Is my 13-year-old son gay?

I think my seventh-grader was looking at some gay porn. What do I say to him? What do I do?

Published April 9, 2007 10:48AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I have a 13-year-old son (seventh grade) who has been visiting gay porno sites (two times that I know about). I've been able to see the listings from the Web site logs. I'm not sure what to think about this. Last night when I tried to talk to him about this he denied it was him. I'm positive it was him because he was the only one home at the time. His two younger brothers (ages 12 and 7) were at lacrosse and soccer practice. I didn't push too hard and told him that I trust him and went over the rules of the computer and how dangerous the Internet can be. I have software blockers on all their logins so they don't have access to sexual content, but I didn't add this to my access and I didn't log off when I went to work in the morning. This is how he was able to get on those sites.

I know I have to have another conversation with him but I'm not sure what I should say. He's a great kid, does well in school, is a good athlete and had what you'd call a girlfriend not too long ago. Mostly a lot of text messaging and to the movies a few times with other kids. He no longer goes out with her. I think it's because she broke up with him; that's what my sixth-grader told me. He seemed a little upset about that, but nothing overly dramatic -- first love kind of thing. So I have mixed signals.

So what should I think about the gay porn sites? Normal adolescent curiosity or something more? I don't think so, but I don't want to push him back if he's not ready to talk about this. I told my wife last night and she's not sure what to say either. She doesn't think he's gay but certainly thinks visiting these types of Web sites isn't normal.

Some direction or insight would be much appreciated.

Concerned Dad

Dear Concerned Dad,

To paraphrase a Frank Zappa song from the 1960s, I'm not gay but there's a whole lot of times I wish I could say I wasn't straight! I mean, we straight people have to really step up on this whole homosexuality thing. We walk around like we're the normal ones and everybody else is, like, different. But just think about it. Like, on a gut level, remember when you were 13? It was weird, right? Getting hair, and having urges, and wondering about girls and jobs and the future, and wondering, wondering, wondering. Can you imagine what it's like for a kid as these natural processes, spiritual and biological and utterly beyond his control, are taking him on a strange ride that he didn't really buy a ticket to but he's on anyway, as he's trying to grow up and conform and figure out what he supposed to be doing, what it's like for him to realize that the way he's developing, just, by the way, is utterly freaking out the adults, so they're having conferences in the kitchen and they're looking at him funny and not believing what he says, and now he's lying about what he's looking at because he has no idea what's going to happen to him if it turns out, horror of horrors, that he might actually be gay, that it's a scary, weird problem that he has to hide from others, especially those in his own family? Can you imagine what that's like? Can I? And we straights wonder why gay guys sometimes wait until their 20s or 30s or 40s to come out to their families? Or never come out? Or prefer not to mention it or make it a topic of national discussion or get a little testy when we assume that in our latterly discovered enlightenment we will treat every gay guy as regional spokesman for, like, Gay America, and we bring up the gayness of others as if we were the ones who, naturally, because we are so wise in other areas such as the conduct of foreign policy and stewardship of the environment, will take it upon ourselves to decide for them how they ought to act and what they are entitled to and whether they can live together and get married and visit each other in the hospital? And whether what they do and who they do it with is a sin? As if we could speak not only for the powerful white Christian heterosexual majority of America but for God himself? Jesus! If I was gay but had the benefit of knowing how we straight people think, would I ever come out? I'm not so sure. I might prefer to just keep the whole thing between me and a few friends.

So. Take a deep breath. A posture of utter humility before the mystery and grandeur of life is appropriate. And be cool. It's going to be OK.

And also just generally reassuring kids about all this nonsense is appropriate too, don't you think? So could you just tell the kid that you love him and that how we develop sexually is just one part of who we are, and that however you develop it's completely and totally fine? Could you just tell him that you were 13 once and you remember it's a very weird and uncomfortable time, and that though you have rules in your house your No. 1 rule is that you love your kids and you're there for them?

Could you just do that?

Some people will say that no matter what you say to the kid he's going to look at you like you're a Martian. May he will. And maybe you are a Martian. Maybe I'm a Martian too. We don't know for sure.

There's a whole lot about others we don't know for sure. There's a whole lot about ourselves that we don't know. We're complicated creatures. It's OK to not know everything. Stick to the basics.

We can't pretend to know in all cases who our kids really are or what's right for them. They just landed here. They're trying to figure out the game. A lot of the rules look very weird. They need to know that basically, despite all the bullshit, they are loved and they're going to be taken care of -- no matter what.

So I say try to relax about this, Dad, and think about what really matters -- that this is your son that you love like nothing else, that you're on his side and will support him as he grows, no matter what.

And as to the community of which you and your family are a part, just, like, tell anybody who thinks it's weird or abnormal to just, I don't know, to just get a tiny bit smarter, to just dig a tiny bit deeper into themselves, to just, like, let the world evolve and become what it is becoming without interfering and thinking they know best because they don't. They're not God. They don't make people who they are. People come into being, and who they are is a mystery to us. We are bystanders at the magic show. The world is becoming what it's becoming with little regard to our opinions. It's not going to ask us whether it should produce gay people or straight people. People are just coming into the world at an alarming rate and becoming who they are and anyone who thinks hard about it can only conclude that our most dignified and respectful stance is one of reverence and amazement and service -- to our kids, to our fellow people, to the planet. Reverence. Service. And less crazy talk -- from all quarters.

Know what I mean? If he's gay, it's fine. He's your son. You love him. Period.

Thanks. I could so easily be that kid. And that's what I would want if I was that kid, to be loved no matter what, let the chips fall where they may.

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