It May Be 2016, But
Straight Parents Still Need Advice Raising
by Wesley C. Davidson & Jonathan L. Tobkes, M.D.
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.
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.”
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.
was buffaloed in my attempts at understanding what I couldn’t emotionally
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?
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!
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
(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
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?
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.
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.
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
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
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?
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.
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
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:
your child unconditionally.
to their concerns, always.
from your child who is living as a LGBT person.
L. Tobkes, M.D.