1) Family conflicts related to homosexuality
Speaking with gay guys of all ages, it’s easy to realize that many of them think that often the homosexuality of sons is perceived, within the family, both by sons themselves and parents, as something disruptive and dangerous, capable of undermining even the most profound emotional relationships.
This fear, widespread at all ages, generates both for parents and boys attitudes of closure and defense. The boys, but also the adult men of 40 years, who live in their family of origin or who are still in close contact with the family of origin, not only generally avoid in any way any behavior that can push parents to consider them homosexual but, what is worse, they sometimes end up renouncing their sexuality altogether, even in the most sublimated forms: they don’t invite friends home, don’t go out at night, make a seemingly irreproachable life but totally unnatural and forced.
The fact that a boy should systematically renounce his sexuality to avoid family problems causes feelings of deep frustration and resentment towards parents who are seen as conditioning and castrating. There are gay boys who arrive at 40 years old not only without ever having had sexual contact with a boyfriend, but without ever having even experienced a serious falling in love. Such a thing cannot remain without significant psychological consequences. Gay boys living in this way feel defrauded of their own life and their deep identity by their more or less unconscious parents.
Such things create forms of family coexistence that hide profound recriminations and are merely formal. For gay guys, even at 25, 28 or 30 years, the problem of the relationship with the family is generally not yet solved. This means that these guys, who are now fully adults, are still suffering, often in a heavy way, from the crisis of family relationships due to their being gay. The parents of these guys, who are even 60 years old or older, are unable to give them any support and often misunderstandings accumulate and consolidate, and come to produce a total separation between the sons and the family that is terrible both for sons and parents and leaves a sense of deep failure of emotional life.
But at 25, if it is true that one can go into crisis, it’s also true that there are also resources to manage the situation, but at a very young age it is not at all said that it is so. I often notice, even in gay guys twenty-five years old, the deep desire to escape from home, not in order to get who knows what, but simply to find a privacy that for a guy 25 years old is absolutely necessary, especially if he is a gay guy.
That a gay boy can have good relations with the family it’s not very common and often, after the coming out in front of the family, the ostentatious acceptance of the homosexuality of the son by his parents is only just a semblance and the son feels that ”anyway” something has changed . In such a situation, the son is instinctively brought to consider his parents hypocritical.
Often the sons perceive that in the family the sex is intended like a taboo or something forbidden, this fact discourages from the beginning any form of dialogue of the guys with their parents and more generally with the adults on this topic, that is confined for class of age only to the peer group.
The idea that sex and sexual affectivity can be topics of which one can speak in a serious and open way, without taboos and without scandalism, is unfortunately very far from being a common heritage. Often even talking about masturbation is a taboo. In such a climate, a gay guy experiences in fact in a state of total isolation. Being gay becomes not a taboo like any other but the taboo par excellence.
2) Religious conditioning
The attitudes of the Church, which sees a serious sin even in masturbation and that condemns homosexuality a priori, contribute to the idea that being gay is something very negative that one must be ashamed of, a kind of disgrace, a stain, an outrage especially towards one’s parents.
Parents reticent about sex, hyper-moralistic parents, parents who speak of sex only in a derogatory tone, spread the idea that sexuality is a negative thing rooted in their son’s minds, and this is even more true for homosexuality.
3) Dialogue between parents and sons
In order to allow a form of mutual respect and genuine emotional contact between parents and sons, parents must put aside all the predetermined roles and must get involved without hiding behind attitudes of convenience that actually prevent to the sons to get to know their parents.
Generally, for a gay guy, perceiving that his parents assume a role in front of him, even apparently positive, but nonetheless they are not themselves and are not sincere, is equivalent to feeling rejected. And that perception is objectively correct. In a serious dialogue, and especially about sex or even homosexuality, there cannot be a priori presuppositions. If the answers to be given to the son already exist before any comparison, dialogue is only apparent.
