“I keep trying to figure out why my daughter is gay—what caused this. Part of me thinks it’s because she’s an art professor, or because her mother and I got divorced and she’s trying to punish us. Could these have something to do with it?”
Question Submitted Anonymously
Answered by Alyse Knorr
I’m so glad you wrote to ask this question. After a child comes out, it’s often a parent’s first instinct to ask “Why?” and try to find an answer that makes sense to them. For some parents, a child’s coming out can produce confusion, anxiety, stress, and even a “grieving process.” Seeking an explanation right away can often feel like a means of keeping control and understanding the situation better.
And let me assure you even further that this impulse is a deeply human one. From history books to Batman movies to religious texts, we’re constantly fascinated by origin stories. This is even more true when it comes to ourselves. Many people will spend an entire lifetime searching within themselves to uncover who they are and how they came to be that person—even as they continue to change and grow and develop throughout their lives. We are like rivers trying to find our own source even as we flow forever forward. This complex intellectual and spiritual journey to understand ourselves is at the root of human experience.
I say all of this to remind you that there is absolutely no way you can or should ever be able to utter an accurate statement that follows this template: “My daughter is gay because of ____.” (Insert one single cause into that blank). The truth is, we are horribly messy, non-linear beings. Our core selves do not operate on any kind of simple cause-and-effect system. We are influenced by nature and nurture, by significant events and by entire lifetimes of conditioning. We are swirling chaotic masses of personality that cannot be easily dissected into their component parts or the causes behind those component parts.
Part of this messiness comes from the fact that all the different elements of our lives and personalities affect each other in cyclical and overlapping ways. For instance, maybe your daughter became interested in queer conceptions of art while she was studying to become a professor. Or maybe she decided to become a professor because she loves art. Or maybe it was a little of both. Or maybe the two have absolutely nothing to do with another. Maybe your divorce gave your daughter better mediation and communication skills that led to her interest in teaching. Or maybe the divorce gave her lots to make art about. Or maybe your divorce had absolutely nothing to do with her career or calling. We just can’t pick these things apart in the simple, clear way you want to when you ask “Did my daughter become gay because of X?”
In my own case, I know what events from my life and what aspects of my personality made me want to become a writer, but I have no idea why I’m gay or why I’m an introvert. I just am! I have absolutely no idea what caused any of that, nor do I ever think about these aspects of myself as having any one distinct root cause. What I’m getting at here is this: There are many aspects of ourselves that we have no explanation for, and we don’t need to have any explanation for everything.
Sexuality is extremely complex, multifaceted, and fluid. Different people realize they are gay and come out at varying times in their lives, and people can change over time. A person’s sexuality may be influenced by any number of factors, and everyone is different. Because heterosexuality is the “default” in our culture, straight people aren’t usually asked what caused them to be straight. If you were asked that question, would you know the answer? Are you straight because you’re tall? Because you love basketball?? It’s hard to answer when it’s such a core part of who you are!
As complicated as this question is, I can tell you one thing for certain: your daughter is not gay because she’s trying to punish you. Can you imagine yourself being gay just to punish someone? Or marrying someone you don’t love just to get back at someone? Believe me, your daughter’s sexuality isn’t some kind of revenge narrative! Nor should you wonder whether any actions you took in parenting your daughter (including your divorce) caused her to be gay. This line of thinking can only lead to hurt and resentment. Why? Because the idea of “blaming” yourself for your daughter’s sexuality implies that you think her being gay is a bad thing—that there was an action or event that caused everything to turn out “different” or wrong. Think about it: Would you beat yourself up wondering if your divorce caused your son to be straight?
In the end, it’s important to remember this: Your questions come from an earnest place, but they’re not going to lead anywhere productive. You’re most likely never going to find an answer to these questions, and if you’re asking them of your daughter, it’s only going to cause her pain and come across as passive aggressive. Please don’t ask her why she’s gay, and please don’t run any of your theories by her. Your questions may hurt her by making her think you need to find a reason to blame.
Instead of pursuing explanations , try to find other ways to gain control over your situation. Instead of looking for a “culprit” to “blame” for your daughter’s sexuality, you can satisfy your curiosity by learning more about LGBTQIA people and queer issues. Explore the other articles here at My Kid Is Gay, and consider attending a local PFLAG meeting. Check out This Is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids, which is a fantastic place to get started on your journey. Good luck!
Alyse Knorr is the author of two books of poems, Copper Mother (Switchback Books, forthcoming 2015) and Annotated Glass (Furniture Press Books, 2013), as well as the chapbook Alternates (dancing girl press, 2014). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Denver Quarterly, Caketrain, ZYZZYVA, Drunken Boat, and The Southern Poetry Anthology, among others. She received her MFA in creative writing from George Mason University. She is a co-founder and co-editor of Gazing Grain Press, an inclusive feminist press, and teaches English at the University of Alaska Anchorage.
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