My teenage son just came out to me. What should I do next?
By Dan Savage
My thirteen-year-old son came out to us this morning. He plans to tell his brothers in the next few days. We love and accept our son, and this news isn’t surprising (but when will the stereotypical neatness kick in?), but we do have some concerns. He has, apparently, already made the news public at school. Any pointers you can give? We want to make sure he knows that we love him and don’t care about his sexuality, while at the same time preparing him to deal with those people who do. Also, any advice you can give for when he starts dating would be appreciated.
— Dad Seeks Support
“On behalf of advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth everywhere, let me be the first to say ‘thank you,’” says Eliza Byard, executive director of GLSEN (www.glsen.org), the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, which works to create safe school environments for LGBT — and straight — youth. “Simply by giving your son your love and support, you have already significantly increased his chances of living a happy and fulfilling life. The importance of an accepting home cannot be overstated.” (The damage that can be done by a hostile family also cannot be overstated: LGBT youth whose families are hostile are eight times likelier to commit suicide than their straight peers. Hostile parents can’t make their gay kids straight, but they can make them dead.)
“The bad news is that school can be a miserable place for LGBT youth,” says Byard. “GLSEN’s 2009 National School Climate Survey found that nearly nine out of ten LGBT teens experienced harassment in school in the past year. The good news is that engaged parents can make a huge difference.”
So, DSS, while it’s admirable that you want your son to understand that you “don’t care about his sexuality,” you also have to make your son understand that you care about him and that you’re aware of the challenges he faces.
“Talk to your son and learn more about his school and his experiences there since coming out,” advises Byard. “What kind of response has he received? What supports are in place for him at school? Does the school have a Gay-Straight Alliance? Do students have access to LGBT-affirming resources in the library? Does the school have policies that address bullying? Are there adults in the school community whom he trusts and feels are supportive?”
Call your son’s school, DSS, and set up a meeting. Making sure his teachers and school administrators know that you’re on your son’s side — and they know you intend to hold them accountable — can go a long way toward creating a safe environment for your son at school.
“Send a GLSEN Safe Space Kit (www.safespacekit.com) to your son’s school to give educators the tools they need to provide support and create a safe space in their classroom for your son,” advises Byard. “Visible signs of support, such as a GLSEN Safe Space sticker on a door, can fundamentally alter the school experience of an LGBT youth by helping them identify those adults in the community who are supportive.”
As for dating and sex…
“Treat your son with the same awkwardness you would your other kids,” says Byard. “I’m speaking as a mom myself now. Make sure he has access to all the health and safety information he needs. (Sitting down to watch reruns of Will & Grace together won’t cut it.) I have two daughters and want to be absolutely sure they have access to all the information they need to make smart and healthy — and potentially life-saving! — decisions. Make yourself available to talk whenever he needs and welcome his boyfriends inside the house the same way you would if they were girlfriends.”
I’m into BDSM and my safe word is “safe word.” It’s short, memorable, and unmistakable in its intent. Someone recently told me that “any serious BDSM player” would laugh me out of the community if I used that. Is she right? Is she just being a dickhead? Should I have to say something silly like “grapefruit” in order to get my point across?
— Grapefruits Aren’t Good
I may not be the best person to adjudicate this dispute, GAG, as my safe word is “popcorn.” (And, yes, I cross my arms over my chest when I use it, as demonstrated here) But in my opinion, the woman who informed you that you would be laughed out of “the community” for your choice of safe word is being a huge dickhead. In fact, it sounds like she has a bad case of You’re Doing It Wrong.
YDIW is a social-skills disorder that members of the BDSM community are at particular risk of acquiring. (Others at heightened risk: religious conservatives, sports fans, advice columnists.) BDSMers with YDIW feel they have a right to inform other BDSMers that they’re doing it wrong — whatever it might be — even if the “it” being done wrong poses no risk to the YDIW sufferer or anyone else.
BDSM players should speak up, of course, when they witness other BDSMers doing something dangerously wrong. BDSMers who observe dangerous or nonconsensual play at public parties have a responsibility to speak the fuck up before someone is seriously injured. The secondary, tertiary, and quaternary goals of creating a BDSM community were the sharing of skills, the promotion of good play practices, and the holding of dangerous or malicious players to account, respectively. (The primary goal? Getting BDSMers laid.) But some BDSMers confuse a responsibility to speak up when they witness dangerous play for an invitation to critique other people’s kinks, sexual interests, preferred fetish roles, safe words, etc.
YDIW in BDSMers — and social conservatives — can be treated and cured through the application of “NO ONE GIVES A FUCK WHAT YOU THINK, ASSHOLE.” It should be applied liberally whenever YDIW flares up.
I enjoyed your pieces and posts about monogamish couples. However, it’s time for a Savage Love column or two dedicated to people who are in successful monogamous relationships! I have been with my partner for ten years. Sure, we’ll both flirt with a cute waiter and dance with hot guys at gay clubs, but we always go home together. It pisses me off when people assume that, because we are gay, we’re having sex with every Tom, Dick, and Harry.
— Couple Of Compatible Keepers
That’s a wonderful idea, COCK.
People in successful, long-term monogamous relationships — even those of you who aren’t but think you are — are invited to send in their stories. Letters from monogamous sufferers of YDIW will not make it into the column, however. If you can’t write about your monogamous relationship without disparaging those in nonmonogamous or monogamish relationships then, um, you’re doing it wrong. (I told you advice columnists were at heightened risk of YDIW.) Tell us why monogamy works for you, how you’ve made it work, and what the upsides are. But please refrain from telling everyone who isn’t doing it the way you do it that they’re doing it wrong. That’s my job.
CONFIDENTIAL TO CANADA’S UNKNOWN LAWYER: next time there’s a legal hiccup in the fair application of Canada’s marriage laws where same-sex couple are concerned, let’s err on the side of not declaring thousands of same-sex marriages — mine included — to be “invalid,” shall we? Let’s skip the shitstorm next time and jump right to the fair and just resolution.
Find the Savage Lovecast (my weekly podcast) every Tuesday at thestranger.com/savage.
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