What if he grows up to be gay?

People will be offended by this post for a variety of reasons, but I’ve been told that my vulnerability blesses others, so I’m going to ask a taboo question that no father says out loud, hopefully in a way that isn’t hurtful. I have two sons who are very different. My younger son is emphatically a boy. He likes to kick and throw balls. He jumps off of furniture recklessly. He likes to headbutt me. He has the kind of wild, primordial laughter that the book of Job ascribes to a horse on the battlefield. He’s like the Biblical character Esau. My older son is different. He’s more of a Jacob. He’s extremely interested in his own emotions and those of other people. He likes saying, “I love you” to complete strangers. He isn’t interested in kicking or throwing. Instead, he likes dancing and being theatrical. What if he grows up to be gay?

My best friend from high school is gay, so I tend to think that I have a very developed sense of “gay-dar.” When I go to the gym, I often think I can tell the difference between a straight power-career-mom and a lesbian who have the same crew-cut and the same muscle shirt. I presume the same thing about my ability to tell the difference between a straight guy with a melodic, not-Clint-Eastwood-sounding voice and a guy whose manner of speaking and intonations show that he’s gay. I realize that I’m full of nonsense when I have these thoughts. It’s sort of a subconscious thing that I do without really wanting to. And whether it’s wrong or not, the same mental process happens when I look at the way my son walks or throws a ball, or how close he gets to other people when he’s talking to them.

At night, he often picks out a book called Angelina Ballerina as his bedtime story. I have been preparing myself for how to respond if he were to ask me one day about taking ballet classes. I realize that it would be ridiculous for me to say no. But if he did ballet, would that make it inevitable? I’m not putting a value judgment on it; I’m just saying out loud what any other dad would say in his head. He’s going to take gymnastics in the fall. He has an extremely developed sense of balance. He likes to do headstands. He can also do forward and backward somersaults in the pool, which I don’t remember being able to do until I was older. There’s part of me that has wanted to try to “channel” the balance thing into something more “boy-ish” like taekwondo, but he’s already familiar with gymnastics and really enjoys it. We will probably also get him into some kind of theater group because he loves making up stories and acting them out as well as making facial expressions at himself in the bathroom mirror.

Last fall, we tried soccer. I was the coach. Because of a combination of developmental issues, the fact that all the other kids on the team had been playing since they were three, and a lack of interest, my son hated soccer. When I put him in the game, he would stand in the corner of the field and cry. I didn’t want to keep him on the sidelines the whole game, but I didn’t want to make the other parents mad, so I tended to take him out pretty quickly, which I then hated myself for doing. There are few things I have faced in my adult life that more thoroughly ripped my heart out than watching my son cry on that soccer field.

The things that make me wonder about my son’s masculinity are also the things that make him beautiful. Every Saturday night at our contemporary praise service, he worships God with all of his body the whole time. He likes to spin around in circles on one foot (is that ballet?) and then he’ll get down on all fours and try to spin around on his hands (more like break-dancing, which I hate to admit that I’m more comfortable with). I realize that emotional sensitivity doesn’t make you gay or straight, but my older son has very high emotional intelligence. He cares about how other people feel in a way that doesn’t seem age-appropriate (or very manly). Last night when we went to the pool, I forgot his brand-new flippers that he had been looking forward to testing out in the water all day. I told him I was really sorry when he asked me about them and he said, “That’s okay, Dad, I choose not to swim with flippers this time.” He says things like that all the time to reassure me when I make a mistake. He isn’t a brat even when he would have a good case for being one.