Whenever a parent tries to talk to his gay son by trying to convince him of something, that is assuming what he will say to his son, regardless of the dialogue with his son, the parent is offending the dignity of the son and is creating a false dialogue. With sons, and in particular with gay sons, it is essential to be 100% honest. In most cases the sons do not talk with their parents about their homosexuality and, I add, in most cases they are right not to talk about it. What I am saying comes from the fact that sons often fear parents’ reactions and when fear takes over the relationship, the relationship is heavily degraded.
The guys I met through Gay Project and with whom I often chat, want to hear from me the confirmation that being gay means having a dignity, a morality, a high human dimension, no less than that of any other condition of life. Often the less informed or less seriously informed parents about the gay world, have an absolutely prejudicial vision of it, they identify it with the most screamed and most spectacular stereotypes that are seen on television … but no! Gays, the real ones, have nothing to do with these things, I know so many of all ages and they are very serious people, who work, who try to believe in what they do and often live in conditions of non-freedom because in the world in which they live being gay is not accepted.
There are people hiding (the vast majority!), I call them ”the invisible people”, and they hide because they are afraid, not because they have something to hide. I have seen gays falling in deep forms of love, with or without sex, this doesn’t matter, with those who gave them a serious emotional response. I have seen young boys literally destroyed by their parents’ misunderstanding and a thousand times repentant of having got out in family. The coming out with parents, in general, arouses anxiety and big hesitations because very often the relationships between parents and sons are formalized and are reduced to relationships between roles rather than between people.
4) Parents and role of support
What should a parent do when he realizes that his son is gay (no matter whether his son told him or not)? The answer may seem trivial but a parent who realizes that his son is gay, if he loves his son, must help him to be gay. A guy told me: ”after all I had a lion’s courage to talk about it with my parents … but they took it well only in a sense and say that I have to cure myself”. Such an attitude for a gay boy is equivalent to abandonment and non-acceptance.
Accepting does not mean trying to change the situation and not even hoping it will change, if there is an attempt to change things or the hope that things will change it means that there is no acceptance. Being gay is not a choice but a basic quality of a person about whom there is nothing to decide but everything to accept. Refusing the fact that one’s son is gay means rejecting him from every point of view. Loving sons means loving them as they are!
5) Parents and sex education of gay boys
The parents of gay boys, usually, even in good faith, believe they have nothing more to say about the emotional and sexual education of their sons. Nothing is more wrong. A gay boy must learn from parents to be seriously gay, to consider sexuality as a fundamental thing and to live it in an affective dimension characterized by honesty and respect for oneself and others. But beyond the moral principles, parents can have a great importance also in guiding the boys towards responsible sexual behavior in order to put aside any risky behavior. The parent’s insistence on this point is generally considered by teenagers as a form of positive interest and, in essence, as something gratifying.
A twenty-three-year-old gay boy, who had a very good relationship with his family, told me about an episode that I report below trough a passage of his e-mail.
“At one point I had a fight with my boyfriend or maybe I was just a little tired of him and even though I kept seeing him I started to go to clubs and look for guys to have fun without him knowing it and my father did something for which I will never stop thanking him. One evening he waited for me until I returned home, practically until morning, and he told me clearly that between loving a guy and going to behave stupidly to have fun there was a huge difference but if I wanted to get along with him I had to do things seriously, he told me: you have to respect your boyfriend, because he’s a guy like you and you’re cheating him now, and if you behave with less respect to a guy that you say you love you, are lacking in dignity. And he ended up like this: a gay guy must be a proper guy! I think I will not forget this anymore!”
With this example I mean that a parent can and must have a role towards a gay boy and that role consists in transmitting to the boy the sense of dignity and respect for others, which are fundamental values for all.
