What to say to son coming out?
July 11, 2007 5:37 PM   Subscribe

I think my son's about to tell me he's gay. I want to say the best thing possible. What is that?

I believe that my son (age 16) is about to tell me he's gay. I want to let him know that I love him and support him. Maybe that's all I really need to say but I was wondering if anyone had any other suggestions on what a really good thing to say is. I had thought about just saying "cool, I always be here for you."

I know he's been struggling with his sexuality and for awhile he thought he was bisexual followed by thinking he was straight. He seems to jump around a lot. Is that normal? But I've learned that he told a close friend that he is gay and I could tell the other night that he was attempting to tell me but the timing wasn't good.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (52 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Tell him you love him, and that his sexual orientation doesn't fucking matter no matter what anyone says.
posted by four panels at 5:43 PM on July 11, 2007 [7 favorites]

Your son is so lucky to have a parent like you.

He seems to jump around a lot. Is that normal?

Yes. Being a teenager is confusing. Sexuality can be confusing. With anything it is normal to have trouble figuring out exactly where you fall, and it's extra hard when you are sixteen. I can only imagine it is that much harder when facing an aspect of yourself that not everyone is going to accept.
posted by tastybrains at 5:47 PM on July 11, 2007

One of my best friends in high school started struggling with coming out at the exact same age. (He didn't actually come out to his family till much later, in his mid- or late 20s, at which point their response was pretty much, "uh yeah, honey, we know.") He definitely "jumped around" between thinking he was straight, bi, and gay for several years (even into early college, as I recall).

Looking back, I think thing that was so difficult for him was that he was having to say goodbye to the whole "white picket fence" dream of a wife, kids, etc. -- the whole so-called normal life that's pushed down our throats as the end-all, be-all cultural ideal. I think he was mourning -- in a way I just couldn't quite appreciate at 16, particularly as a straight girl who had the luxury of not having to worry about it -- the loss of those expectations for himself, specifically the expectation of fathering a child. (This was in the '80s, before the idea of gay parenting was widespread.)

In any case, I think the best thing you can do is to listen to whatever he wants to tell you, respect his privacy regarding whatever he doesn't want to tell you, and tell him -- in words and actions -- that you love and support him, period.

He's a lucky kid.
posted by scody at 5:52 PM on July 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

"cool, I [will] always be here for you."

That sounds about right.
posted by googly at 5:53 PM on July 11, 2007 [2 favorites]

Oh, and I just remembered, too: I recall that he was really scared of disappointing his parents, and being scared that his siblings wouldn't allow him to spend time with his nieces and nephews. None of that came to pass, luckily, but it was certainly a real fear for him.
posted by scody at 5:54 PM on July 11, 2007

Yes, it is normal for him to be jumping around on putting a label to his sexuality. It's just as tastybrains says. It's hard for almost everyone, and especially for teens because there's so much judgement in high school anyway, you don't want to label youself as different.

Tell him you love him no matter what (don't say "I love you anyway" because that implies there's something wrong that you're loving him in spite of). That you're there for him if he has problems. That, if friends ditch him, they weren't friends worth having. That you will welcome any boyfriend into the house just as you would welcome a girlfriend. That you're proud of him because it takes a lot of strength to admit your gay in our gay-hating USian culture (if indeed you are USian) especially in high school where people use "gay" to mean stupid and uncool and "fag" is one of the worst things you can call a guy.

Thank you for wanting to be a good, gay-friendly parent. We need more of them.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 5:55 PM on July 11, 2007

I'm sure that PFLAG answers this question somewhere on their site.
posted by jellicle at 5:55 PM on July 11, 2007

This part won't be popular with the MeFites, but it deserves to be said: who you are isn't written in stone at age sixteen. That Kinsey score can shift around for a while before settling down, so you might want to remind him any pressure he feels to comform (one way or another), is just peer pressure. And that who he wants to date/bang/whatever is a small part of who he is. Sexual orientation isn't identity, if you're a well-rounded person.