I’ll never forget a conversation I overheard once at a concert for a band that “manly men” don’t listen to: Belle & Sebastian. They’re an indie-pop band from the mid-to-late nineties that all the artsy kids listened to in college. The lead singer Stuart Murdoch has a somewhat soft, effeminate sounding voice and sings about melancholic poetic topics like ice skating, girls’ boarding schools, and cardigan sweaters with a small orchestra of musicians backing him up. As I was in line to get a t-shirt, I heard a girl talking to her friend about Murdoch, “You remember how we all thought he was gay? Well it turns out he’s a Christian — that’s all.” For the last 9 years, I have pondered what it means that those two terms were synonymous in that girl’s mind. I wonder if people will say that one day about my son. Maybe he’ll be both. Maybe my intuitions are totally off. Who knows? All I know is I love him very much and I don’t want anyone to ever hurt him.


62 thoughts on “What if he grows up to be gay?

  1. I just discovered this post. I have to thank you for your sensitivity and love and openness.

    As others have pointed out above, many of the mannerisms that you have noted as “gay” may or may not be indicative of his sexual orientation. While gender nonconformity in childhood is a significant predictor of adult homosexuality, it is not invariable.

    (I was a stereotypical sissy growing up, and I turned out to be gay, but my closest friend as a child was also effeminate but grew up to be aggressively heterosexual, while my partner has always been about as butch as anyone can be. Considering how stereotypically masculine my football-playing partner was–and is–you should also not be so certain that just because your other son is “all boy” that he will be heterosexual.)

    What makes me so pleased about your post is that should one or both of your children turn out to be gay that they will find acceptance and love in their home. Given the fact that so many young people internalize anti-gay attitudes and suffer depression and self-hatred, extending love and acceptance to children is literally a life-and-death issue. Thanks for sharing.

  2. As a son who did turn out to be gay, I am touched by the way you approach the possibility. It’s ok to feel vulnerable, to question, to wonder, to not have all the answers, both for you and for him. Honesty, coupled with kindness, to paraphrase a different religious tradition, has the power to transform our world.

    You say you love him very much and you don’t want anyone to ever hurt him. Unfortunately, the world is not always a kind place to those of us who, through divine intent or some trick of fate, find ourselves to be different, other, special (not just gay). You will not be able to protect him from the world’s harms and slings and malice; not completely, not forever. Instead, teach him to believe in his own worth despite what others say; support him as he finds strength in his own way; encourage him as he discovers his path, his calling, and his purpose, wherever they may take him.

    Take heart and be aware of the awesome power you wield in his life, especially as he is growing. Few things those eventual hurtful others will do will affect him as deeply as you can or for as long. The tools you teach him to use now will be those he reaches for the rest of his life. Support you render now will sustain him in the face of the hurts of those eventual others. Hurts you inflict now will leave scars deeper than any they will manage.

    Love him, and let him know it, and he’ll find a way to turn out well; gay or not.

    Good luck and God bless.

  3. I am the mother of three sons, all born within 4 years of each other. When they were small, the middle son was noticeably different from the other two Boy boys. He was more artistic, more aware of beauty and nature, and definitely more angelic and quite beautiful! At a very early age I began thanking God that if Lawrence was gay that I was his mother, because I knew he would be accepted and loved by his family and I made a conscious effort to teach acceptance all their lives. When he was two or three he sat next to me at one of those ice capade shows. he rolled up his pants to be little shorts, and he dangled his feet which couldn’t reach the ground, back and forth so happily, as he leaned over to me and said with great joy: “Oh mommy! I wish everybody were girls. They are so much nicer than boys!”

    I grew up in a racially bigoted area and I knew I done something right when my extremely bigoted brother said to me nonchalantly: “I want you to know I told Lawrence today that I’ll love him the same if he’s gay or if he’s not.”

    This was when he was fourteen, two years before he formally told me in an email that he was indeed gay.

    My biggest fear all of his life was that he would not be accepted, and I knew that if his family accepted him, and if he accepted himself then he’d be less likely to allow himself to be treated badly by others. It appears that you are doing a great job already teaching him acceptance through your own actions!

    My son is now nearly twenty, and I am so thankful to say that he was never treated badly by anybody ever. Thankfully, we lived in a spiritually progressive community. I left a backward church and put the kids in public school when he was in grammar school and I vowed to do everything to encourage his unique beautiful self.

