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Recently, my 15-year-old son has been acting very strange around the house, which isn't like him at all. Whenever we try to talk to him all we get back is "yes I'm fine" or "Go away", which really upsets me and my wife as all we want to do is talk to him and see how his day has been etc.

So, a few days ago me and my wife sat him down and had a chat with him, at which he continued in shutting us out, this made us worry a lot about him so we started to ask his teachers about what he does at school and see if he is acting naturally there. They said that he has been completely normal, hanging out with his friends as normal teenagers do, so I asked who does he hang out with and he said "Oh Jack is his main and best friend they do everything together". I'd never heard of this Jack friend so this was all new to me. So after this had occurred me and my wife went back home and we waited for him to get back from school.

Once he had gotten back we had another chat but instead about Jack and to see if he had anything to do with it, he tried to shut us out again but just before we were about to check if he was OK or if he had an issue he burst into tears. This was a shock to both me and my wife so we hugged him for a moment and then asked what was wrong. He started saying "I'm sorry I'm so so sorry" over and over again so we continued to say it's fine and what are you sorry about, until he finally said, "I'm gay". I had no idea what to say. So I just said "it's OK" but I don't know if that's how I really feel it was so much of a shock I didn't know how to act.

How do I express my feelings towards him being gay without actually hurting his feelings?

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    Hi and welcome to Parenting.SE! What are your feelings? – Anne Daunted Sep 19 at 13:06
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    I'm actually quite worried and confused at the moment right now. – John Harold Sep 19 at 13:10
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    When coming here to ask for help on how to express your feelings, are those the feelings you want to express? Confusion and worry? Or are you asking how you should best support your son, given this new information about him and what he might be going through? – David Hedlund Sep 19 at 14:21
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    I guess what I'm getting at is, if you harbor feelings that you think might be hurtful to your son, if freely expressed, I assume the question would be how to address those feelings, rather than how to express them. So it's helpful for us to know as much as possible of what you are going through. – David Hedlund Sep 19 at 14:26
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Joe Sep 20 at 12:26
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How do I express my feelings towards him being gay without actually hurting his feelings?

Right now, you don't unless he asks. Even then, I'd equivocate ("Give me time to gather my thoughts. This is new to me. But please know that I love you.") You can express your feelings to your wife, or to your priest, or to your best friend. And read about it. Personally I would suggest a good therapist to help you sort out your feelings before you express something to him that he will remember with sadness for the rest of his life.

By "hurting his feelings", the implication is that you disapprove in some way. He has just come out to you, and he was afraid to do so. Just be as supportive as you can be, and tell him reassuring truths (I will always love you, etc.)

My nephew came out to his parents at the same age. His mother reacted very badly, thought and acted like he was an abomination, called him a sinner, refused to read anything he gave her about being gay, just insisting it was wrong and a sin. Sometimes she just wouldn't talk to him. It took 4 years, but now she's fully on board and goes to gay pride parades with him, etc. Imagine the suffering she could have saved herself and her whole family if she had just kept quiet about it for a while (granted, a long while.)

So, give yourself time to adjust to this news and don't say anything you'll be sorry for years from now. He is still the same person he was yesterday; he is just interested in the same sex. (Or as @Mindwin stated in te comments, he is still the same person he was yesterday; you just found out he is interested in the same sex.) And while this may bother you, it's not your life, it's his.

Deeply personal discussions about being gay are to be expected at some point, but let him let you know when he's ready, and be sure you recognize this is not a choice or an illness, it's who he is, and it can't be changed by force. To disapprove of it is akin to his disapproval of you for being born in the country you were born in.

You might be grieving a future you imagined for him, and that's ok. But he's not responsible for that. People grieve lost futures every day for a number of reasons: accidents, illness, death, etc. You have a healthy, living son, for which you can be grateful. Dwell on that, too. If you have made disparaging remarks about homosexuals in the past, consider apologizing for those right now while you gather your thoughts.