6) Medicalization of homosexuality
Parents, who almost always act in good faith towards gay sons, in the vast majority of cases, not only don’t have the faintest idea of what homosexuality really is but are totally unaware of their ignorance in the matter and therefore don’t seek information, don’t try to understand but only to take cover, assuming attitudes that can also violently condition sons, such attitudes are manifested in two main ways: the medicalization of homosexuality and the violation of privacy. The medicalization of the homosexuality of the son is aimed at solving the problem with a psychological or even psychiatric treatment. A serious psychiatrist will never accept to take care of a boy just because he is gay. A serious psychologist can also take care of a gay boy but to help him to be gay, certainly not to try to change his sexuality.
A gay boy, forced or kindly forced to go to a psychologist when he doesn’t want to, will perceive such a thing as a heavy violence against his person, because this way his parents don’t show acceptance but rejection of the his deep identity, and attempt to transform it. I add a very important observation: the medicalization of the homosexuality of the son by the parents is, in fact, a total discharge of responsibility as well as an explicit renunciation to try to build a dialogue with the son on the affective level.
7) Privacy of gay sons and parental intrusions
As to the violations of the son’s privacy on the part of the parents in order to understand if the boy is gay, let us remember the most common ones: reading the private diary or correspondence of the son, entering his computer to check the contents, attempting to control his friendships and especially to demand from him the confession of his homosexuality as if it were a moral obligation of the boy towards his parents. It is clear that parents are not easily aware of the seriousness of the violation of the son’s privacy and often believe that their intrusive behavior is not only justified by good intentions but is dutiful and even represents a meritorious way of exercising the parental function.
For a parent it can be very difficult to understand that the son is an independent person, different from the parent, and that no presumed good intent can justify violating the son’s privacy. For a young boy, and even more for an adult, there is nothing more private than his sexual sphere. An invasion in this area by parents is rightly experienced by the son as an intolerable violence. If a boy wants to come out in front of his parents, this is and remains in any case an absolutely free and personal choice of his, not an obligation, because boys who don’t do it avoid the coming out because they are afraid of the reactions from their parents.
I often speak with 25/30 year old guys who explicitly say that they will never come out in the family. If one of these boys felt somehow forced by his parents to talk about his homosexuality he would live it not as a simple lack of respect but as a very serious aggression to his dignity and his person.
8) Affective education of gays and family homophobia
The bad relationship of a gay boy with his parents, and worse the disapproval of them, radically prevents every form of dialogue. The model of affective life assimilated through the family life, that is through the observation of the behavior of the parents remains deeply imprinted in the mind of gay boys.
Gay guys who have had family relationships characterized by respect and affection between their parents certainly have much less relational problems in their emotional life. Unfortunately, the reasoning is also valid for the negative.
I spend my days, and very often my nights, talking to gay guys and many of them don’t have clear relationships with their parents, this doesn’t only mean that they are closeted gays in family but that between parents and sons there is no real dialogue and that parents don’t have and often have never had emotional contact with the sons: some boys are literally afraid of their parents and their judgment and others prefer not to put at risk even the fragile family peace by addressing dangerous discourses without any useful prospect.
These boys have often felt a homophobic atmosphere in their family, have heard scornful judgments about gays and realized that parents are too much conditioned by prejudices to be able to really understand what it means to be gay. In some cases, parents’ comments on television broadcasts or journalistic news concerning gays have permanently removed their sons from the intention of speaking openly with their parents, in other cases the a priori moral condemnation of homosexuality, on the basis of the attitude of the Church, provoked similar reactions. In these situations, a boy clearly perceives that for his parents, what people say or what the Church says matters more than the son and that there is no effort on the part of parents to understand what it really means to be gay. Often even attitudes that may seem to be of acceptance, in reality, can hurt boys very heavily, when they understand that there is a discrepancy between the parents’ words and their actual behavior, when they perceive the hypocrisy of the parents and their playing a role without getting really involved.
A single word out of place (I love you ”also” like that) can show anyway a profound non-acceptance, but often even the tone of the voice is sufficient or the fact that the topic is frozen in a definitive way. The boys would like to talk seriously with their parents, they would like to understand the difficulties of their parents and help them solve their problems. The real difficulties emerge when mutual trust is lacking, when parents and children don’t esteem each other as persons. In such situations, the fact that the son is gay is not the real problem but brings out the misunderstandings and underlying diseases of the parent-child relationship.