    He is out in the world on his own now, and I am so proud of him and his brothers for the love they have for each other, and the openness they have about Lawrence’s different orientation.

    I believe you are on the right track. Keep loving him and watch over him and you will be able to see any warning signs if he is being mistreated. Don’t let it happen! I am confident that your love will keep him safe until he is ready to venture out into the world.

    You seem like a great father who is blessed with a beautiful boy.

  4. The things that our society label as “manly” really have very little to do with sexual orientation. I have known men who were sensitive and poetic and who were seriously messed up by their fathers who “tried to make a man out of them”. On the other hand, I married a man who is gentle and sensitive and musical and artistic, and who is completely heterosexual – we have discussed the concept and attraction to other men is just something that he has never experiences.

  5. Sexual orientation, gender orientation, and emotional intelligence are NOT correlated. You have an awesome kid with the potential to become an Olympic gymnast. Treasure that and raise him with love. The rest ~will~ take care of itself.

  6. Morgan, I think that is a good question to ponder. I pray that you will be able to accept and embrace both your sons equally. Personally, I don’t think sexual orientation is a characteristic like hair color, but rather it is a trait like personality. I remember some good friends of mine had their first child. I remember I visited them a day after they brought her home. It was clearly evident to me then that her unique personhood was already there, fully formed. There are many things about ourselves it takes a lifetime to figure out. To deny that is to denigrate the complex beauty of God’s creation.

  7. I love the emotion and honesty of your post. But honestly, either son could be gay. There are as many apparently masculine gay men as there are apparently feminine ones. Still, your love for your kids is very apparent here and honest and refreshing.

  8. I always blamed my inability to dance on being Southern Baptist, not my machismo. I WAS that “sensitive kid” who couldn’t play sports to save his life, who liked music, who got called “gay” by his classmates (believe me, in my teenage fantasies, I was DEFINITELY heterosexual!), etc. I have an ex-wife and a second wife who can assure you I’m not gay. You’re already on the right track of being aware that one size does not fit all when it comes to male heterosexuality.
    Oh, another thing…the famous ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov did just fine when it came to the ladies…just sayin’. Your son will be fine.

    • Sounds like we’ve got a similar background. I can’t dance worth **** but I wasn’t much of a jock either so I got called gay a lot. Whenever I hear people talking about how gays are an abomination or whatever, they just sound like the 13 year old boys who made my life miserable in middle school.

  9. So, I realize you are ‘exorcising,’ and I admire your honesty and willingness to put those thoughts, questions, demons, ‘out there.’

    To complicate things a little more:

    He could also be bisexual, pansexual, transgender (although you’d probably know that by now).

    Maybe the way to think about this is not “gay or straight,” masculine or feminine, either/or, but honored, safe, and loved, and as you say, beautiful.


  10. Your meditation gives me much hope for kids who are gay (or not gay, but “different”) who have fathers like you who can accept their kids as they are and love them. I happen to be gay, was rejected by my father when I came out to him when I was 15 and we had more or less a non-relationship until I was well into my 40s — and even then we were never really close. (After my mother died and my father re-married, I was *much* closer to my stepmother than I was to my birth mother or my father, and my stepmother and I were very good friends.)

    Even when things were so terrible growing up at home (and we had a “war zone” going on) I never lost my faith and regularly attended services on Sunday, save for a small time in college when I questioned my faith. I did leave the fundamentalist faith of my childhood and ended up as a member of the ELCA for a large part of my adult life. I now attend an Episcopal church and *not* being a Christian for me is un-thinkable: my faith is so much a part of me and my life that *not* having it would be giving up an essential part of who I am.

    I am glad there are parents like you who accept their sons as they are, not as they would like for them to be. That gives me an incredible amount of hope for the future.

  11. So good. He’s a blessed boy to have a father like you. I’m teary eyed reading this. Keep it for him to read someday. Absolutely lovely.

