Archive for Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Coming to grips with homosexuality in the family is no simple process

October 21, 2008


Dear Dr. Wes & Kelly: My husband and I disagree over how to respond to our teenage daughter's disclosure that she is gay. I think we should be supportive no matter what, and he believes that something is wrong with her and she needs help. Both of us don't like this, but I'm trying to be realistic about it. This is causing problems for our marriage and our relationship with our daughter.

Wes: This issue is far too complex to be confined in an 800-word column, involving at minimum psychological, religious, sociological and even genetic issues.

All I can give is my opinion from a family psychological perspective. It's been many years since the American Psychological and Psychiatric Associations considered homosexuality "something wrong" with a person. Some professionals may disagree, but from a diagnostic standpoint your husband is incorrect. Your daughter may well need help to think through and understand the implications of her sexual orientation - especially given your family's reaction. However, that doesn't make her much different from most teens who are in a process of exploring who they are as sexual beings.

I don't want to start a fight with either the gay or straight community, but I would also remind you that part of that self-exploration is sexual orientation. We've long considered same-sex attraction an expectable part of maturation. Only in the last 20 to 40 years has it begun to take on a specific identity - that one is either straight or gay and that one would be certain about this by the time they are, say 16. This may or may not be true depending upon the individual, and thus I would encourage kids and parents not to make any early or rash judgments on these matters. That's sort of the opposite of exploration.

I've known gay adults who report they were quite certain of their orientation at age 12. Others once considered themselves gay or bisexual as late teens and then found they were not as they grew older. I believe them all. You didn't share her age in your note, but the younger your daughter is, the more she's still trying to find the answers. That doesn't mean that if you act now you can still "fix" this "problem." It means that you might consider giving her some room to breath on this issue rather than turning it into a major source of drama - which will undoubtedly push her away. In short, when it comes to sexuality, she's going to be who she is and will figure that out in her own time and hopefully with your loving support.

Over the course of her life, there will be a fair number of things you and your daughter disagree on. Each time you're in conflict you withdraw some influence credits from the bank, so pick your battles wisely. If you oppose your child's choice of partners because they are gay or of a different race or religion, you are going to quickly spend almost all your capital on something you can't really influence. Better to focus on the quality of the dating partner - is she good to your daughter, does she have goals and aspirations, does she share your values? These form much smaller targets and leave you with some real possibilities to influence how your daughter chooses to live her life.

Finally, be very cautious in how you and your husband react. A lot of emotion will bring on a lot more emotion, when in fact cooler heads are required. There is a higher incidence of self-harm and running away among gay teenagers. That's the last thing you want for your child. I do suggest you find a good therapist so your family can wrestle with these issues in as productive a way as possible.

Kelly: Raising a teen can be difficult enough, but raising one who strays from what you believe is morally right imposes many obstacles. The teenage years are an emotional roller coaster ride - a time of human development, self-discovery and sexual exploration.

Homosexuality has been around for centuries. There are many gays that have known from a very young age that they were homosexual. Some explore this sexuality once they are older. Others are afraid and confused of coming out, and closet their sexuality until they feel they are in a safe environment to do so.

You may not agree with your daughter's sexuality. However, she is still the same child you have grown to love and care for. The fact that she confided in you shows how she is opening up and trusts you. This is a difficult and confusing time for her. She is going to need both you and your husband to be there along the way for emotional support.

If your daughter has decided to be openly gay, don't create a barrier and shut her out of your lives. Although you don't agree with it, you do have to respect it. If you attempt to shelter her decisions, your relationship with her may deteriorate. You may notice her growing adrift or even angered by any negative reactions you express to her orientation.

Instead, give your daughter comfort. Tell her that you may not agree with her decisions, but you will love her no matter what. Show her unconditional love. Doing so will give her comfort and security. In the end, I see two options - you may either choose to lose a daughter who may grow to resent you, or you may create a strong everlasting, loving relationship.

Next week: A reader takes issue with a previous comment about preacher's kids.

- Dr. Wes Crenshaw is a board-certified family psychologist and director of the Family Therapy Institute Midwest. Kelly Kelin is a senior at Free State High School. Opinions and advice given here are not meant as a substitute for psychological evaluation or therapy services. Send your questions about adolescent issues (limited to 200 words) to All correspondence is strictly confidential.


jonas_opines 9 years, 6 months ago

ajidegallina: Oh, ya'know, I have experience with invictus, assuming that lawrence-is-a-cancer and him are the same people. And assuming they're not, they're still more or less the same people, so I have experience with that one as well. Funny thing, though, a typo in that post totally contravenes the entire argument, since I mistook can't for can. hahahah oh well

avoice 9 years, 6 months ago

Some people when abused at a young age by heterosexuals become confused sexually.