Also, as a talk for later, the practical part of me says a nice talk about condoms, HIV, and hep C. Also, if he's planning on coming out at school, you may wish to invest in some martial arts classes. Not everyone is as enlightened as you, Dad, and having seen a fair number of gay/bi/whatever boys taking a nice tumble down the stairs (mysteriously when a certain cadre of football players are present), it's a valid concern.
posted by adipocere at 6:02 PM on July 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

what a great parent you are. if you think he's struggling to find the right moment to tell you, would it be wrong to suggest creating that moment? find a quiet moment, maybe late in the evening before bed, and just tell him that you're proud of the young man he's growing up to be and that if there's anyone special in his life, they're always welcome in your home. be sure to say "he or she is welcome." he'll pick up on the pronouns.

and leave it at that. he may open up to you right then, or later, or not until he grows up some more and becomes more comfortable. but at least he knows that home will always be a safe place to be himself.

i think the jumping around is just because he's a kid, and kids are anxious to figure out what groups they fit into. ambiguity is hard. that's why the "he or she" is important--it lets him know that you aren't in a hurry for him to declare his category.
posted by thinkingwoman at 6:12 PM on July 11, 2007 [3 favorites]

Not everyone is as enlightened as you, Dad

(Or just as possibly, Mom.)

posted by scody at 6:12 PM on July 11, 2007

I am and was lucky enough to have parents for whom my coming out was accepted and, in the end, "not that big a deal." Not completely easy, but, all things considered--I was and am very blessed.

Yes, sexuality is a spectrum, so in the end, what matters is: you love him for who he is, no matter what. Tell him that, but most importantly, show him that. The details of his life, who he chooses to spend it with, you welcome him finding someone to love, and someone who loves him. God, it seems so simple, doesn't it? To say, I want you to love, and be loved; whoever it is, as long as you're happy and cared for and safe, I look forward to meeting them. Maybe something like that. I wish that for everyone.
posted by atayah at 6:19 PM on July 11, 2007 [2 favorites]

He seems to jump around a lot. Is that normal?

Yes. Completely.

Good on you for being supportive. If I were you I'd read some books about coming out, gay youth, etc.

I was where he was a long time ago (I ended up with a guy, but that's a long story). I went through a phase where it felt so good to be accepted for who I was that my sexual identity became a central focus for me. I went to pride parades, gay bookstores, got very politically involved, etc etc ad nauseum until my formerly supportive parents just got sick of hearing about it. He may or may not become this, uh, enthusiastic, but rest assured that he'll eventually find other things to talk about.
posted by desjardins at 6:21 PM on July 11, 2007

The best thing you can do is be welcoming and supportive when he does tell you. Definitely tell him you love and will support him no matter who he's attracted to, and that he can always come to you for advice or to talk about anything. That last part is under the condition that you are ok with talking about it (you seem grounded).

Since you think he's struggling to tell you, you might give him a gentle opening in which to do so. Just as you're wondering when he'll tell you, he's wondering how you'll react. Be very careful to make it an opening and not a situation where he feels pressured to talk about his sexuality.

You might for example casually mention someone you both know who is gay in another context, and say something true and positive about that person (Ex: "Jon is such a talented musician-- I was just talking to his mom and she said Jon is really doing well in college this year.") That gives him some reassurance that you're supportive of other gay people, and an opening to mention his orientation to you if he wants to. It also gives him an out if he's not ready yet, since he can avoid talking about sexuality without changing the subject.

I suggest that you contact a local PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) group for other suggestions and more immediate support from other parents in your area who have gone through the same process.