  12. I think that “masculinity” is more idea than fact, and entirely culturally constructed. Each kid is an individual, and some choose to conform to societal expectations of their roles, and others don’t. Straight or gay, your son is clearly pretty awesome and will become just as awesome an adult with your support and love. Congrats for your honesty! You’re setting an excellent example for him, as I hope you already know.

  13. I hear you Morgan, and I think I understand what you’re saying. I think the real tragedy is that so many things like sensitivity, “artsiness,” gentleness, or whatever have somehow been tied to sexuality. While I recognize at face value the statement many gays make that their “gayness” isn’t learned or chosen, but rather innate, I am less certain in much of the dialog (or more accurately, competing monologs) that I hear, whether people haven’t lumped a mass of different preferences–many of them entirely irrelevant to sexual expression in any way–into a box and called one set “masculine,” another “feminine;” one “straight” and another “gay.”

    Whatever you discover about your son’s eventual orientation (or whatever he discovers), I am convinced it’s important that he grow up experiencing the overt expression of love from both you and your wife, and further that he also experience the freedom to express his love for both of you, and for others, in appropriate ways including touch. I hope he’s never embarrassed to kiss his Dad, and that his Dad is always ready with a kiss for him. The less all love is taught as sexual, and the more healthy expression and healthy boundaries are clear, the less likely he is to be taken in by a lie that both straight and gay society teach far too often…the lie that love necessarily leads to sex.

    I think these things are true whether or not one accepts the moral acceptability of same-sex relationships. I also think they’re overlooked by an awful lot of people on both sides of the chasm.

  14. I have read all these comments with much interest due my having had a gay son. Outside of being fiercely intelligent, loving and compassionate, he admitted realization of being different at age two. Although he fought and hated his confused sexual feelings throughout the greater part of his life, and finding nothing to negate them, he was forced to admit to himself that he was indeed gay. After our son came out to us, we assured him that nothing could ever change our love for him. We endured many struggles as well, but by the grace of God, we survived.
    One particular issue I find missing in these comments is the fact that there are fem and butch in female and male homosexuals. I think we all realize that opposites attract even in heterosexuals. There are many gay men who are looked upon as “iron” men, which precludes the notion one can tell by their temperament or behavior and the same applies to women.
    I have become an avid advocate of the gay community and feel encouragement by the Holy Spirit…Unconditional love can and does make a huge difference…

    • The thing you pointed to about the fem and butch distinctions is why I tend to think that people with these orientations are somewhere in the middle of the gender spectrum. Thanks for the gentleness of your response as I know I had some clumsy, ignorant things to say regarding ballet, etc.

    • Hilda,
      Your comments on this page resonated with me because I believe that you as a Christian have far more understanding about gay people because of your son. I’m gay and got into a cult at nineteen . I have found that the vast majority of Christians haven’t got a clue about being gay. You are a wonderful person and love and best wishes to you and your son.
      Greg x. UK

  15. I have a feeling that if your son did turn out to be gay, you would still love and accept him, and that’s a wonderful thing. No need to feel too anxious–you sound like a great Dad.

  16. The question is not so much whether one can be gay and Christian, but “how”. There’s the rub.

    Your question is one that must be considered. To many folk on the hard right of this particular issue are pathetically uninformed by actually knowing (and loving) people who are gay.

    Personally, I am drawn to the Orthodox language of “same-sex attraction” over “homosexuality,” a choice to describe a temptation rather than define a person by their sexuality. Our baptism should always go deeper than whatever we do with our genitals.

    • This is indeed the rub. As we continue to be ‘sanctified’ many things will fall away. This, I’m sure, would include some activities previous engaged in by married Christian heterosexual couples in their relationship if they discover that [insert particular act involving genitals here] is getting in the way of their growing relationship with their Creator through Jesus. For some Christians who fall on the ‘same-sex attraction’ end of the spectrum, some of their activities will fall away as well. What makes me think that perhaps not all same-sex romance is abhored by God is the fact that there are many many far more saintly Christians than myself who are in monogamous same-sex relationships that do not seem to interfere with their ongoing sanctification.