9) Parental victimhood
Often a parent’s interest in homosexuality, after the coming out of the son, is manifested through the search on the internet of sites deemed useful, but almost always the parent avoids serious sites dedicated to gay guys and instead seeks sites where a parent may have contacts with other parents of gay guys, this means that often the parent doesn’t try to understand the point of view of gay boys but is looking for someone willing to support him or allow him to feel victim. It is much easier to be welcomed by the thoughtful arms of a site ”for parents” of gay sons than by those much more tough of a gay site dedicated to gay guys. The parent who prefers dialogue with other parents rather than with his son is not honestly trying to solve the problem of the son but only his own! These things are the clear sign of an immaturity on the part of the parent. The lack of dialogue between parents and children is not eliminated by making parents talk to each other, but by pushing them to talk with the boys and get involved in the first person, without hypocrisy and without a prejudicial role-taking.
10) Parental attitudes about masturbation
When a boy is 14/15 years old, and sometimes even before, begins to have a sexual life, discovers masturbation and, in the 21st century, he invariably begins to use online pornography. Simultaneously at the beginning of sexual activity, this boy feels two different needs, first of all the need for privacy, that is to have his own reserved spaces and times when he is sure not to be disturbed, just to devote himself to the exploration of sexuality, then the need to find serious information about sexuality, that can provide answers without putting him in embarrassing situations. For a boy who has just begun to masturbate, an absolutely natural and necessary activity for the development of his sexuality, there is nothing more humiliating than being caught red-handed by his parents while masturbating or worse that his parents let him know that they know that he does it.
When a boy grows up, a parent must understand that it is absolutely inevitable that the boy has a ”very private” sexual life in which ”nobody” has the right to enter ”for any reason”. The first rule for a parent is to avoid the intrusion into the sexual life of the son and know how to stand aside by maintaining a role of ”possible” (and only possible) reference point for the son. A parent shouldn’t ask the son questions about his sexuality, he should never embarrass him. And here, because we talk about boys and not girls, a fundamental role belongs to fathers rather than mothers. A mother doesn’t fully know the development of male sexuality because she has not experienced it in the first person and, for a boy, talking about his own sexuality with a person of the opposite sex, especially if it is his mother, can be very embarrassing because the speech must be explicit.
A father, if he thinks it makes sense to mention masturbation by talking to his son, should not start from the son’s sexuality but from his own, mentioning the topic as something obvious, which doesn’t constitute a taboo, and accompanying the mention of the topic (which must remain only a mention if the son doesn’t continue the speech) with a joke of lightening or with a winking smile.
Below is a fragment of a dialogue between a 45-year-old father and his 15- year-old son.
The father and the son have just seen together a television service on the approaches to sexuality on the part of the very young people.
Father: Anyways, they are so amazed that at 14/15 years the boys know what sex is, when I was a boy, maybe we didn’t really have relationships as guys do nowadays but, in short, oh … (looks at his son, smiling) … what have you to laugh for? … Yes… I did what everyone does when the sexual urges awaken! … I’m not a Martian!
The son smiles. End of the speech.
This fragment is a non-invasive approach that plays down and doesn’t create embarrassment but almost a form of complicity. I emphasize that in the father’s sentence there is no reference to sexual orientation (he doesn’t talk about girls, which would create alarm and embarrassment for a gay son).
11) Mother’s approach to gay son’s sexuality
The mother’s approach to a son’s sexuality is much more problematic, especially if he is a gay son. If a boy ”explicitly” wants to talk to his mother about sexuality without involving his father, the mother’s task is not to investigate and understand but to listen carefully and not anxiously, to give the son a certainty, avoiding to involve him in her anxieties . When a mother doesn’t know what to say to her son or is embarrassed she can reassure him in a very simple way: when the discourse on sexuality is over, the mother doesn’t have to resume it, which would be a sign of destabilizing anxiety, like an underlining that there is a ”problem” to be solved, but must continue her relationship with the son as if nothing had happened, in order to give sexuality a dimension of naturalness and normality. I emphasize that naturalness and normality should always accompany any discourse concerning sexuality.