It's not uncommon to identify as bi first and then as gay as a gay person comes to terms with their orientation. Sexuality is fluid though, and it may be that the usual categories don't quite fit him. That's more common than many people let on.
posted by Tehanu at 6:29 PM on July 11, 2007

I forgot to say-- good luck. You are starting from the right place, and our advice here can only help build on that, but you've already got the critical piece yourself.
posted by Tehanu at 6:30 PM on July 11, 2007

Great advice so far! In addition to all of that, maybe you can let your son know that you feel honored that he trusted you with the revelation. No doubt he has been agonizing over the decision to tell you and it was not a decision that he made lightly.
posted by kamikazegopher at 6:42 PM on July 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm seconding misanthropicsarah's advice: I think it would be valuable for him to know that he doesn't have to feel embarassed about being with a boyfriend around you, should that come to pass. You're doing a great thing by being as accepting as you are, but I think it's best to make sure that you make him feel accepted all the way.
posted by invitapriore at 6:49 PM on July 11, 2007

Though I have no experience of my own, I am friends with the parent of a gay teen. She tried PFLAG and found that her local group was not all that gay-positive, actually. Many of the parents had ended up at PFLAG because they were so shocked and grief-filled at this revelation, and the focus of the group discussions seemed to be on 'looking on the bright side' and that it 'really wasn't that bad'.

Of course, there is certainly an important role for this sort of conversation for parents who have never had to confront the thought before and find it hard to accept - but you sound more comfortable with this. I wouldn't discourage you from going and of course this one secondhand experience is only a small anecdote and may not reflect the helpfulness of the group as a whole, but I thought I would mention it as a balance to the assumption that PFLAG will be a good source of advice for your scenario. It seems to be geared more to helping parents in denial learn a new way of viewing their lives and their children than to supporting kids. Of course, YMMV.

I would add to the above advice that I think a "thank you for telling me" would be a great thing to say. It shows you honor your son's desire to have an honest relationship with you and appreciate his openness -- something that will always be helpful in a parent-child relationship.
posted by Miko at 6:56 PM on July 11, 2007

"Cool" is the correct response, both to suggest that it is an interesting path to take, and also to say that you are cool with it. Paths change a great deal during those years, and it behooves you to flex with the winds of change. Next year things may be altogether reversed.
posted by fish tick at 6:56 PM on July 11, 2007

Tell him you love him no matter what. Admire his courage for being able to tell you this (trust me, no matter how open and accepting they are, telling your parents you're gay is fucking difficult).

Be willing to leave it at that. Let him know that the door is open for any furthur discussion, but seriously - talking about sexuality with one's parents in any context is awkward. Save the questions / concerns / discussions for a later time. Get the word out there in the open first.
posted by Zephyrial at 6:56 PM on July 11, 2007

A friend of mine delighted in telling how he came out to his father, who responded "Don't worry, some of our best gays are friends."
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 6:58 PM on July 11, 2007

Lots of great responses above. Just wanted to say Bravo to you for being such a great parent. Have lots of gay friends who should have been so lucky. I hope more parents can follow your example.
posted by pearlybob at 7:23 PM on July 11, 2007

Coming out, especially to your parents (even if they are very supportive) is an incredibly brave and honest thing to do. These are two things I value very much, as I'm sure you do too. Some acknowledgment of that might be in order. For me, (as a friend), it was to say "congratulations" on coming out. But maybe a more appropriate parental response would be "I'm so proud of you." Or something like that.
posted by lampoil at 7:33 PM on July 11, 2007

It's not easy for most people to come out to their parents, but if he's your only son there's a chance that he's also--in addition to everything else--worried about your reaction to not having grandchildren through him and also to the death of the family name. Even if he's not it will be a good idea to let him know that you're happy he told you, that you love and respect him, and that whoever he dates--man or woman--will be welcome in your home as part of your family.

At the end of the conversation you should probably let him know not to be afraid to bring up the subject again--unfortunately some parents pretend acceptance but will only talk with their children about homosexuality the one time. You don't want to leave him with any lingering doubts about your acceptance.

