Lesbian and Gay Parenting Questions & Answers Column With Arlene Istar LevDear Ari

A column by Arlene (Ari) Istar Lev

Adult Child and Homophobia

Posted By on September 20, 2010

Dear Ari:

I read your comments on your website, and wanted to ask a question. My partner has an 18 year old son, and I have a 15 year old son. My partner’s 18 year old was inducted today into the National Honor Society at his college, and refused to let his mother attend…in his words, “she’s a manly mom and its embarrassing.” My son (15) and I are shocked, and my partner is hurt. My question is this, how do you combat homophobia within your family in situations like this? I have yet to find any resources on the internet that pertain to this type of situation. It is confusing for my son because he doesn’t understand why a son would do this to his mother, and I don’t know how to explain it to him, when I don’t understand it myself. Any suggestions or links would be greatly appreciated.
—Virginia

Dear Virginia:

Thank you for your letter. I do confess that it is sometimes sorrowful for me to read the letters sent to Dear Ari, and yours is certainly heartbreaking.

I am going to make some assumptions from reading your letter based on the language you used. You speak about “your” son and “her” son, which leaves me to believe that your family was formed after you each had children in previous relationships. I’m not trying to play psychic, and certainly realize that all families use language in different ways, but the formations of our families do impact how our children perceive our relationships.

Although most of the media attention these days is towards lesbian and gay families built by out gay people actively choosing to have children, many LGBT-headed families and blended families were originally created within the context of heterosexual partnerships. This means that the children may have experienced a break up of the original partnership (which we know can sometimes be very ugly) as well as the disclosure and coming out process of one (or both!) of their parents. As if that were not enough, the children are also dealing with their gay parent’s new relationship and all the issues that come from building stepfamilies. To make matters even more complicated, LGBT stepfamilies are built within a homophobic and heterosexist culture. Phew, that’s quite a lot of face while one is riding the whitewater of puberty and adolescence!

So, if my assumption is correct that you are a blended step-family, then it sounds like your partner’s son is struggling what it means to be the child of lesbian mother, and is still dealing with his own coming out about this. At eighteen years old, he may be feeling like he is (nearly) an adult, and can distance himself from his mother, so staying in the closet may be his best survival strategy. His fantasy may be that he can move away from home and not really have to deal with the reality of having a lesbian mother. Like all fantasies, it may not be addressing some basic reality issues, i.e., how will it be to bring home a date, or how will he talk about his family with this friends in college. He may believe that if he remains secretive about his lesbian mom, he will be able to psychologically “escape” from the stigma of homosexuality.

In your family, there are two sons dealing very differently with their lesbian moms, and it is interesting to look at why that might be. Some of it, perhaps most of it, is simply two different boys, two different people, addressing the world in their own unique ways. You know some children who are adopted spend their whole lives wondering about their birth parents, searching for them, and other children who are adopted (in their own words), “couldn’t care less.” We are all different people and for some of us the circumstances of our birth, the configurations of our families, cut to the quick, and for others it is just not a big deal.

It is also possible that the circumstances of your sons lives have been different, i.e., when and how their parent first came out or the role and opinions of their biological father regarding homosexuality. It is also important to note that teens who are struggling with their own sexual or gender identity might have a particular difficult time dealing with having an LGBT parent. Your partner’s son refers to his mom as “a manly” mom, which raises many questions about how he perceives your partner’s presence in public, and his concerns about her gender presentation. How does it impact his sense of self if his mother is “manly”? How does he perceive his own manhood?

Finally, it is important to look at whether or not we allow our children to “get away with” being closeted. We may feel that we are respecting them by allowing them to closet us, but we may be inadvertently supporting or even encouraging their continued shame about having LGBT parents. Parents who have no trouble insisting that their children continue taking music lessons, or feel they have a right to determine what clothes their kids can or cannot wear, somehow feel okay letting their children determine how out the family will be. Are we really being respectful to tacitly agree that there is something that needs to be hidden? Like so many issues with children, sometimes we just have to say, “This is the way it is, and I’m the parent that’s why.” In this case, it may mean saying, “I’ve sorry you are embarrassed of me, but I’m really very proud of you, and I will be sitting there in the front row clapping when you are inducted in the National Honor Society.”

It is difficult at 18 to begin a process of education and discussion that should have begun years ago. Nonetheless, it is important to open up a dialogue with her son, to find out what he is ashamed of, and how you can work together to develop a family in which you are all living proudly.

Check out COLAGE
and
The Family Equality Council