A Parents Dilemma:
A Parent's Dilemma: "I Think I'm Gay"
Written By: Tim Geiger
(Posted June 2012)
[NOTE: Tim Geiger is Director of Harvest USA located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and wrote this article for One by One Ministry. Mr. Geiger, and One by One, gave permission for JONAH to adapt and add to this article for the JONAH web site.]
As David and Rivka heard their son say, "I think I'm gay," their hearts stopped for an instant and everything around them seemed to stand still. It was like the shock of hearing that someone close to you has suddenly died. Now, as they hear these unexpected words from their oldest son, Mark, a 20 year old home from college on spring break, David and Rivka wonder if this is a death of another kind: the death of their hopes and dreams for Mark, the death of their desires for a "normal" life of their own, the death of the idea of being grandparents.
After the initial shock, all sorts of questions flooded their minds. Was this something they were responsible for? What will this mean for their two younger children? Will they be gay, too? Will this affect the potential marriage potential of their two younger children? Will Mark ever change? How will they deal with Mark's "friend" (though there was no "friend" at this point) if he wanted to spend the holidays with them? What would the other members of their community say? Worse yet, what would others think about Mark and about them, as parents? They wanted to ask their son a number of questions. They wanted to tell him they loved him. Yet all they felt they could do at this point was to try to process the information they already heard, "I think I'm gay."
So what do you do when you hear those words - or find gay pornography on your child's computer or phone? How would you respond if you were the parents? How would you help a friend or someone in your community respond if they were in this situation? There are no easy answers, but there are a few strategies to keep in mind that may help you, your child, or the friends you are trying to help, through the difficult initial days or weeks after hearing this news and trying to understand it.
You don't need to know all the answers:
Don't feel as though you need to have all the answers, or even know all the questions to ask at the beginning. It's okay to tell your child after his or her initial disclosure, "This is a lot to think about and take in. I need some time to think over what you've said. I'd like to sit down with you to talk about this in more depth after I've had some time to calm down and reflect." It may be advisable to learn more about the subject prior to having a further conversation with your child, contact JONAH or other organizations that have experience, read some books or web sites concerning the possibility of changing sexual orientation. Your child was in charge of the initial disclosure, and he has probably been thinking about what he would say for many weeks, months or even years. He was probably "educated" on how to approach you and what to say by gay and lesbian organizations at his school or by his friends. So, you don't have to respond quickly. Don't be rushed. Go at your own speed.
Affirm your love for your child:
No matter what ultimately happens, no matter what you son or daughter says, feels or does, he or she is still your child. Express your love for him/her. Promise him/her that there's nothing that would ever cause you to withhold that love. This may be difficult to do, but the most important way that parents can help a child who has adopted a gay identity is to keep the lines of relationship open. Your child's behavior is not rebellion against you, although, if there is anger in his/her declaration, you will most likely be the prime recipient of that anger. Keep in mind that ultimately your child is not only rebelling against G-d but also denying his/her own G-d given gifts. Therefore, maintaining love and contact with your child is the best way to proclaim HaShem's (G-d's) unfailing and faithful love in his/her life.
Ask your child what does he mean by saying he is gay:
Don't take for granted that your child's understanding of the terms he uses to describe himself is the same as yours. Ask your child how he/she came to this conclusion, how long he/she has been thinking about it, and how certain he/she feels it is true.
You may find that your child isn't so much making a statement about his/her identity as it is his/her assessment of a situation in which he/she perceives himself/herself as helpless. Your child may have been propagandized to believe he/she was born that way. "I've been struggling with these feelings for years and the only reasonable conclusion I can draw is that I must be gay." Saying you're gay and saying you've been wrestling with feelings you don't understand and don't want are two completely different things. This is an important point to clarify with him/her and the answer may be a harbinger of a future attempt to grow out of unwanted same-sex attraction (SSA). Normally before identifying as gay, a person has experienced SSA and often, but not always, will have acted upon these feelings either through homosexual pornography or with another person.
You don't need to know details about your child's sexual activity:
If your son or daughter is over 18, this information is often not helpful for a parent to know, and may serve only to separate parent (who may experience additional shock) from child (who may experience guilt and shame over revealing such personal details to her parent[s]). It is okay to ask general questions, "Are you in a relationship? With whom? Who else knows?"
If your child is under 18, then it is important to ascertain some level of detail about his or her behavior. "Is what you feel limited to fantasy and masturbation? Is pornography involved? Have you had sexual contact with anyone?" Keep in mind that asking these kinds of questions can be difficult for you as a parent to ask, and for your child to hear. It may be wise to enlist the services of a good counselor, one who can help you learn how to talk to your child on these sensitive matters, and who might be able to relate better to your child than you can at this point.
Also in the case of a minor, it is important to assess the situation and determine if laws have been broken, and if your child is at risk from a predator, either in person or online. It is also essential to determine if sexual abuse has occurred, and if so, to report this to law enforcement as quickly as possible. Talk to a counselor or rabbi who is familiar with your state's laws about child sexual abuse to determine how to proceed.
Ask your child if he is content to "be" gay, or if he wants to change:
Some children will quickly state they're happy identifying as gay, and if your child does, it is unlikely you will be able to convince him otherwise. Others, though, may report years of angst, guilt and shame over their feelings and behavior, and will express either some desire to change or wonder if that is even possible. If so, enter into that struggle by sensitively talking to him. Again, it may be helpful to have your child talk with a counselor who both affirms what the Torah says about sexuality and one who can relate well to youth. Some parents may be fortunate in that the child may have already taken a first step toward learning about recovery from his unwanted thoughts, feelings, or behaviors. This may have occurred by contacting an organization such as JONAH or NARTH for assistance and being encouraged to speak to you about engaging in the process of growing out of unwanted SSA.