Your local library and/or Pride Center may also have books written for friends, parents, and loved ones of GLBT people; while some of them are homophobic and judgmental, others are quite supportive and can give useful advice on what to do or say and what not to do or say. And, as a side benefit, they can help you through your son's coming out as well.
posted by Tuwa at 7:59 PM on July 11, 2007

(Ah, I just noticed I assumed patrilineal naming, though it may or may not be the case.)
posted by Tuwa at 8:12 PM on July 11, 2007

As a parent, I think my feelings would be pride. Not proud that I have a gay child, but proud that (1) my child is in touch with his sexuality, but even more so (2) that my child is confident enough and strong enough to come out to me and the world at that age. You may want to mention some of that pride in whatever you say, along with the support and love.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:17 PM on July 11, 2007

You'll likely find these previous threads to be of interest:

Our son came out to us today. Now what?

Is my child gay?
posted by ericb at 8:22 PM on July 11, 2007

Hey, I would have loved to have a dad like you. I'm gay. Looking back on where I was when I was 16... hmmm... having a supportive father would be out of the question. (I'm 35 now.)

But let's imagine I did.

And the answer, I think, is echoed above. Look him in the eye and just tell your son you love him. If he wants to talk more, he'll tell you. And you need to give him a big hug.

That is the best thing you can do.
posted by jerryg99 at 8:32 PM on July 11, 2007

Anon, You appear to be gay friendly, but coming out is a scary scary moment. My father's best friend was a lesbian. My mother had two friends I grew up calling "Aunt" & "Uncle". Neither of those titles were applied to the appropriate gender. You'd think I would have had the easiest time coming out. Fact is, I'm still scared to do it. Oh, I'm sure my parents have figured out I'm gay, they stopped referring to my potential mates by gender specific pronouns ages ago.

If your son comes out to you, he is incredibly brave. He does not know what you are thinking. Just let him know.

A friend of mine had the one of the best coming out stories. He was at the dinner table with his parents and blurted out "I'm gay." His mother's response? "Then you should know not to put your elbows on the table."
posted by aristan at 8:56 PM on July 11, 2007 [9 favorites]

You might want to read Eric Marcus' Is it a Choice?
posted by brujita at 9:17 PM on July 11, 2007

I love you, "Jason." When's the parade?
posted by longsleeves at 9:20 PM on July 11, 2007

I'd be tempted to say something that would indirectly let him know it's okay with you if he's gay. Something like, "I have a friend who's gay but he won't come out to his parents because he's afraid of how they'll react. I think they'll be fine with it because they're not dinosaurs and they love him."

Margaret Atwood, in her book The Robber Bride, wrote a coming out scene that made me crack up. The son brought home a string of girlfriends in his teens that the mother had hated (and with reason). When he came out to her, she was flabbergasted - not disapproving, just very surprised - and the first thing that popped out of her mouth was "What about all those bimbos you put me through?!"
posted by orange swan at 10:03 PM on July 11, 2007

Let him struggle to find the right time to tell you and overcome that, it's good for him. Don't preempt his coming out to you.

Discussing sexual health and condoms is best saved for later. As to a supply of condoms, I'd make sure he knows and has access to a place they are available for free. There may be a place in your town that provides them, or it might be expedient to provide him with a box of a dozen.

He seems to jump around a lot. Is that normal?

Pretend you asked this about anything else that a 16 year old does. Normal here, too. He is finding himself. There is a lot of pressure in this society to pick a label out of gay, straight, or bi. Labels don't always fit well, and don't necessarily match up with an individual's actual behavior. He might well be jumping around a bit on behavior, label, and feelings -- on any one day the 3 might not match up. (this is not exclusive to teenagers)
posted by yohko at 10:30 PM on July 11, 2007

"I don't think that I've ever loved you more."
posted by Sfving at 10:39 PM on July 11, 2007 [3 favorites]

Indeed, your son is lucky.

Tell him you love him. Tell him you're proud of him. Tell him that while life is going to be hard, sometimes being an other cultivates compassion. Hug him. Take him to your local pride parade/book store. Go to PFLAG. Get involved in the LGBT community, they'll adore you - I guarantee it. :) Ask if he likes a certain boy. Tell him that he has to be back from his date by midnight. Wag your finger at him and tell him that he’s lucky to have you. Thank him for telling you. Tell him that you’ll support him no matter what. Then tell him you love him again.
posted by gleea at 11:08 PM on July 11, 2007

I 'came out' recently to my mom about smoking marijuana (I am a young adult who is completely self sufficient) and she told me that nothing like that could change how she sees me.

