My gay teenager is dating a thirty-one-year-old. Where's the line between supportive and meddling?
by Dan Savage
I am the father of a recently out eighteen-year-old gay boy. Here's the problem: my son is in a relationship with a thirty-one-year-old guy. I'm not okay with that. Yes, my son is a legal adult at eighteen and can make his own decisions, but he's also still in high school. His mother argues that in order to be supportive, we can't object to this relationship. I don't think this is a gay versus straight objection. If I had an eighteen-year-old heterosexual daughter who was in a relationship with a thirty-one-year-old man, I would have exactly the same concerns and objections. Beyond that, even if I can establish that it's okay to have an objection, or to feel the need to take some action to be supportive for my son, I don't know what I can or should do. What say you, oh wise one?
— One Concerned Dad
Your wife is wrong.
Homophobic parents are bad for gay kids. But "supportive" parents who let their gay kids get away with murder — supportive parents who stop parenting their gay kids because they worry about seeming homophobic if they object to lousy gay boyfriends, choices, apparel, etc. — aren't doing their gay kids any favors, either. Your son, despite what he might tell you, needs his parents to advise him, meddle in his affairs, even object and interfere.
Here's what I would do if I were in your shoes, OCD — I would take my son's thirty-one-year-old boyfriend out for a beer and ask him a lot of pointed questions: how did you meet my son? Are you having sex with my son? Are you using condoms? What is your HIV status? How old was your last boyfriend? And, finally, do you realize that I will tear you gay limb from gay limb if you hurt my gay kid?
As for your son, OCD, tell him that you realize gay guys his age sometimes date older men because there aren't a lot of boys his own age to choose from. (If you didn't already know that, now you do.) And tell your son that this gay dude you know — that would be me, OCD — told you that something's usually wrong when a thirty-one-year-old is dating a teenager. Something's usually wrong with the thirty-one-year-old. There are exceptions, of course, and maybe his boyfriend is exceptional — maybe he's not a jerk who pursues naive boys because gay men his own age can see through his shit — but the simple fact of his age requires that he be subjected to a higher degree of scrutiny than a first boyfriend who was closer to your son's own age.
Finally, OCD, tell your son that you know he's an adult and free to date whomever he wants. But you're his dad and he has to hear you out — whether he wants to or not.
I'm sixteen and an openly gay boy in a very welcoming community. My first boyfriend and I broke up recently. We'll be friends again, I'm sure, but now I don't even have a hint of any sort of anything on the horizon, and it's driving me insane. All the out gay guys here are nice, but most are sassy stereotypical caricature flamer types and I'm not attracted to any of them. But those are the kind of people who are out at sixteen. I just hate thinking I'm alone for the foreseeable future. I know the logical thing is for me to wait, but how am I supposed to wait? Is there any alternative?
— Whiny Angsty Sad Teen Entreats Dan
Sorry, WASTED, but you're gonna get the same advice I give to hard and hard-up sixteen-year-old straight boys: worry less about getting your sixteen-year-old self laid and more about getting your twenty-year-old self laid. Get out of the house and do shit, get books and read shit, volunteer for a political organization and change shit. You'll have more boys to choose from in a few years and you'll be a more interesting, more informed, more attractive guy thanks to all that doing, reading, and volunteering. Beat off in the interim, WASTED, remembering to vary your masturbatory routine (left hand, right hand; firm grip, soft touch; with toys, without; lots of lube, just a drop; etc.), and try to cultivate your own erotic imagination (translation: don't jerk off to internet porn exclusively; use your imagination once in a while).
I'm not telling you that you should wait until you're twenty to date. But you'll find the next few years less aggravating if you take the long view and keep busy, all the while jerking it to your part's content. And who knows? You might meet a nice boy while you're out there doing shit.
As for those "sassy stereotypical caricature flamer types," WASTED… SSCFTs can be attractive, and some guys are into SSCFTs. But some boys react to the pressures of being young, gay, and out by dialing it up to twenty. It's a force field — it's a fierce field — that many SSCFTs eventually drop. Which is to say: you may have already met your next boyfriend, WASTED, but his fierce field was up. You might want to give 'em a little time.
My thirteen-year-old nephew, who is straight, was in a play last year. It was a very positive experience. The only problem is one of the theater group's fans, who is fifty and gay, befriended my sister and seems to be fixated on my nephew: he posts to my nephew's Facebook page, he's constantly asking my sister to allow my nephew to spend the night at his apartment, etc. I would like you to weigh in on this situation, Dan. Other family members share my suspicions, but we're afraid to say anything to my sister because she has a temper. Should I go ahead and tell my sister and brother-in-law that I think the guy is attracted to my nephew?
— A Worried Aunt
Thanksgiving, 2019: "I'm so sorry you got raped when you were thirteen. I thought something was off about that guy. But I didn't say anything at the time because I was afraid your mom would yell at me. So, um, pass the yams?"
Unless you're looking forward to making an apology like that after your nephew confronts his whole family for failing to protect him when he was a child, AWA, you should speak the fuck up. Talk to your sister, temper be damned, and talk to your nephew, too. Your sister could be color-blind in addition to being an angerbomb — prone to rages and incapable of seeing red flags — and it's possible that your nephew already told his mother that this man makes him uncomfortable and got yelled at himself.
Firmly raise your concerns, AWA, but don't make accusations. You may not have all the information. It's possible that this man has no sexual interest in your nephew. It's also possible that your nephew is gay, recently came out to his mother and father but wasn't ready to come out to his extended family, and this man is mentoring your nephew at your sister's request. But even so, fiftysomething gay men do not invite thirteen-year-old boys to sleepovers for the same reason fiftysomething straight men don't invite thirteen-year-old girls to sleepovers: suspicions will be aroused, even if nothing else is. In my opinion, the invite itself is a mentor-disqualifying display of piss-poor judgment.
Speak up, AWA.
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