12) Parents and sexual anxiety of the son
A particularly delicate situation occurs when an adolescent boy experiences the approach to sexuality in an objectively problematic way. These are typically situations in which parents enter into anxiety states connected with their son’s discomfort. A parent who sees his son’s discomfort must ask himself whether it is more important for a parent to alleviate his son’s distress or ”know” how things are in order to ”help” his child. I state that, despite appearances, these are often irreconcilable situations. To help a son overcome discomfort, one has to put aside the will to know the real life of the son. If my son wants to talk to me about his sexuality he does it spontaneously, if he doesn’t I don’t have to force him in any way, I can stay close to him through normal family care: accompany him to his friends without asking too many questions, leave the dinner ready for him when he comes back late, welcome him with a smile.
13) ”Helping” a gay son
A parent cannot claim to help a son if this one doesn’t want to involve his parents because a boy is entitled to his privacy. There is much more value in a loving and constant presence that doesn’t deal with sexual themes than in a harassing presence that aims to ”know” and ”understand” how things are, a behavior this latter that can lead to a sudden and abrupt blackout of communication with the son, followed by a reactive behavior on the part of the boy leading to his radical and irreversible detachment from the family.
If a parent has doubts about the sexual orientation of the son he must avoid harassing him and must instead reassure him without involving him in an embarrassing way in direct speeches but through indirect hints of respect towards gays, hints that should not be too insistent, because otherwise they would sound fake.
A boy understands perfectly if parents have a true respect for gays or pretend, so for parents the key thing to not affectively destabilize their gay son is to arrive at a true respect for homosexuality. The parent should first question himself and his own preconceptions and only after he should think how to talk with the son about sexual matters.
14) Relationships of gay boys with the psychologist
Given for granted that it is always good to take care of sons in the first person, without delegating fundamental tasks to anyone, it sometimes happens that a parent, seeing the situation of discomfort of the boy, addresses him to a psychologist who could provide support. Here a very delicate point must be clarified: the relationship between a psychologist and his patient must be absolutely ”confidential” i.e. ”reserved”, a serious professional, even in a relationship with a teenage patient, has the professional obligation of secrecy.
Unfortunately this obligation is not always respected and the psychologist ”in the interest of the patient” or rather in the alleged interest of the patient but objectively yielding to direct or indirect pressures of the parents, arrives to communicate to the parents the homosexuality of their son ”without his knowledge”, violently breaking a relationship of trust that could be important for the boy, such a thing has devastating consequences for the boy who feels betrayed in a dimension that should be completely confidential. In this way the psychologist, carefully chosen by the parent, becomes in substance a spy of the parent, and this behavior indicates not respect for the boy but the will of the parent himself to ”know at any cost” , even violating the privacy of the son.
The parents don’t have to choose the psychologist and they don’t have to go to his study before the interviews with the son and not even after, the relationship with the psychologist is not an appendix of the parent-child relationship, but a completely different and separate relationship in which parents must not enter, worse than ever if the psychologist is a family friend. It is a good rule to have the name of the psychologist from the general practitioner and never ask the psychologist ”any” information about the son nor ask the son any judgment on the psychologist.
It happens to me several times to talk with guys who, sent by the psychologist from their parents, don’t trust the psychologist. In these cases the psychologist’s approach is not only emptied from the inside but is counterproductive. In full respect of the dimension of privacy of the son, we must keep in mind that if a parent has doubts about the sexuality of the boy, he must keep those doubts for himself, already talking about it with the spouse can be a negative fact, but talking about it with the separated spouse is anyway to be absolutely avoided , especially if he is a person who does not have a good relationship with the boy.