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    Good advice. A close friend had a son who came out to his parents. They are very religious and I thought they were going to be condemning but they put their feelings aside to support him. I think religious people often think that if they don't "condemn the sin" they are failing in their duty, but they don't realize their condemnation will change nothing except whether their child feels loved and valued by the most important people in his life. – Francine DeGrood Taylor Sep 19 at 16:01
  • Legalistic attitude is probably the main issue. "Religious" people should recognize that they're in the same boat. To each their own vice. – Nelson Sep 20 at 2:27
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    He is still the same person he was yesterday; he is just interested in the same sex. -----> He is still the same person he was yesterday. You just found out he is interested in the same sex. The way you phrased it seems that his romantic interests changed. – Mindwin Sep 20 at 12:29
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    @Mindwin I love this comment enough that I almost feel it should be an answer. Nothing has changed about the child. The only thing that changed is with the parent...that they discovered something. – Beska Sep 20 at 12:40
  • @Mindwin - Thanks! Better expression of the truth. – anongoodnurse Sep 20 at 13:29
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Well, how do you feel about your son? I suspect, whatever your feeling are about homosexuality, in general, or in this specific case, you love your son very much, and want him to be happy.

THAT is what you should express. If you have feelings one way or the other about him being gay, realize that that is not in your realm to control, and expressing opinions about something that you can't change, can't impact, and shouldn't try to will only come across as judgement of your son, not his homosexuality. To your son, it is part of who he is.

I have no doubt that your son is fully aware of your doubts and feelings about the topic, in general. It's doubtful that he'd live his whole life with you and not be aware of it, and it's obvious from his withdrawal, and then apologizing that he's fully aware of this.

He needs reassurance that he hasn't lost his parents, as parents, or their unconditional love.

Anything else is going to drive a wedge. You're not going to change who he is. If you have a problem with that, you can only work to change your own attitude about it.

If he feels ashamed or unloved, his sexuality is going to be the cause of emotional and spiritual trauma, and how he deals with it could lead to unhealthy, dangerous or self-destructive behavior. If he is loved and accepted for who he is, it's much more likely that this aspect of his life will not have a negative impact.

So, to sum up:

  1. You love your son, more than anything, and this does not change it.

  2. You do not judge your son or think less of him because of this.

  3. And, optionally, communicate that you realize that you may not have been the most open-minded person in the world about this in the past (if that is the case, if it isn't, then never mind), and that you are willing and able to change, but he is going to need to help you and be patient with you as you learn and adapt your own feelings and attitudes.

Lastly, get your wife on board so you two are united in your support. It was not an easy thing for you son to come out, but it was a brave thing to do. Let him know he was right to be honest, by making it a positive opportunity for more open communication.

I'd mildly disagree with the other answer that says don't bring it up until he does first. He's probably very anxious about the potential emotional landmine that's out there. In an information vacuum, we tend to fill that unknown space with our own speculation. If he's is anxious, there's a good chance he's filling the information gap with his worst fears and anxieties about what might happen. Clear the air as soon as you and your wife are in full agreement that you are going to be unified in your support.

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    An excellent answer, this just nails it. I'd add that if you're honest about needing time to adjust to the idea, while this certainly won't be the dream reaction a gay child hopes for, I don't think it would hurt his feelings. In fact, it can also serve as a great proof of love - you can tell him that yes, you do have issues, but that you'll work very hard to overcome them because he is way more important to you than these issues. Having your father change his convictions because of you is hard to top when it comes to proofs of love and acceptance. – Pascal Sep 19 at 22:26
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How do I express my feelings towards him being gay without actually hurting his feelings.

Calmly, of course. After some deep thought about what your feelings really are.

Because we sure don't know what your feelings are.

On the other hand...

Frame Challenge

There's no mandate which says that you must express your feelings about his "gayness" to him any time in the near future. Or at all.

Treat him like the human he is, and keep on treating him like the human that he is. If he asks your feelings, and you're not ready to tell him, say so. And remind him that actions speak louder than words, and you're not acting like he's a pariah (unless, of course, you are, in which case he won't have to ask)

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First off, we've tried to establish how you feel about this issue, and we're grappling with the clues we have. Note that this is a forum that draws people from all over the world, and this is an issue where many cultures are heavily opinionated. So a big reservation that any response may be off the mark here, because we can't tell from your being "worried" whether you're worried about your son being bullied by peers, worried of what people will think, worried that you have somehow ruined him, worried that he won't have a pleasant afterlife or worried that you don't know how to be supportive enough. As you can imagine, we may have different input depending on which interpretation we choose.

Depending on what your feelings are, the question to me is not how you should express them, but whether you should. Putting all that aside, it's easier to say what you should express: support. Love and support. This is always the answer, when on the topic of your own children, but since coming out to you appears to have been so hard for your son (and that may be by no fault of yours, I don't know the details of your situation, coming out is hard) we can expect that love and support is paramount at this point.

