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

A column by Arlene (Ari) Istar Lev

Introducing Son to Boyfriend

Posted By on September 5, 2010

Dear Ari:

What is the best way to introduce my 13-year-old son to my partner of eight months?  The relationship that my partner and I share is wonderful and very stable. My son knows that I’m gay; however, this will be the first time that he is actually meeting a partner of mine. His mother and I are on fairly good terms, and we share custody.  She is okay with my telling him. I just don’t know where to begin.
—Arizona Gay Dad

Dear Arizona Gay Dad:

Your question has brought up some interesting thoughts for me to ponder. As LGBT people we often become accustomed to living double lives: one within our gay communities, and the other within the heterosexual matrix of our families of origin and previous partners. It is very exciting that you are in a place now of bringing these parts of your life together—your child from a previous heterosexual marriage and your new partner. I wonder why your son has not yet met your new partner? Have you purposely not had them meet until you were sure that your relationship was “going somewhere”?

Kids often adapt really well to a parent coming out, depending on how much contact or information they’ve had about LGBT people. Obviously, if they had been raised in a very homophobic home, the disclosure of homosexuality from a parent can create emotional confusion and conflicts regarding issues of loyalty and morality. Thirteen, as you are well aware, is a volatile age. As puberty descends with its raging hormones and peer pressure, a gay parent can become the focus of these conflicts (although not necessarily the real cause.)

My advice on how to introduce your son and your partner is actually rather simple. Just do it. I would not “say” anything, or explain it, outside of saying “there is someone I really want you to meet.” I would try to plan something that they both enjoy (perhaps even something they both enjoy more than you!) and simply arrange for a fun day together. I think as gay parents we often “plan” what we say regarding our sexual identity and bring undue attention to it. I am reminded of a story I recently heard where a mom asked her son if he knew that his friend Tommy’s mom used to be his dad. Her son, in typical teenage sarcasm, said, “Yeah, so?” Mom pushed, saying, “I just wanted to know if there is anything you want to talk about.” Her son said, “Mom!” (Emphasis on a long drawn out groan.) “Tommy’s mom used to be Tommy’s dad. What’s the big deal?”

Now, I appreciate this story, but not because I think her son was really as “cool” about a transsexual parent as he acted. I think it illustrates how hard we try as parents to anticipate and be present for our kids’ issues, and how thoroughly “above all that” our kids try to be. Of course her son had questions and issues about transsexualism (don’t we all,) and of course your son has questions and issues about dad’s new partner.  The best way to address these issues with teenagers, however, is less directly, rather than planning a heart-to-heart talk.

Normalize their first meeting as much as you can, perhaps just letting your son know that this person is important to you and that you hope they like each other. Acting with your partner in a warm, loving and intimate way will send your son all the information he needs about your relationship. If you create an atmosphere of open dialogue, where your son knows he can come to you to ask questions and be respected for his concerns, he will come to you. Maybe not when you expect it, perhaps when you are tired or preoccupied with something else, but he will feel comfortable to ask whatever questions he has. I hear that long car rides promote these conversations, I suppose because our kids can talk to us and have our complete attention without having to look directly at us. Eye-to-eye contact can sometimes make things just too “intense” for teenagers.

The harder task involved in having the two most important people in your life meet each other is understanding that they will have to make their own relationship. To some extent, this introduction may be the last iota of control you have over the relationship that they build with one another. They are both going to be nervous (your partner perhaps more consciously than your son,) as will you. Your job is to facilitate this important meeting without controlling the results. Although you are busy “being there” for your son and listening to your partner process his own concerns, make sure that somebody (a good friend perhaps) is available for you to talk to about your concerns and fears.

Congratulations on taking this brave step. This will be a maturing experience for you and your son, as he will see you in a new light: an adult man choosing to move towards love and joy in his life. At thirteen, he is watching your every move like a hawk, imprinting the choices both you and his mom make to build committed, loving relationships—while he pretends, of course, that it’s no big deal.