“My 13-year-old son told me he is gay. His father cannot understand this or change and has since left the family as I refused to send my boy to a camp. I fear the whole thing has left my son traumatized and he is distant from me. How do I help my baby boy?”
Question Submitted Anonymously
Answered by Max Titus
This may sound like it is too simple, but if you want to help your son, keep doing what you are doing. Your son felt comfortable enough to come out to you at a pretty young age, you stood by him and protected him, and now you are reaching out to find out what else you can do to help him. Well done!
Now you might be thinking, “Thanks, but that’s not helpful,” so here’s the rest. You and your son have been through a lot and it seems like you have taken your job as a parent seriously. You mentioned that your son’s dad wanted to send him to “a camp,” and it needs to be said that conversion therapy is not only ineffective, but actively abusive—and is slowly becoming outlawed in multiple states. Your stance is absolutely the right one.
And yet, there is still work to be done. Adolescence is a troublesome time for most kids, but your son is facing some additional challenges. Despite the advances in LGBTQIA acceptance and rights, there are still many places and circumstances where being out is difficult and can even be dangerous. However, there is a light at the end of the rainbow tunnel and this is how you can get there.
Talk to your son.
Start by talking to your son. If you aren’t sure what to say, tell him that you love him and that you will support him. He needs to feel loved and supported, especially at this time. Start small and grow your relationship with him a little at a time. He trusted you enough to come out, but you may need to rebuild some trust at this point. He is likely feeling sad, but he may also feel guilty or ashamed. Tell him that it is okay to be gay. He needs to know that there is nothing wrong with him. He needs to know that his father made the choice to leave and that is not his fault. Ask him how he feels and ask him how you can help and then, most importantly, listen.
Take care of yourself.
If you want to help your son, you need to be well. Your son’s father—and presumably your partner—has left the family. That is hard. Despite your focus on your son, you may be heartbroken or angry. You may be facing financial challenges. You may be struggling. Take care of yourself. Exercise, meditate, take a bath. Do whatever it is that you need for self-care, but make sure that you also get the support that you need from family, friends, or a therapist (ideally someone with experience with LGBTQIA issues).
Get support for your son.
You son needs support. You know that already, because you’ve noticed that he is distant and you are asking how you can help him. He is no doubt feeling pain and trauma from this situation. LGBTQ teens are more likely to experience mental health issues than their straight friends, and rejection by a parent for any reason is devastating. It may be time to face that he needs help that you cannot provide. No, you cannot force your son to see a therapist if he is not willing, but if he is open to it, find an LGBTQIA inclusive and knowledgeable therapist for him. If you live in an area where that is challenging or you aren’t comfortable seeking that out locally, there are some online resources that could help—for example, The Trevor Project has a 24/7 hotline with trained counselors available to talk to LGBTQ youth who are struggling or in crisis.
Become part of the community.
Remember that light at the end of the rainbow tunnel? Turns out, it’s all about love—and the LGBTQIA community is full of love! Seek out LGBTQIA inclusive spaces and support groups in your area. Meeting other people with similar struggles and experiences can be therapeutic. For many of us, the relationships that we develop through our coming out and acceptance process are long-lasting, and those people then become our chosen family.
If you aren’t sure how to find LGBTQIA spaces, a good place to start is the My Kid Is Gay Resources page, which includes resources for parents and children that cover topics like bullying, mental health, religion, and more.
If you are thinking that this is all a lot, you are right, but if you are thinking that you are alone, you are wrong. Many families face these types of challenges. There are many stories, including my own, where a kid came out and it didn’t go so well. In some cases, relationships cannot recover, but in most it just takes time, communication, and some support to get to the light. Either way, it does get better. Keep doing what you are doing; keep standing by his side and protecting him, because he will remember that. Know that it may not be a smooth ride, but you are doing your job as a parent and you are doing it well.
Max Titus is a queer wife and parent living, working, and writing in Vermont. Despite their day job and regular adulting, they love comic books, video games, and drawing their own images of the world. They also write about gender, queer parenting, and the like on their blog www.maplesticks.com. Follow Max on Twitter and Instagram @matitus2