One of my clients, a divorced businessman, has a 16-year-old son “Evan”. Evan just told his dad that he’s gay. He said it very confidently. To Evan, there appears to be no doubt about this. But his dad wonders.
The plot thickens…
It seems that Evan has an Aunt “Susan” who is a lesbian…Susan is reportedly “very artistic, creative and a lot of fun”. Evan has long enjoyed visiting Susan and her partner at their home.
Evan’s dad, trying to make sense of all of this, wonders if there was some “man-hating stuff going on in that home, because of little things that Evan would say”, but he never said anything because Evan adores his Aunt Susan.
My client asked me:
Is it possible that my son is really gay?
How can you know this at such a young age?
Is it possible that he wants to be “gay” like his Aunt Susan and her partner because he loves them so much?
Should I put Evan into therapy to deal with this?
Recent psychological research – and my own years of experience as a psychotherapist – has found that many adult gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender men and woman “knew” about their sexual orientation at a young age, in some cases, as young as five or six. I am not saying Evan is necessarily in this bunch, but it possible that he knows who he is and has clarity about it.
Another possibility is that Evan is experiencing same-sex feelings for other males and that this may eventually evolve into other sexual feelings, be they gay, bisexual. transgender, gender-fluid or straight.
One of the more interesting aspects of recent research on sexuality is the idea of “fluidity” of sexual orientation. In my own private practice, more and more young people – particularly those in their late teens and early 20’s – tell me that they feel their sexual identity is “fluid”, not “fixed”, e.g., a 19-year-old woman may currently prefer a female lover, but her previous lover may have been a straight or bisexual male. Perhaps younger people are less obsessed with labeling sexual orientation and more interested in experiencing it.
It is highly unlikely that Evan’s affection for his Aunt Susan and her partner have contributed to his self-proclaimed sexual orientation as a gay male. The vast majority of research shows that having a lesbian aunt could HELP Evan to accept his homosexuality, but it would not be the CAUSE of it.
This is the sort of thinking that some reactionary religious groups have been promoting for years: that a young person can be “converted” into becoming gay/lesbian/bisexual. (Remember the “Ellen” episode where she joked that she gets a toaster oven for each person she “converted”?).
The people around us can’t make us gay, but they can certainly make it easier or harder for us to come out if we are. As for the “man-hating” talk my client suspects, I recommended that he speak with Susan about it if it really concerns him. I suggested that he not ask Evan about it, as that could put Evan in the middle of an issue that is really for Evan’s dad and his Aunt Susan to discuss.
I strongly recommend that parents who find themselves in this kind of situation consider therapy for themselves, as it’s likely that YOU are the person having a hard time dealing with your child identifying as gay. P-FLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays).is a national group supporting people who love – but may be baffled by – their lesbian and gay children. Look for them on the Internet and locate the meeting nearest you.
And what about Evan’s dad? This is what I told him:
“Whether Evan identifies as gay in the future or not, he identifies as gay NOW so please get yourself some support in coping with this. You could also go online and Google books and resources for parents of gay/lesbian/bisexual children. You are not alone”.
Therapy for Evan? I suggested that my client ask Evan if he would be interested in talking with a gay-friendly psychotherapist. If so, great. P-FLAG would be an efficient way to locate local psychotherapists who would be a good match for him.
Parents: no matter what you think is best for your gay-identifying child, if he or she doesn’t want psychotherapy, don’t pressure them into it. If you do, you may rupture the lines of communication you want to keep open.
Remember Dear Parents, YOU are the adult and your child (no matter how independent they appear) needs you to be nurturing and rational.
Take good care of yourself so you can take care of your child. It may sound corny, but love your children as they are, whomever they love. Your gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender-identifying child needs a loving and supportive parent; don’t let them down.