      • Yes. We all have our crosses to bear. I see no reason why SSA should be stigmatized more greatly than other deviations from the ideal, such as alcoholism.

        • Dan, I wouldn’t put it in the same category with alcoholism at all. It’s problematic to make analogies with this issue. You would probably take exception to someone comparing the gay civil rights movement to the racial civil rights movement. Everything is apples and oranges in varying degrees.

    • Any form of sexual attraction is a temptation to idolatry regardless of the genders involved. I consider it an open question whether Paul would say outside of the 1st century context of pagan pederasty and temple prostitution “Better to marry than burn” when confronted by the question of same-sex marriage. The only systematic theological way to make gender essentialism part of loving God and loving neighbor is to fully
      embrace complementarianism and proclaim 1st century Jewish sensibilities about gender as permanently eternal. If you want to do that, make sure you buy your wife a hat to wear to church and make sure that only men talk during the worship service.

  17. I took ballet as a teenager with a very talented young man, who went on to be a successful choreographer. If your son enjoys dance, consider watching the TV show, So You Think You Can Dance. with him for a view into the world of male (and female) dancers, both gay and straight. Also, I would recommend the recent documentary, First Position. Straight or gay, men can dance!

  18. Your description of your son reminds me of myself, especially at that age. I was frequently assumed to be gay. Most of my effeminate friends weren’t gay either. The danger that concerns me is that such boys might be told by society that they are gay and accept it in error. It is important to nuture our children and help them to understand that no part of them, including their sexuality, is determined by how they measure up to stereotypes.

      • I have no standing to doubt the triumphant “coming out” narratives of most homosexuals, but I have a gay friend who confided that he was lonely, that girls rejected him thinking he was gay, that everyone kept insisting that he was gay and needed to admit it to himself, and that, finally, at 20, it was just easier to embrace it, that at least now he had a whole community to belong to and a much easier time getting dates.

        • I hear what you’re saying, Dan. I questioned my own orientation at one point in life. But my own first-hand experience was when you’re not, you’re DEFINITELY not. I do agree that it’s a tragedy for people to let society tell them, “Here, put on this identity.” I don’t know how much of that happens, but I don’t doubt that it sometimes happens.

    • So true. Our social role models are so strict. As a teacher I have seen a wide range of behavior. Peers in the teen years can make or break this, and family acceptance is crucial, especially for boys.

  19. Oh Morgan, be careful how you use words like masculine and feminine and all-boy, etc. Our cultural ideas of what makes for a ‘true man’ are so out of whack and so far removed from reality! You have a very sensitive, artistic son. Celebrate that. The Papa-Bear part is great – each of our kids needs their Papa to be a Bear now and again. But the gentle characteristics you describe do not necessarily define your boy as anything other than a sensitive kid. I hope he loves gymnastics! (And read Amanda Soule’s blog sometime – they live on a farm in Maine and her two older boys LOVE ballet. And baseball.)

    • You’re right. I’m just kind of laying my demons out in front of me in order to exorcise them. I have to be unsocialized from some of the standards under which I was judged and found unworthy as a boy myself.

      • Amen, friend. Exorcise away – just not at your sweet boy’s expense, okay? He sounds delightful to me. My only son was not initially the athlete his dad was hoping for. But you know what? He found his way. Volleyball became his way into the sports world (actually Little league, the last two years, too) and now they play tennis together regularly. But my husband, I am happy to say, got to where it really didn’t matter – it’s the person they are becoming and the time they choose to spend with you, not matter what you do with that time. Blessings to you as you parent both your boys – who are, by the grace of God, totally unique individuals.

        • He’s an amazing kid. Mostly I just want him to discover his gifts, whatever they are. But there’s definitely a little bit of my own weirdness about masculinity that lingers in my mind at least.