Escapee 9 years, 6 months ago

The issue, as Kelly nailed, is acceptance. Whether one agrees with a person's individual decisions or not -- respect will do much to savor familial relations....

tolawdjk 9 years, 6 months ago

Invitus, are you dense or can you just not read?The article does nothing of the sort in exploring what "makes" someone homosexual.Its an answer to a raised question on how to approach a child who has made an announcement of their sexuality considering a differing opinion on approach expressed by both parents.There is no discussion of the "causes" or "sources", nor any projection of need of "treatment". In fact, there is nothing to indicate that the young lady in question is "confused". If anything, other than yourself, the parent is the "confused" one here.Stop trying to fix what isn't broken.

Confrontation 9 years, 6 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

bugmenot 9 years, 6 months ago

Gays are "wrong" because they can't produce kids via their sexual intercourse? So, the purpose of sex is for children, then, and anyone who has sex when they know kids can't result is immoral? What about post-menopausal women having heterosexual sex? What about sex where one or both of the couple is (and has been told they are) barren?

Confrontation 9 years, 6 months ago

Awwww, poor Invictus doesn't like getting a taste of his/her own medicine.

Casey_Jones 9 years, 6 months ago

This is a very well written article. Kelly sure is wise beyond her years. It's hard to believe someone with such insight could still only be in high school. Damn, and to think I was losing faith in the youth of America!

funkdog1 9 years, 6 months ago

Who me?It depends. There are parents who say that they knew their child was gay from as young as the age of five, whether or not they wanted to accept it. Some people show clear signs of their "gayness" from a very young age. Others don't.I'd say if the girl mentioned in the letter isn't a stereotypical "butch" girl, then maybe everyone needs to wait a bit and see if she ends up gay. If she's thinking she's gay just because she happens to have a crush on one girl, that doesn't necessarily make her lesbian.Everyone is different. These people know their kid best. They just need to open their eyes, open their minds and talk honestly and openly with their kid.

Jaylee 9 years, 6 months ago

invictus you are implying information yourself. abuse wasnt the subject of the article at all, in fact it wasnt even mentioned.

funkdog1 9 years, 6 months ago

Lawrence_is_like_a_cancer (Anonymous) says:one question::what is the ultimate destination of homosexuality?the end on human kind:..point made::..------------------Ah ha, my friend, this is a silly point, as if homosexuals have an agenda to stop the human race from reproducing.The latest research actually indicates that gay men are more likely to be the youngest children in large families. (Not always, of course, just more likely.) Maybe that's nature's way of saying: You people have had ENOUGH kids; the reproduction stops here.Makes me wonder about the Duggar family. Maybe they're unwittingly churning out a whole truckload of gay boys. Hee.

appleaday 9 years, 6 months ago

Some people become confused sexually when they are abused by heterosexuals at a young age as well.

supertrampofkansas 9 years, 6 months ago

Child abuse is not the subject of this article either.

jonas_opines 9 years, 6 months ago

"what is the ultimate destination of homosexuality?the end on human kind:..point made::.."Point failed. You forgot a rather crucial word. I'll take the liberty of including it since you failed to do so."what is the ultimate destination of total homosexuality."There, now your argument's premises and conclusion match. Now, I can't point out that your premise is totally invalid, because there is no such thing as total homosexuality.

mom_of_three 9 years, 6 months ago

Kelly said some very important things. she had a really great response.

AjiDeGallina 9 years, 6 months ago

Jonas,You have made a terrible mistake. you have injected truth and reason in this argument, something Invitucus ONLY uses when it favors the view inviticus wishes to be favored. Otherwise, lies, half truths and distortions must be the order of the day so he can preach God's loving word to us. If that does not work, then he will beat us with 2X4's to make us find his version of God, and if that fails, he will simply have us shot to save us from infecting others.And I can not wait to see the look on his//her face come rapture when he/she has to explain to God why he bore false witness in the name of God and the Bible.

Lawrence_is_like_a_cancer 9 years, 6 months ago

one question......what is the ultimate destination of homosexuality?the end on human kind.....point made........

Casey_Jones 9 years, 6 months ago

...I guess it goes to show size isn't everything

tangential_reasoners_anonymous 9 years, 6 months ago

duplenty: "First, pray on it. Then, beat the gay demons out of your daughter."Pray, if you like. ( Realize you're doing it for yourself. )Refrain from beatings. ( It only energizes the demons. ) duplenty: "Or:I don't know, accept and love your child?"Yes... love and accept your child, even if you cannot accept her choice/behavior. Try to offer her some perspective beyond the equally defective two. duplenty: "What's wrong with people? How or why is this an issue?"You mean, apart from the obvious? duplenty: "I cannot imagine someone letting this issue come between them and their child."Agreed.

tangential_reasoners_anonymous 9 years, 6 months ago

Dena: "It would help if the parents called PFLAG, there is a chapter here in Lawrence, and talk to other parents who went through this and see how they handled it."When in doubt, call a support group...?( That's what I like about being a member of Tangential Reasoners Anonymous... I'm my own support group. )

funkdog1 9 years, 6 months ago

OKAY, FIRST OFF this ISN'T an ARTICLE. It's a COLUMN. An article is a news story that contains facts and interviews of people pertinent to the story.A COLUMN is an editorial piece that may contain fact, but most likely contains a lot of opinion. Finally, I can't believe that in this day and age parents still behave this way at the news that their child may be gay. Should our daughter tell us she's gay, I will simply hope that she makes a good choice in partner, someone who treats her well. It would also help if we think her girlfriend is cool.

