Do Parents Really Know?

by Emily Rizzo
April 1996

Q. I've heard that a lot of times parents (especially mothers) suspect that their sons are gay before they even tell them. Do you find this to be true?

A. Like many questions, the answer is "it depends." Sometimes if the child shows obvious signs of gender dysphoria or the child is 35 and has never demonstrated any interest in the opposite sex, the parent will know. More often than not, however, the news that one's child is gay really does come as a complete surprise.

We parents can go back later of course and see all the signs which should have tipped us off, but we seldom pick up on them at the time. There's a wonderful point made by Robb Foreman Dew in her book "The Family Heart" that not one of the child care experts like Benjamin Spock ever discusses the fact that some children are going to grow up gay so parents really aren't prepared for it.

That said, there do seem to be more parents these days who do pick up on the signs and have strong suspicions. But when the words "Mom, Dad, I'm gay" are spoken, it still comes as a shock even when it is simply confirming what is already known subconsciously. At PFLAG meetings, parents will tell you that they remember vividly the exact moment they learned their child was gay; they remember what they were wearing, the time of day, day of the week, and exactly what it felt like.

Q. My second question is, are you glad that your son came out to you? Do you think that parents and gay children have a closer relationship after the child has come out of the closet?

A. Absolutely, yes! I learned my son was gay when he was 16 and it brought us a lot closer. I always felt he was a secretive person and at last I had an explanation.

Personally, his coming out has been a source of wonder and enrichment for my life. I became active in founding a local PFLAG chapter (me, who had never joined any clubs before, not even back in school), met a lot of wonderful new friends (both through PFLAG and on the Internet) and have had a whole new world of experiences, from offering support to political action, opened up to me.

So yes, I am not only glad my son came out to me, but glad that he is gay. I really do feel that he is a more thoughtful person for being gay. That's not to say he's more sensitive or intelligent, but that he has had to really think about a lot of things which straight people take for granted.

But I also know that I am the exception rather than the rule (although there are quite of few of us "exceptions" out there). In most cases, there's an initial cooling in the relationship when a child comes out to a parent; although hopefully this thaws over time. On the other hand, if you never come out to your parents, there's going to be a cooling anyway since you will be able to share less and less of your life with them if you have to hide the gay part. As your life involves more and more "gay stuff" from partner to friends to activities, you'll be left with nothing else to talk about but the weather.

Emily Rizzo will answer your questions in The Parent's Corner each month. Due to the volume of mail, we cannot guarantee that every question will get a personal response. Responses will appear in the next monthly issue of Oasis. The confidentiality of respondents is guaranteed, and questions can be anonymous or identified by a first name, age and location. Emily can be reached at oasis-emily@oasismag.com.
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