If you want a theoretical framework as to why you should show support and only support, you may find ring theory to be of some use. It's emerged from managing grief and traumas, but from what I gather, it's applicable here too, as this is clearly a stressful experience for both you and your son.

It's a theory to help yourself know what to do in a crisis. If the crisis is happening to you, you're in the center of the ring. If the crisis is not happening to you, you're in one of the outer circles.

When you are talking to a person in a ring smaller than yours, someone closer to the center of the crisis, the goal is to help. Listening is often more helpful than talking. But if you're going to open your mouth, first ask yourself if what you are about to say is likely to provide comfort and support. if it isn't, don't say it. Don't, for example, give advice.

What's great about ring theory is that it gives you clear cut advice on how to approach your son, which is what you came here for, but it also acknowledges that you can be going through a hard time as well. There are tons of emotions surrounding homosexuality that are simply wrong and should not be tolerated, but it's not wrong in itself to consider this to be a big deal to you as a parent. It may well raise all kinds of new questions to you, depending on where you have been in the issue up until now. So points to you for turning to the Internet (outer ring from your perspective) to ask for support.

If you're asking for help on how you should feel and what you can do, I strongly recommend communities of parents who have been in the same situation. You can usually find groups on Facebook with names like "proud parents of ... " where you can discuss questions that you may have, without having to burden your son with it (center ring from your perspective). He should only feel your support, remember.

What you describe doesn't sound like an ideal outing, for your son. It seems that he was more or less outed against his will, and had nothing for it at this point. He may well feel he was right to have avoided coming out to you, and you probably have some work to do before he has any incentive to open up further to you, allowing you to make amends. I agree with anongoodnurse that if you're not ready to embrace him for who he is yet, it's usually wise not to bring it up at all, but it may also be that enough harm has been done already, and you need to at least repair that.

You could say something like, "Hey, I realize you must have thought about coming out to us a thousand times already, and I'm sorry it wasn't a better experience for you. I had no idea you felt this way, so I couldn't help being shocked, when the most important message should of course have been that your mum and I love you just as much no matter what. I'm ashamed it must not have come across that way, and for that I apologise."

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    I ave used the "Comfort in, Dump out" model many, many times when advising people. I thought about using it, but didn't. I'm glad you did. – anongoodnurse Sep 20 at 2:04
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I have two children and I have done several "dry runs" of such a situation in my head (together with other unusual/unexpected cases).

My conclusion (also based on several cases which actually happened) would be that being frank about my surprise is the right way to go in my case.

I highlight in my case because

  • I ultimately do not care about whether they would be gay or not. I am myself straight but not passionate about the subject. In particular I have zero "moral/religious objections", which just brings to the table the tangible aspects of such a revelation.
  • my sons are very mature and would appreciate the frank part, also because they know very well my position above.

Saying openly that you were surprised and asking him if he would not have been is a good opener. You can provide one or two examples which would put that into perspective.

I would then tell them that I do not care whether they are gay or not to reassure them on the relationship part (even if they know).

Finally I would open a discussion about the rational elements (vision of sexuality in your country (which differs widely between countries) and how this may or may not be a problem, how to play it with others etc.). In other words I would be the "logistics facilitator" to show them they have a wall they can have their back against.

One thing though: this is my opinion, based on my character and the one of my children. It is also the effect of several (rather dramatic) cases happening in the past where the "look, you would have been surprised too", followed by the rational approach worked very well.

  • +1 for the rational elements / "wall to have their back against" paragraph, but I don't think the rest of the answer is a very good fit for what the OP is asking (you say you do not care whether they are gay or not, but the OP says he does have issues...) – Pascal Sep 21 at 13:48
  • @Pascal: I was not sure what his feelings are (based on So I just said "it's OK" but I don't know if that's how I really feel it was so much of a shock I didn't know how to act. How do I express my feelings towards him being gay without actually hurting his feelings?). Is it that he does not know whether this is good or not? That he is shocked by the information but does not care beside that? That he is disappointed and does not know how to convey that? -- you are right with the fact that my answer fits the "surprised, and need to explain why" scenario. – WoJ Sep 21 at 13:56
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Consider it as a growth opportunity for yourself. This can be the occasion for reexamining and revising your own feelings. Maybe you will change your mind and maybe not. If you do then that will be an even firmer basis for supporting your son than "accepting" it.

Good luck to you and your loved ones.

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