Ultimately, all he wants is your acceptance. Just let him know that you love him no matter what his sexual orientation is because that doesn't change the person he is.
posted by ThFullEffect at 11:40 PM on July 11, 2007

The only input he *needs* from you when he comes out is that you love him no matter what. Other than that, let him do the talking and offer advice/guidance/reassurance if you think he is seeking that from you.

Everyone has stereotypes about niche groups of people. [My Mum seemed to be under the impression that all lesbians are into BDSM and, during my coming out talk, asked me to be careful not to get involved in any "weird sexual practices." Other than that, she was great.] Try not to let those stereotypes show and let him teach you about being gay/bi/queer/straight/trans as you go on living your lives.

Good luck - I'm sure you're going to carry on being a great parent as you go through this time.
posted by pollystark at 1:45 AM on July 12, 2007

A friend of mine told her father, "Dad, I'm homosexual."

He was quiet for a second, then nodded slowly, and responded, "Daughter, I'm heterosexual."

That was the end of the conversation.

I rather liked that.
posted by olinerd at 4:07 AM on July 12, 2007 [6 favorites]

I'd be tempted to say something that would indirectly let him know it's okay with you if he's gay. Something like, "I have a friend who's gay but he won't come out to his parents because he's afraid of how they'll react. I think they'll be fine with it because they're not dinosaurs and they love him."

Please don't do this. He'll see right through it and probably resent it as you pushing him. Remember, he is a teenager.

I'm not gay, but for a while in college my mother thought I was (not sure why; I had a bunch of gay friends but I think there may have been other factors)-- she was pulling stuff like this all the time and it irritated the hell out of me.

Also, I remember when some of my friends came out, they got the 'oh your life will be hard' speech, which they all felt was really shitty. If you live in the world, you know there's homophobia. You don't need to remind him or, even worse, 'commiserate'.

Just be loving. It sounds like that comes naturally to you.
posted by miss tea at 5:13 AM on July 12, 2007

Make sure you tell him you're proud of him for coming out, and let him know how trusted it makes you feel that he came out to you.

Then give him the biggest hug. Hugs say all that needs to be said, without saying anything at all.
posted by flabdablet at 5:48 AM on July 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

To address the jumping-around part, as mentioned above, although he may identify as purely homosexual now, at 16 this can still fluctuate. I think it's important that the gist of your response be that you love and support him NO MATTER WHO HE DECIDES TO LOVE. That way he doesn't have to 'come out' as bi or whatever, should his interests change.

That and the hug bit = good.
posted by softlord at 6:03 AM on July 12, 2007

Not much to add from me, only to confirm that you are the kind of parent most kids wish they had, and the kind of parent that I hope I am.

I have also had good parental feedback from Ask MeFi (on more trivial subjects than this one) for my 16 year old son and this again reinforces my faith in people in general. You da man.
posted by worker_bee at 6:53 AM on July 12, 2007

Ok, but you still have to take the garbage out.
posted by electroboy at 7:12 AM on July 12, 2007 [3 favorites]

An anecdote. Which is only partially advice.

Several-many years ago, a friend of mine came out to his parents as gay. Their reaction was, and I quote. "Son, we don't care what you are, we just want some damn grandkids, and if it means having to go to rallys or protests so you can adopt later, we'll do that."

Now, they're a kind of family that can do this, because they're pretty funny people and my friend knew what they meant behind the smart-mouthed response. That they still thought of him as their son, that they didn't care if he was gay or straight or bi or whatever, and that they'd support him in whatever way he wanted and that they knew it was difficult.

This isn't an approach I recommend, but I do recommend the message behind their smartassed response. In whatever way is normal for your family.
posted by FritoKAL at 7:13 AM on July 12, 2007

Don't drop hints, it's horribly awkward. Just wait for him to tell you. Most of the advice so far is good, especially the bit about not reminding him that he'll be discriminated against - trust me, he knows, and when my dad reminded me of that at least once a week for two months, it got annoying.

