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It May Be 2016, But Straight Parents Still Need Advice Raising LGBT Children


It May Be 2016, But Straight Parents Still Need Advice                                               Raising LGBT Children

                             by Wesley C. Davidson & Jonathan L. Tobkes, M.D.


Before gay marriage was the law of the land and free-flowing information on the Internet was available to any parenting group, parents felt at a loss.  Despite the snowballing of civil rights in the last two years, parents are still confounded when a child comes out. 


So attests psychiatrist Jonathan L. Tobkes, M.D., my co-author of When Your Child Is Gay: What You Need to Know (Sterling, June, 2016; $14.95): “the reality is, and I have seen this in my clinical practice countless times over the last ten years, when it is your own child, it is simply just different.  And rationality goes out the window and emotions take the driver’s seat.”


So it happened to me in the fall of 1996 when I perused parenting books trying to find advice on parenting a gay child.  All I found were a few pages about “homosexuality” (not even “gay”) listed in general parenting books at my local bookstore chain.  Next, I, furtively, combed text books in our local library in a heavily democratic town with $4 lattes that was updated with microfiche, computers, but precious little on raising gay children.

I was buffaloed in my attempts at understanding what I couldn’t emotionally fathom.


During that time of attempted self-enrichment, I first had the thought of writing an issue-oriented book addressing the common feelings I was experiencing such as denial.  How could I regard our son James as gay just because I found a piece of paper that had his name entwined with another boy’s? When I would drive him across town almost daily to see a classmate whom he said he was going to marry? Maybe the heart I found on his notebook paper with his name and another guys was “planted” by someone else?  Maybe it was an adolescent crush on a teacher?  Maybe this was just a phase.  Was he gay or straight? 


Then, I started feeling other emotions that are frequently experienced by other straight parents such as guilt?  Maybe I shouldn’t have put him in arts camp at age five or taken him to the theatre as much as I did.  Was I a domineering mother? You know the old theory that a homosexual kid is caused by an overly involved mother and ineffectual father!


Guilt bled into fear.  What if others find out I have a gay son?  I didn’t know anyone else with lesbian or gay children.  Will people gossip about us if they find out?  I felt alone at the time. Will our son be beaten up at school?  While he wasn’t physically assaulted, I found out later he was verbally put down. 


GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, Straight, Education Network) reports that students who are abused skip as much as one day a month of school.  This was my son who was doing reasonably well in school in ninth grade at a competitive high school until he became depressed in tenth grade, didn’t bother to turn in assignments and later, gave up going to school altogether.  Everything was too much of an effort. 


Next, came the anger!  Why do he and I feel like victims? Why are we in the closet afraid to reveal the true situation, even to his sister, five years younger, and relatives in conservative pockets of the country?


Experiencing a deep sense of loss for the happy child of yesteryear, a look into his future that wouldn’t include marriage (don’t forget same-sex marriage is only two years old now) or grandchildren.  It took me awhile to alter my expectations that were hatched at his birth.


Too ashamed to talk about these issues and with no concrete answers, I consulted PFLAG (Parents for Lesbians and Gays (and now includes Transgenders)) as well as a one-on-one with a psychiatrist.  From PFLAG, I got concrete answers from seasoned parents of lesbians and gays.  My son’s psychiatrist didn’t help much.  As James was a minor, I was able to consult with the doctor.   He didn’t think my son was gay and thought it might just be a phase.


At first, I thought I would write a book for parenting a gay teen. But that age group seemed too confining.  As I realized from PFLAG that there were older adults who were still struggling with issues that I was struggling with, as well as adult gay children, I thought I better find if these issues were nation-wide.   


In my research, I discovered that my issues were typical.  Other parents may have taken longer to accept their child’s sexuality.  Some took less time.  Not every parent had all the issues that ultimately would become the chapters in our co-authored book.  Some LGBT kids never received acceptance from their parents and they have formed their own substitute family, whether it’s life on the streets (40% of homeless rejected youth are LGBT.) or with supportive friends.


This would be an advice book – a ying and yang.  A mother, like other straight parents, giving her two cents and the doctor providing tips on how to resolve an issue in each chapter.   Of course, there was a concern: where was I going to find the psychiatrist?  And how could I write it without outing my son?


Once my son was truly out, was self-accepting and gave me permission to write the book, I went into fast forward.  Somehow, it is easier to look back when your perspective is different.  


 My co-author gives suggestions at the end of each chapter in a section called “The Doctor Is In” on how to resolve that chapter’s issue.  The issues covered in the book are denial, guilt, fear, anger, shame, loss, acceptance, even celebration.  Dr. Tobkes provides conversation starters, dispels myths about the LGBT population, and tells parents where to turn for help, among other tips.


Although the religion or ethnicity varied in my interviews state to state, I found that the unconditional love parents have for their children gave them strength to overcome those issues.  Similarly, their LGBT children took parallel journeys dealing with the same issues so they can reach self-acceptance.


The message of our book is clear and can be summed up with 3 L’s:

·         Love your child unconditionally.

·         Listen to their concerns, always.

·         Learn from your child who is living as a LGBT person.


Wesley C. Davidson

Jonathan L. Tobkes, M.D.