You can't change your child:
Please understand that you are not the one who is going to change your child. No matter how badly you might want to see change in your son's or daughter's life, no matter how much you pray, no matter how convincing your argument, you won't be able to convince your child to change, if he or she does not seek change. Their motivation is essential to the process of overcoming. Also, your child's feelings often reflect their perceptions of G-d and their relationships with you, their peers, and the community. The reality of what happened in our lives may often be less important than our perceptions of what occurred.
Encouraging your child to repress her feelings will not work. On the other hand, if she seeks to transform her feelings, thoughts, and behaviors, much like a Baal Teshuva does in a religious context ( a person who returns to religious observance ), it may lead to the heart change that is essential before change of feelings and/or behaviors occur. Motivation is critical for any kind of life change. G-d wants to do business with your child's heart. He or she has adopted, or is struggling with a gay identity, because at some level, he or she came to believe lies about G-d, self, and others . He or she has come to believe what the secular, politically correct world believes about life, sexuality, purpose on earth, G-d, etc., rather than viewing life through the lens of Torah and the holiness of every individual.
On the other hand, you can be an agent of change in your child's life, by encouraging him to look at his own negative self-images and reframe them. You may also encourage your child to understand the man or woman that HaShem created them to be. Belief in following G-d's commandments on holiness and sexuality can provide someone going through the change process with the necessary source of strength ("chisuk"). Such change is likely to come about within the context of a community of individuals also struggling with their sexuality, through improving your own relationship with your son or daughter, and through his or her relationship with a mature, compassionate mentor.
Your child doesn't need to become straight:
What your child needs is live a life consistent with what G-d calls everyone to, that is, a life of faith and belief in Him. Having heterosexual sex will not solve your child's problem. There is more to this issue than sexuality. The ethical opposite of homosexuality is not necessarily being heterosexual (straight), rather it is feeling secure in his or her own sense of masculinity or femininity. Believing the truth about G-d and following His commandments will enable your child to live a lifestyle of faith and repentance--a life that is increasingly oriented toward the worship of G-d. Godly sexuality is about holiness (Lev. 19:1) and sexual purity; it is about living life by G-d's power within His good design.
Your child's struggle with homosexuality is something the Lord means for your good. What a strange statement! Yet, if we believe that G-d is sovereign and at work in each of his children in every circumstance, then G-d may intend this present suffering as a means to help you grow in faith and dependence on Him.
You can't do anything to control your child's struggle or repentance (teshuvah). You can, however, respond to what the Lord is calling you to do in terms of faith, obedience and repentance in your own life as you struggle with these issues in your own family. Will you rest solely in G-d's love and sovereignty, or will you resort to try and resolve these issues on your own, in a spirit of self-sufficiency, or perhaps a combination of the two, using G-d's commandments as inspiration and direction but using the capacities G-d endowed you with to find ways of assisting?
Bring others in:
No matter how strong your faith, you can't deal with this on your own. Seek out trusted and spiritually mature friends, family members, synagogue members and rabbis to help you both interpret the events in your family from a biblical perspective and to help you respond in a holy and G-d fearing way to your child's decisions. Don't let your fears get in the way of faith.
Additionally, find appropriate counselors who understand the risk factors that brought about the SSA and who will help you and your child understand the strategies to overcome these risk factors and help your family become closer in the process - no matter what the outcome of your child's change efforts.
What about setting boundaries in my relationship with my child?
It may be appropriate to set some boundaries in your relationship with your child if they persist in their homosexual behaviors. Those boundaries will be unique for each family and will often change as needs and circumstances dictate. A ground rule for boundaries, however, is that they should exist to protect your family and to protect your child. Boundaries should never be punitive or manipulative. To do so fails to reflect the faithful love of G-d, which should be the overarching principle of relationship with your child. Do not be afraid to uncompromisingly speak G-d's truth in love. We, as His faithful believers, can do nothing else.
How can I help my child?
Keep the lines of communication open with your child. Make sure your child knows that he can always come to you. At the same time, give him space to make his own decisions. Respect those decisions, but don't necessarily agree with or condone them. Let your child realize the natural consequences of his behavior. If your child makes decisions to pursue self-destructive or otherwise sinful behavior, communicate the sinfulness of that decision and your disappointment - but never withhold your love. Also, pray. Pray for wisdom, pray for faith, pray for strength to reflect the love of G-d to your child.
Educate yourself on strategies for healing. Get involved with institutions that understand the process of change. Read books and web sites that can provide insights on the risk factors that may have brought about your child's struggle. Work on yourself to help those aspects that may have negatively affected him or her.
G-d in His sovereignty has placed you in this situation, with a son or daughter who is struggling with unbelief and sin in particularly hurtful ways. But it is a challenge that you can meet. G-d does not give us challenges that we are incapable of overcoming. He does not prohibit behavior that we cannot overcome. Rest assured that He is at work in all things, especially in those we perceive to be the hard ones, for the good of those who are called according to His purpose.
Sometimes your own healing may come about by helping the children of others in a similar situation or actively educating the community that no one is born gay and that help is available.
By helping others, you can often help yourself. G-d is capable of helping you to grow in faith and hope in the midst of a dark and difficult time. Believe that He can! Believe that He is there for you!