“My son just came out to me as gay. Will he get AIDS?”
Question Submitted Anonymously
Answered by Laurin Mayeno
Thanks for your question—I think you are voicing a concern that a lot of parents have, and it’s great that your son felt comfortable enough to come out to you. In order to address your concern, it’s important to first be aware of common anti-gay stereotypes. Stigma and fear related to HIV/AIDS, as well as homophobia toward gay men, leads many people to think that being gay leads to HIV/AIDS. This is simply not true. At the same time, HIV/AIDS is a potential health threat that we cannot ignore.
To start off, it’s important to know the difference between HIV and AIDS. HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a virus that attacks the immune system. If untreated, it destroys cells that the immune system needs to protect the body from infection and disease. AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) is the final stage of HIV infection. AIDS is a series of health problems that occur when the body cannot protect itself against disease. Many people who are HIV-positive (living with the virus) do not develop AIDS. There are now HIV medicines that can control the virus, so people who are HIV-positive can live long, healthy lives with less risk of transmitting the virus to others.
People are not infected with HIV simply because they are gay. Anyone, of any gender or sexual orientation, can become infected with HIV, which is carried through blood, semen, pre-ejaculate, vaginal fluids, amniotic fluid, and breast milk. HIV can be passed from one person to another through oral, anal, or vaginal sex. It can also be transmitted by sharing needles for drug use, blood transfusions, during pregnancy, through birth, or when nursing a child.
Now here’s the tricky part. Even though anyone can get HIV, rates of infection are highest in the U.S. among young men who have sex with men (MSM), especially African American MSM. Homophobia and discrimination against the gay community can increase HIV risk for gay men. Young men who experience homophobic bullying, family rejection, and social isolation are more likely to be depressed and have low self-esteem. As a result, they may be more likely to do things that are unsafe, such as using drugs or having unprotected sex. Many gay men also lack access to health information, screening, and health care that they need to protect their health.
What can you do as a parent?
Don’t single your son out because he is gay. If you have other children, make sure that all of them are getting information about HIV prevention, including safer sex practices. Preventive medicines, called prophylaxis, are also available to reduce the risk of HIV infection, both before and after exposure.
Make sure that your son has access to information that is respectful and relevant to him as a gay man.
Create a loving and supportive environment at home. One of the most important ways you can protect your son is to accept him fully for who he is and make sure he knows he is accepted within your family. According to a study by the Family Acceptance Project, LGBT young people whose families accept them are less likely to use drugs or have unprotected sex.
Support your son’s mental health. Studies have shown that depression can increase the likelihood of HIV risk behaviors and that gay men with positive self-esteemare less likely to engage in high risk behaviors. Your unconditional love and support can make a huge difference in your son’s mental health. He may also need support from LGBTQ organizations, professionals, or peers to feel positive about himself and his gay identity.
Help your son access gay-friendly health care. If possible, make sure your son has a health provider who is supportive and knowledgeable about gay identity. This will make it possible for your son to get the information and support he needs to stay healthy.
Now that your son has come out to you, keep in mind that every individual is different. There are a million and one possibilities for what he is thinking, feeling, and doing. Maybe he’s getting a lot of support and information from other places, or maybe he isn’t. Maybe he’s feeling positive about his gay identity, or maybe he’s struggling with self-esteem. Maybe he’s comfortable talking about these things with you, or maybe it is hard for him. The more comfortable you are embracing your son for who he is, the easier it will be for you to support him. Whatever is happening with him, try to keep communication open and continue to love him through whatever ups and downs he may be facing.
Laurin Mayeno is the proud mixed-race mother of a multiracial gay son who is very passionate about creating a just and welcoming world. She is a film-maker, blogger, children’s book author, storyteller and community educator who uses her voice to build understanding and support for LGBTQ and gender-creative youth in their families, communities and schools. She founded Out Proud Families in 2013 to make more resources available that address the experiences of families of color and mixed-race families.
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