      • Stereotypes are stupid. Just because one boy appears “masculine” and another appears “feminine” doesn’t mean either of them will be gay. Nor does it mean that the “masculine” one won’t be. People need to get over the typical stereotype of gay people. There are plenty of masculine gay men whom you would never suspect of being gay. These stereotypes are harmful, and they should stop.

        You are preparing yourself for the possibility that your older son will be gay. What if your younger son turns out to be gay? Are you prepared for that, too? I hope for your sake, that you come to the point that it does not matter. For that is the real issue. You wouldn’t be writing about this if you didn’t have a problem with it. Try to get beyond the prejudice and bigotry of current American backwardness and love both of your sons for who they are, and not whom you’re afraid they might sleep with someday.

  20. Awesome post. I must say that your love for your children shines through. Identifying their uniqueness and encouraging them to become individuals is an awesome part of parenting multiple children. I, for one, think that sexual orientation is partly if not wholly genetic. Kinsey’s research suggests that very few people are entirely heterosexual or entirely homosexual. The Church’s debate should not be about whether we can change homosexual people to something else, but rather about whether we can accept them with love and allow them to have the same romantic loving relationships with other humans in monogamy as we allow our heterosexual brothers and sisters which as you have noted in previous posts was a concession of Paul’s who was gifted with celibacy. On a personal note, my middle child looks identical to my wife’s cousin who is openly gay and an extremely talented Broadway actor/dancer/singer. If I were not so secure in knowing that God creates each of us as He intends, I would struggle with this more. My concern, and I suspect yours as well, is more to do with the struggles my children will face in their life, be they straight, gay, or otherwise. Not just choices about romantic partners, but choices about everything else and the potential consequences and trials brought about by those choices. I have survived the choices I have made and through the grace of our Almighty God emerged a better man and better servant. I can only pray the same for my children.

    • I think the only thing I worry about is him getting bullied. I got bullied a lot when I was young because I had a lot of the same characteristics.

  21. Morgan, thanks again for you vulnerability. There’s a reason God put your boy in your house. Masculinity is not about particular hobby interests, emotional temperaments, or aggression. Matt Chandler actually has some great comments about the need for fathers to encourage their boys with sensitive souls and artistic interests instead of freaking out and shutting them down. Just like the “typical”, head-butting, aggressive boys, they’re little boys who will need the God-given shape of their masculinity to be encouraged, as well as the sinful distortions that likely crop up to be corrected in light of God’s word. The brash must be humbled, the cowardly must be emboldened, etc. All I’m saying is that a sensitive, ballet dancer can be a wonderfully, biblically-masculine man.

    The key in being able to raise that son is a gift God has already given you–unconditional love. You love him for him, not for yourself, then you’ll be guided by the Spirit as to when to encourage growth, even in ways that are uncomfortable and atypical, as well as to discipline the sinful distortions that might accompany your boy’s particular temperament.


    • I definitely love him however he’s wired. I just don’t want him to get bullied for whatever particular form of beauty that God has given Him to radiate.

  22. “All I know is I love him very much and I don’t want anyone to ever hurt him.”

    I love this post, I truly am touched by your openness and willingness of share.

    My favorite line is the quote above. I just wish every father expressed that sentiment to their sons, whether gay or straight.

    Peace to you,
    Mark Lee

    • I agree with this sentiment, and the commentary, whole-heartedly. My only advice is to remember this, and feel it with all you have — your heart, mind, and soul. For if you don’t, you may be the one who inadvertently may harm him. (Based on my own experience when I chose to date outside of my race. My dad was so concerned about how “others” would perceive and treat me, he ended up making it a “self-fulfilling prophecy,” in that he seemed to be the only one to see and treat me differently. He was the ONLY ONE who hurt me.) I have since forgiven and have grown children of my own — one of whom is gay. I always tried to encourage my son to be himself and not let other peoples’ insecurities about who he is get in his way; the problem — if any — was theirs, and theirs alone. Sounds like you’re on the right track. Continue to let him be free to BE.

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