe figures with firecrackers and digging holes in the yard with the tractor.

And davenportmom: that's what we call "thread hijacking." :) You can ask your own ask mefi question.
posted by drstein at 8:12 PM on December 18, 2006

Agreed. davenportmom, this is worthy of its own thread and I can't wait to weigh in.
posted by hermitosis at 8:33 PM on December 18, 2006

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