I think the best thing that my mother did was slightly awkward at the time, but I look back on it really well: she literally bought every book in the gay and lesbian section at Barnes & Noble. Now, you don't have to do that, but possibly just having one book on the topic that you read and he can see you read can show him that you care about him and are trying to understand the implications being gay for his life.
posted by awesomebrad at 8:10 AM on July 12, 2007

One more thing I just thought of:

A lot of people have been pointing out that sexuality is fluid, and someone who is 16 may still be "figuring things out".

Please, please, please don't say this to your son if he comes out to you. Don't ask him if he's "sure." Don't tell him you think he might "change his mind." You can think it, you can believe it, and heck, it might even be true, but listen: If your son is willing to put himself through the hell of coming out to you (it's hellish no matter what, trust me) --- he's pretty darn sure.
posted by Zephyrial at 8:17 AM on July 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

Given that a 16 year old boy is going to be even more sensitive than I was when I came out at 26ish to my Mom, I just want to point out that:

1. It's really cool that you care enough about this that you're asking for advice.

2. He might see negative in your response no matter what. Be prepared for that. It doesn't necessarily mean you did anything wrong, but it does mean that you might want to say as little as possible until you're both a little more comfortable with the whole concept. Your words are going to be under a much more intense scrutiny than they might be otherwise.
posted by hought20 at 8:42 AM on July 12, 2007

Nthing the suggestion regarding access to condoms.

Also, having the talk is important. There's a guy, who is a Women's Studies major in one of my classes this term. His boyfriend has cheated on him with 7 (yes, seven!) other men (and been found out later). My classmate insists that this is ok because it's, "How it is for gay people," even though he doesn't feel the same freedom to sleep around. His partner would disapprove. Please don't let this crap take root in the brain of your son. Make it clear that a loving partner is, well, loving.

This is, of course, nearly impossible advice to give if you yourself are in a visibly miserable partnership. But still, it's a message I think all young people need, no matter who they'll be bonking.
posted by bilabial at 9:10 AM on July 12, 2007

All great responses.

My parents mentioned once that they only hoped that my brother and I weren't gay because the world was less accepting of LGBT folks, and all they ever wanted was for us to be as safe and happy as we possibly could be. Well, I wouldn't necessarily mention that first part, but the second part is the core of being a supportive parent -- after all, a happily partnered gay son would be better off than a hetero heroin junkie, right?

You'd be concerned about him whether he was with a guy or a girl, right? He's 16. He's going to go out and do wacky things. It's a very fine line to walk, but you'll have to be the parent in this situation without seeming judgmental of his sexuality. (e.g. you'd rather not have him sleeping around no matter what).

After you've done all of the "we'll love you no matter what" stuff, just spend time instilling in him ways to be a good and loving person and partner, regardless of whom he likes or loves at any particular time. Be interested in his life and his friends just the same as if he were a straight kid.
posted by Madamina at 9:29 AM on July 12, 2007

Tell him that no matter what he does, you love him unconditionally.

Gay men are statistically volunteer most and give most for most charitable organization because they understand what it feels like to to be left alone by those whom they expect unconditional love from.

You should tell him that you think that he is a really brave young men and he ought to be proud of himself. Tell him that you celebrate differences and diversity--which is what make us human.

The wonders of life will be lost without diversity--and you are honored that he helps make a much more interesting world by being part of the most uniquely creative bunch of people I've known in my life.

I had my happiest moment in my life by being at gay pride this year, and I invite you to join me at my Flickr Group: http://flickr.com/groups/Diversity

posted by seeminglee at 9:16 PM on August 13, 2007

Omg! You're tremendous :) (Show him your opening words one day)

I saw a flash of something about "You still have to take out the garbage," on my way down here. That seemed like it might suit you? :) To be honest I think what you could never put into words will be heard crystal clear.
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 6:58 PM on September 13, 2007

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