Gay Teenager? Help!

We have four kids; our oldest daughter died last year, four months after being diagnosed with cancer. My son is now in the 10th grade and has always been very shy and a bit of an introvert. He was in gifted classes in elementary and middle school. He has been the perfect kid -- caring, considerate and cooperative.

He came to me three weeks ago and told me he thinks he could be gay. It seems the group of kids he became friends with are very free spirited. One of the guys is openly gay; I learned this from my 19-year-old daughter. I knew about this kid but never dreamed in a million years he would have this effect on my son. My son has never given us any indication that he could be gay. I feel that he is very vulnerable right now. He and I have talked a few times since he told me this. I told him I wanted him not to have any contact with this kid and basically find some new friends.

How do I help my son sort this all out? He has said he is very confused. I honestly do not think he is gay, but how do I help him discover that? I have looked, but all I come up with is information in support of a gay lifestyle. I am not there yet.

--Saturnit
Question:

Many 10- to 15-year-olds are confused about their sexual orientation. Your son, like all his peers, is sorting out his sexual identity. It is a tribute to you that he feels comfortable enough to discuss the possibility that he may be gay. Most gay and lesbian teenagers would never talk to their parents about it for fear their parents would hate them afterwards.

You are worried about your family's tragedy causing this and your son's being influenced by a gay friend. Beneath your concerns is the bias that you do not want your son to be gay. When all is said and done, the truth is that your son's sexual identity -- heterosexual or homosexual -- is set, and you cannot change it. Nor can he.

Think about two things:
1. If in time your son turns out to be gay (most are not sure until late adolescence), would you love him less?
2. Your son needs your help. He trusts you. There is much confusion out there, to be sure, especially because parents are so uncomfortable discussing sexual questions. Explain what homosexuality is: a consistent preference and attraction to members of the same sex and desire to have sex with that gender. This is quite different from same-sex crushes, which can happen to many young adolescents.

As your son sorts through these questions and doubts, you can be a great source of help and support or you can be a great source of guilt and pain. It is up to you.

If you have more questions, or if he does, there is help at PFLAG: Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, or call 1-800-829-7732

-- Margaret Sagarese, coauthor of The Roller-Coaster Years and Parenting 911

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