15) Undue interferences in the lives of gay sons
A parent must not interfere in the son’s relationship with his classmates and friends, when the boy makes a party at home and invites his classmates, the parents, if not directly called into question by their son, must maintain a marginal position, low profile, they must avoid to get into confidence with friends and classmates of the son and for no reason should try to obtain information about the son from his friends or his companions. Putting a son in a state of embarrassment with his schoolmates or friends creates a breaking in the parent-child relationship that is difficult to repair. Terrible and hateful, even if not very rare, are the situations in which a boy who has trusted in his parents in an absolute way realizes that his other relatives ”know about his sexuality” and that the source of the news are precisely his parents, unable to maintain confidentiality.
16) False acceptance
I have often seen parents terrified by the fact that the son had made his coming out but not at all worried about creating or maintaining a substantial dialogue with their son, in these cases, the most typical reaction of false acceptance consists in saying that ”It is only a transitory phase that will pass and then everything will return to normality”, but there are also other typical non-acceptance reactions, such as the classic: ”Go to the psychologist and see what can be done”, or the most common: ”But are you really sure?”, Or even the unpleasant expression: ”But you’re not gay, you only say this to provoke me!” this latter statement highlights strong long-standing contrasts between parents and son. In these situations it is obvious that parents should solve their problems about the rejection of homosexuality before thinking of being able to ”help” their son. The verb ”to help”, used in relation to gay boys only emphasizes the problematic dimension of being gay, a problematic dimension that exists only to the extent to which being gay is seen as a problem. The difficulty of the problem of being gay is proportional to the ignorance of the issue and to levels of anxiety of the parents who want at all costs to ”help” the son to solve a ”problem” that doesn’t really exist and also want to ”save” him from an indefinite series of dangers of which parents nevertheless don’t have the faintest concrete idea.
17) Education for prevention
If there is one thing a parent has the sacrosanct duty to do, it is to make the son understand that his own health must be safeguarded also in sexual activity because it is an absolutely fundamental value. Prevention should not be approached in a generic way with a vague ”be careful” but in a competent way. Talking with the parent must help (this time it’s the right verb!) the son to obtain reliable and accurate information. If a parent doesn’t feel sufficiently informed, he can update himself specifically on the Ministry of Health website or on the Gay Project website which has republished the most important ministerial information on AIDS.
18) Gay boys and family violence
A growing boy, and in particular a gay boy, shouldn’t be involved for any reason in aggressive situations, especially if it comes to aggressive situations related to his being gay. Sometimes I still talk with worried mothers who don’t want their husbands to know about their son’s homosexuality because they would react violently. A scene, and worse than ever, a slap given to a gay boy by the parent because the boy is gay, involves the comprehensible break-up of the relationship between father and son.
We are still amazed at how, even today, there are violent reactions of parents to the idea of the homosexuality of their sons and also of parents with high levels of education but who are obviously completely ignorant of sexuality and are not even able to restrain themselves from violence and to face a reasoning as civilized people. The essence of this speech can be condensed into two principles that parents of a gay boys should never forget:
1) A parent, before addressing the issue of homosexuality with his son, should ask himself what his personal attitude is. He must ask himself seriously if he knows what homosexuality really is or he only presumes to know everything, and if he realizes that he in the first person, has no clear ideas, he must try to clarify them first. He must look first to clarify whether his attitude is really of acceptance or if behind seemingly conciliatory words are hiding homophobic conceptions (homosexuality as a pathology to treat, as a defect to be overcome, as a sin to be avoided).
2) A parent, even after reaching a full awareness of what homosexuality is, must respect ”without exception” the privacy of the son, remaining present and available but never in invasive terms and understanding that the sexuality of the son belongs to the son and not to the parent and that the will to protect the son is likely to make him incapable to react autonomously or to bring him to a position of open break with the family.
If you like, you can join the discussion on this post on Gay Project Forum: http://gayprojectforum.altervista.org/T-gay-boys-and-parents