Chris Golledge 9 years, 6 months ago

More specifically, there has never been a successful "treatment" for being gay; there is nothing the parents can do to change their daughter in this regard. The dad has a choice, he can choose to accept his daughter the way she is, or he can accept that she will become estranged from him.

davidnta 9 years, 6 months ago

I knew I was gay when I was in the first grade, but I suppressed that emotion and feeling of being attracted to someone of the same-sex because I grew up in a religious conservative family (Southern Baptist) where it was pounded into our heads each week that being attracted to someone of the same-sex was wrong and a sin. That was what kept me in the closet all these years. Religious based societal oppression.I was never sexually abused, never physically abused, in fact, my parents raised me with love and care. When I came out at 19, they took what the husband of the first letter approached and what I did to me was caused harm that wasn't repaired until years later. In fact, until recently, I harbored hurt inside me for what they did. I still love them. They are my parents.So point is is that your child will love you because you are her/his parent, but do you really want to put that type of resentment and have to apologize for it later? So educated yourself before you do something you will regret later on in life. Here are a couple of academic articles and books that I found helpful:Brookey, R. A. (2001). Bio-rhetoric background beliefs, and the biology of homosexuality. Argumentation and Advocacy, 7, 171-183.Stombler, M., Baunach, D. M., Burgess, E. O., Donnelly, D., & Simonds, W. (2007). Sex matters: The sexuality and society reader (2nd eds.). Boston, MA: Pearson.The Brookey piece will contain five biology studies that will strongly link sexual orientation to some genetic component. That's not to be confused with saying that this specific gene is the gay gene, but it's a strong indicator of being gay. The Sex Matters book will contain 62 articles/chapters about sexuality in the United States.

Chris Golledge 9 years, 6 months ago

Hmm, I strongly admired Greg Louganis, but I never considered imitating his sexuality. It just wasn't attractive to me.Sexuality is a strange thing. It does not blossom until puberty, but the buds are there from an early age. At age two my son and a girl (same age) spontaneously stopped playing, kissed, and went back to playing. Mom and I, and the other mom, were very surprised. I'm quite sure that would not have happened if those particular two had not been of opposite sex. It's anecdotal, but it's still evidence that sexual orientation and attraction start at an early age.It sounds to me that the girl is primarily concerned about her parents' reaction; so, yeah, the family needs some counseling, but the dad is who needs to make the adjustment.

beatrice 9 years, 6 months ago

Dear Dick Cheney, thank you for your wonderful letter ...

mr_economy 9 years, 6 months ago

You should tell your husband to quit being a bigoted jerk and love his daughter unconditionally. Conditional love does far more damage to American families than gay rights ever could.

tangential_reasoners_anonymous 9 years, 6 months ago

ese: "The 6% of humans that participate in homosex...."Ever since the advent of the parades, they've been claiming double digits!

tangential_reasoners_anonymous 9 years, 6 months ago

Like, I was thinking about getting my tongue pierced... and my ear cuffed... and, like, one of those cryptic Memento tattoos on my left shoulder...and I'm gay... and....

bugmenot 9 years, 6 months ago

If you don't like what they teach in kindergarten or any level of public school, you can always home school. That's where your specific religious views can be passed on to your kids. If you want your kids to get a public school education, they'll be introduced to a variety of concepts without regard to any child's specific religious beliefs. You probably want to go ahead and start home-schooling them now, by the way. If you're mad about the "gay agenda" being "pushed" on your kids in kindergarten, you're probably not going to be a huge fan of the science of evolution either.

denak 9 years, 6 months ago

For those who have Netflix, there is a documentary entitled "For the Bible Tells Us So" that deals with what the Bible says about homosexuality from a historical viewpoint. One of the saddest parts of the documentary is when a mother tells how she refused to accept her daughter's lesbianism and how the fall out from her (the mother's) rejection ultimately led to the daughter's suicide.Wes is right when he says that, whatever the parents believe, they need to be careful with what they say and the message the relay to thier daughter.The daughter may, in fact, just be going through a phase. She may not be. But if the parents handle this situation wrong, the chances that the daughter will come to them about something else that is equally important in the future, is a lot less.It would help if the parents called PFLAG, there is a chapter here in Lawrence, and talk to other parents who went through this and see how they handled it.Dena

IAmBefore 9 years, 6 months ago

"Homosexuality has been around for centuries."Try millennia.

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