“Hi, I need some help! My older son accidentally outed his younger brother to me—he let slip that my other son has a boyfriend, and feels absolutely HORRIBLE about it. I’m fine with the news and have suspected it for a few years, but I don’t know what to do now that I know! My older son wants to keep his mistake a secret, but I don’t want to lie to my other kid either. Any advice for this sticky situation?”
Question Submitted Anonymously
Answered by Carmella Van Vleet
Having a child outed, either accidentally or on purpose, can be a challenging situation. It’s often difficult to know just how to respond. I think it’s admirable that you’re trying to navigate these circumstances in a way that honors everyone. My own daughter’s sexual orientation was revealed before she was ready to share it with me herself, so I can personally relate to your concerns.
The first thing I’d suggest is considering whether or not the situation truly warrants any action on your part. Your older son slipped up and mentioned news you weren’t supposed to know yet. What would you do if this information was something else? As long as it’s not information that poses a danger, why would you have to say anything to your younger son? If you’re okay with the news, then you could continue behaving as you did before.
It’s not unusual for parents of LGBTQ kids to either suspect or find evidence of their child’s sexual orientation before the child officially comes out to them. You’re not lying to your younger son; you’re simply not letting on that you are aware of this aspect of his life. This is an important part of his identity, and allowing your younger son to come to you on his own terms and in his own time will empower him. Though my daughter was outed by someone with good intentions, it was very frustrating for her to have to discuss things before she could prepare, or even sort out her own emotions.
In our case, my daughter was in a potentially dangerous situation, so I didn’t have a choice. (She was underage and visiting an adult website, using her real name. For more information about internet safety, check out this list of online safety tips for LGBTQ teens!) There was a reason for me to take the direct approach, although it wasn’t easy. It’s something both my daughter and I still regret was necessary.
You know your son—and the kind of relationship the two of you have—best. If you feel that hiding what you now know betrays your son, you can always look for opportunities to provide a safe place for him to bring up his sexuality. For example, if there’s an article about the LGBTQ community fighting for their rights in the news, casually mention your support. Even if your younger son doesn’t respond right away, he’ll know you’re an ally. Just be careful not to be too obvious or leading. Again, give your son the opportunity to come to you when he’s ready.
There’s also your other son to consider. It sounds as though he deeply regrets his mistake. In this situation, you must also consider his feelings and his relationship with his younger brother. Coming out and living as your true self can be scary. Your younger son will need his brother. Would speaking up cause a rift between them?
Only you know the answers to these questions. However you decide to act (or not to act!), it’s clear you are a loving parent who cares about both of their children.
Good luck to you as you navigate this situation!
Carmella Van Vleet is a wife, former teacher, and the mother of three young people (ages 22, 20 and 18) who she thinks are pretty cool despite the fact they insisted on growing up. Carmella is also a full-time children’s author who’s committed to including LGBTQ families in her work whenever possible. You can visit her at www.carmellavanvleet.com.