Technology's no substitute for openness in any family.
According to Emmene Moi, the makers of the Is My Son Gay? application for the Android phone, it was only supposed to be a joke. The app was released last month and featured a 20-question survey that parents could use to determine their child’s sexuality. These questions ranged from, "Does your son like diva singers?" To, "Does your son have a good relationship with his father?" The app came under immediate controversy, and was officially pulled from the Android marketplace last Friday afternoon.
Although it was mired in offensive stereotypes and devoid of any scientific research, its very existence might have left some parents thinking: Wouldn’t it be nice if we did have an app for that? Community: Using Technology To Strengthen Your Relationship
Having the birds and bees talk with your child can be complicated enough, let alone discussing all the added intricacies of sexual orientation. In our current culture of gay teens committing suicide, and of the recent decision to overturn Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, it is more important than ever for your children—no matter what their age—to know that they can come to you and discuss these things openly.
As someone who was raised in a conservative, Christian environment, I know that the issue of homosexuality can be a touchy one...especially when it involves a lifestyle choice that may run counter to a family's beliefs. Yet, even with my upbringing, my parents taught me that people are people. Regardless of their skin color or sexual orientation, they deserve to live as who they are and treated with respect.
So for a moment, let’s put aside technology. In fact, let’s also put aside politics, religion, culture, and any other issue that generally get pulled to the forefront of this discussion, and focus on the most important element of all: the relationship between parents and children. Regardless of your voting record, religious beliefs, or cultural traditions, you may come to a point where you either suspect that your child is gay, or that he or she admits it to you openly. If that happens, what are you going to do? As a parent, how will you respond?
I interviewed Danny, Ricky, and Kevin—three gay men in their twenties—and asked them what they thought of the 'Is My Son Gay?' app. We also discussed what it was like for them to come out of the closet to their families. As I spoke with them, I noticed a few emerging patterns that parents can potentially learn from:
1. They all came out to other people before coming out to their parents.
"My parents were the very last to know," says Danny, age 28. "I was born and raised in a strict, Roman Catholic household and I was terrified of how my parents would react, so I came out first to my friends, classmates, and co-workers." When he was 23 years old, Danny wanted to confide in his mother, but couldn't get up the courage to do it face-to-face, so he ended up leaving a note in her car. She came to him later that evening and said she thought it was something he had been struggling with for a while, and that she wished he could have told her sooner.
Coming out to family is hard enough. Can you imagine a parent going behind their children's backs to do it—with their cell phones?
When Ricky was 18 years old, he was still living at home and his mom was paying for his cell phone. He and his mom got into an argument and she decided to punish him by taking away his phone. Once it was in her possession, she noticed several text messages from the guy Ricky was dating, along with pictures of the two of them together. "We didn’t talk for a few weeks after that," Ricky says. "But then she finally asked me, point blank, if I was gay. I said that I was and told her about the guy I had been seeing. She was quiet for a moment, but then she finally looked at me and asked, 'When can I meet him?' That was when I knew that everything was going to be okay." Sure, in this case a cell phone played a role, as did a mother's snooping. But in this case, their argument was a solid catalyst, which wouldn't have caught the son completely off-guard the way the 'Is My Son Gay?' app might have. Advice: My Son Just Came Out Of The Closet
3. The most important thing all three men needed to hear from their parents was that they would love them no matter what.
"When I was 20 years old, I sat my whole family down and formally told them I was gay over Christmas dinner," says Kevin. "Everyone cried a lot, and it didn’t go as smoothly as I’d hoped. But ultimately, they gave me the best thing you can hope for—love and compassion."
All three of their stories ended happily, but it was a rough road in the process. Based on their experiences, I asked Kevin, Ricky, and Danny if they had any advice for parents who suspect their kids might be gay, or whose kids have recently come out to them. These were their suggestions:
1. Remember that your child is still the same person you’ve always known and have watched growing up.
Kevin’s biggest fear was that his family would treat him differently, or think that he had changed simply because he told them he was gay.
2. Ignore the stereotypes the media churns out about gay people (sometimes by certain, ahem, cell phone apps).
Not all gay men act feminine, and not all lesbians act masculine. "The gay population is just as varied as any other population," Ricky said. "I know gay men who love football, or who think that the entire gay culture is obnoxious and want nothing to do with it. Just try not to make any assumptions about them based on what you see in movies or on TV."
3. Start doing research.
"If you suspect your child is gay, try and get a sense of what he or she may be going through," said Danny. The more information you have, the better you will understand what your child may be feeling or experiencing, and the more prepared you will be to respond. The It Gets Better Campaign is a great place to start.
4. Don’t assume this is just a phase.
This is likely the most controversial of all their suggestions, especially in light of religious beliefs and a lack of scientific evidence to back it up. However, many gay people admit that they recognize their same-sex attraction at an early age, and sense that it is something they were born with. Regardless of your personal beliefs, try and listen to your child with an open mind, and validate the feelings they are having. "The most frustrating thing about the 'Is My Son Gay?' app is that it invalidates our very real emotions," Kevin said. "It turns coming out into some kind of a joke; yet, it was one of the hardest things any of us have had to do."
5. Tell them, as often as possible, that you will love them no matter what.
All three agreed that what they feared most was rejection from their families. "I love my mom more than anything," Ricky said, "and to think that she might not accept me was the hardest thing."
Perhaps one day there will be an app for all of this. After all, when smartphone visionary, Steve Jobs, died last week, NPR claimed that his biggest accomplishment of all was his ability to realize what the public wanted before they knew it themselves. However, if a legitimate smartphone app is developed, hopefully it will foster discussions between parents and kids, instead of exist as a one-sided tool for parents to make guesses about their children.
What about you? Have you been in this situation before, as a parent or a child? If so, what advice can you give? 4 Ways Family And Friends Help Our Relationships