Our sixteen-year-old son recently told us he was gay. Deep down, I knew anyway. I'd worked it out. So it wasn't in any way a surprise, and it wasn't a shock either.
I was in the kitchen, and we were talking about something or other, when he said, "Mum, you do know I'm gay, don't you?" It was more a statement really than a question and it put the emphasis less on him coming out, and more on simply whether or not I had managed to work it out.
What could I say other than the truth? "Well, yes. we did wonder," I'd probably said, and then made us a cup of tea.
His Dad and I had certainly spent some time over the years wondering whether he might be gay, and funnily enough, my husband had first raised the subject with me, after our son showed no interest in going to watch Queens Park Rangers play football on a season ticket, or even in watching matches on TV. I told my husband he was being ridiculous: 'just because you don't like football, it doesn't mean you're gay, you know!" He seemed to disagree though, and think that our son's total lack of interest in the beautiful game was a fairly reliable indicator.
When he first started at secondary school, he went through a tough time fitting in and making new friendships. He went to judo club for a year, and a robotics after-school club for a while too, and made the school swimming team, but stopped doing of all these by the time he was around thirteen and stopped getting involved in team things. He became more introverted really; more absorbed with books and playing online adventure games. He'll play these for hours on end but it's never really been a problem area for us. He regulates himself well and gets enough sleep and his results at school have always been excellent.
Last year, at fifteen, he told us he wanted to move from his school to a sixth-form college a few miles further away. We knew he hadn't enjoyed the final year or so at school, and that he had fallen out with a couple of friends, and split up with a girlfriend who he had started hanging out with. He'd seemed a bit lonely and isolated, but it wasn't something we could help him with really. I'd always say to him, "if there's anything troubling you, or you want to talk about, do let us know," but he would just shrug it off. The one thing he did want to talk about was moving on from his current school, to somewhere bigger, somewhere new, somewhere not on his doorstep, and somewhere where he could study different subjects and make new friends. He wanted a new start, and we encouraged it, and we talked about all the wonderful subjects on offer, and how he would really have a chance to find out what he wanted to do with his life, and who he wanted to be.
When I was young, being accused of being gay was just about the worst thing that could happen to you at school. People would spread rumours and the poor kid concerned would get called names and beaten up and so on. Thinking back, it was awful, but kids can be horrible to each other. My eleven-year-old daughter had a friend round recently and at the dinner table they were talking about another girl in their class and how she was 'weird'. I overheard and asked why they were saying that. They then said that the girl in question went around telling people that she was 'pansexual' and that people were frightened to be in the sports changing rooms with her. I told them that I really hoped they were not making things difficult for this girl and to just understand how hard it must be to be that age and coming to terms with feeling different to those around you.
My husband didn't exactly help matters by saying, "what does pansexual even mean?" but amazingly, my daughter, bless her, explained in a matter-of-fact way that it's when you are 'gender-blind' and can be attracted to people 'regardless of their sex or gender identity.' Things have certainly moved on in the PHSE classes since my day. Our equivalent classes involved looking at diagrams of the reproductive organs, discussions all about 'trusting' relationships, and analysing David Bowle 'cut-up' lyrics.
For my daughter, I just hope that the education they get at school, and the guidance we give at home, will in time bestow upon her a greater empathy and understanding of other people. It'll certainly come in handy if she's going to be supportive to her elder brother. :
As his parents, all we can do is try and help our son. He doesn't want to sit around discussing things with us though, and when I did ask him why he had come out to us, he said he just wanted to get the matter out of the way and then move on. I once found out about some local groups where LGBT teenagers can meet up and when I mentioned them to him, he gave me a pained look and said, "it's fine, Mum, really.' Of course, I am just doing what any parent does; worrying about what lies ahead.
One thing that has been really helpful for me is making a friend in a work colleague whose son is gay. It's been amazing to have a confidant I can catch-up with for coffee or for lunch and discuss things with. Her son is a little older and just out of university, and so it's good to hear about how he's getting on in his first job, renting a flat with friends, and seemingly very happy. That's all in the future for us, and for my son, there are lots of uncertainties ahead, like A Levels, higher education choices and of course navigating friendships and relationships.
I've seen stats from Stonewall that say that half of all gay teenagers are bullied at school and that around two in three LBGT teens will self-harm at some point. As a young adult, feeling loved and supported by those around you is crucial. I do think we've been good so far as parents who try and understand and listen and the most we can do is to make sure that our son will only ever feel supported and accepted by us.
Yes, darling husband, even if he doesn't want to go and watch Queens Park Rangers with you, or go to Westfield with me.
Martine; also not a football fan