If I have reasons to believe that my teenager might be homosexual, how should I approach him about it? He's made references to the subject on several occasions, so I'm beginning to have concerns. Should I just come straight out and ask him? What do you recommend?
Believe it or not, we consider it a hopeful sign that your son has actually brought up the subject of homosexuality several times. Where questions of sexuality and gender identity are concerned, nothing is more important that maintaining open lines of communication between parent and child. Before doing anything else you may want to try drawing him out with some pointed questions of your own. You might ask him, "What was it that prompted your curiosity about this?" If you listen carefully to what he has to say and respond to his comments with some strategic "one-liners," you may be able to encourage some further disclosure of his thought processes. This will not only be conducive to a helpful discussion of the subject. It will also strengthen the bond between you, and a good parent-child relationship is one of the best lines of defense against homosexuality.
In evaluating your son's answers to your questions, you should keep in mind that Joe Dallas, an expert in this field, says that there are three different ways of using the term "homosexuality." First, the word can be used to refer to a homosexual condition or orientation – a state in which an individual is sexually aroused primarily by members of the same sex. This is an involuntary condition, and it usually appears early in life.
Second, "homosexuality" can be used to mean specifically homosexual behavior – i.e., actual sexual contact with a person of the same sex.
Third, this word is often used to describe a frame of mind in which a person has come to view homosexuality as a primary identifying characteristic, usually accompanied by acceptance of homosexuality as being normal and moral. In other words, a "homosexual" in this sense of the term is an individual who regards himself or herself as "gay."
It's possible that your son has been experiencing some kind of same-sex sexual arousal (meaning #1). These feelings are not unusual or uncommon in early adolescence. If this is the case, you should explain that feelings are temporary and unreliable and should not necessarily make the basis of one's personal identity. They certainly can't be cited as evidence that anyone is "born" or "created gay."
As a parent, you should be aware that there are certain signs of pre-homosexuality that are fairly easy to recognize. They usually show up early in a child's life, and they generally fall under the heading of what might be called "cross-gender behavior." There are five markers to watch for in determining whether a boy or girl is a likely candidate for "gender identity disorder:"
- A recurring desire to be, or an insistence that he or she is, the opposite sex.
- Penchant for cross-dressing.
- A strong and persistent preference for cross-sexual roles in make-believe play, or persistent fantasies of being the other sex.
- An intense desire to participate in stereotypical games and pastimes of the other sex.
- A strong preference for playmates of the opposite sex.
If any of these signs are characteristic of your son, or if your discussion with him leads you to suppose that there is cause for serious concern about his sexual identity, you may want to encourage him to take advantage of some kind of short-term counseling to allay any fears he may have. For help in this area, feel free to call Focus on the Family's Counseling department. Our licensed therapists will be happy to discuss your concerns with you over the phone, and they can also provide you with a local counselor referral from our carefully screened data base.