Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Be steady, supportive listener; it will help son, gay or straight
Annapolis: I've been trying to figure out how/if to ask my 17-year-old son if he's gay. He's a great kid who has never dated and is very private about his personal life.
On the one hand, I think his personal life is his to share or not share with me.
On the other hand, I want to be informed/supportive.
I guess I've answered my own question — it's his life, not mine, and maybe I'm just really curious.
By the way, the reason I have any question about his sexual orientation is because his church youth minister planted the seeds by telling me that my son "must be gay" because he says absolutely nothing about sex and is very, very private, and that is a "dead giveaway." I thought he was just a late bloomer, like his dad and I were.
Carolyn: Wha? Either your son has confided in this "church youth minister" that he is gay, and the CYM made a clumsy and inappropriate attempt to invite you into a conversation with your son about it, or this CYM is speculating in a way that's jaw-droppingly out of line.
If you want to be supportive, just be open to the idea that your son might be gay and let him tell you when he's good and ready.
Don't drop hints, ask leading questions, tell stories about somebody's wonderful gay son, or any of that. Just be.
If you want to do one better, then be someone people can approach without fear when they have something difficult to say. Not only would that help your son if he is gay, it would help him if he's straight, too, since being the person people can lean on means being a good, steady, nonjudgmental listener.
Anonymous: Re: Potentially Gay Son: I knew I was gay at 16 but had no intentions of ever telling my parents because I didn't know how they would react. For two years I kept it a secret.
I was home visiting from college when I was 18, and my mom pulled me aside and gently asked me if my friend "Megan" (I'm sure I had been talking about Megan the whole time) was more than just a friend. Mom's guess was correct, and I don't remember anything else that was said, only that everything was well-received.
It was such a relief that she broached the topic. Otherwise, I would have let it be the elephant in the room forever.
I'm not saying Annapolis' son is exhibiting "dead giveaway" gay-isms, but I think there could be some merit in the parent bringing the topic up first.
Carolyn: You give such a great example of how to do it, thank you — with the key element being that your mom had a lot more to go on than this parent does. A hunch or a line-crossing youth minister's word doesn't meet this standard.
And "Is Megan more than just a friend?" is so much more loving and approachable — so much more "I get it" — than "Are you gay?" which can come from a place of complete sympathy and complete antipathy and just about everywhere in between, in many cases leaving a person to guess at the questioner's intent.