Good morning! Today, my guest blogger today is Wesley Davidson, a health and parenting writer whose blog: http://straightparentgaykidblogspot.com gives advice on raising GLB teens. Wesley is currently writing a book with a Manhattan psychiatrist on the issues that straight parents face while parenting gay teens and how to solve these concerns. Check out her post below, leave some feedback, and be sure to visit her blog!
“Sticks and Stones May Break Your Bones,” but Names are What You Remember”
It all started in middle school which my son Alex called “dark and depressing.” It was a forbidding stone school, with a cafeteria in the basement. But the building itself wasn’t the only depressing drawback, it was the atmosphere created by a small group of boys who called my son a “faggot.”
Although I suspected at times that my son was “gay,” as he hung out with girls and didn’t like contact sports, I dismissed it and attributed his popularity with the opposite sex due to his sensitivity, kindness, and good looks. Perhaps the so-called macho boys were jealous of these attributes in 1996 in a suburb outside of New York City in the so-called “liberal Northeast.”
The school never told me of the tauntings although my son, I later learned, had spoken to the guidance counselor about the bullying. This is not unusual. A 2005 Harris Interactive GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network) found that 69% of junior and middle GLBT high school students report being assaulted or harassed in the previous year and nearly 1/3 said that the school staff did nothing to intervene. Alex’s teachers were more concerned with his homework, and managed to find the time to write notes to me about the tardiness of Alex’s assignments. Our son hated school, but then again, he didn’t even like nursery school. Could this non-compliance be teenage moodiness and rebellion? It’s hard for a parent to know.
By the time, he was in his freshman year in high school, his mood was beyond flirting with depression. He was depressed. The teasing continued, and even his new “troublemaker” girlfriends couldn’t protect him. Nowadays, if you are harassed at school and the educators don’t come to your rescue, you can have LAMBDA Legal, American Civil Liberties Union or Transgender Law Center on Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defender to assist you(Refer to my blogpost”When the Fail-Safes Fail at Your Child’s School,” September 7, 2011 at http: //straightparentgaykid.blogspot.com
He went to the school nurse frequently, and got excused from class. Many GLBT students (one out of three) skip school at least one day a month to avoid facing the slurs of their tormentors. To combat this truancy as well as other social ills, GLSEN’s anti-bullying programs for all school grades, educators, communities, are getting the message out that harassment of any group is not to be tolerated. If your bullying is found to be a “hate crime,” you can be sentenced to prison, as in the case of former Rutgers University student, Dharun Ravi who spyed with a webcam on his gay roommate Tyler Clementi having sex and then sent the images virally. As a crime stopper, recently, an anonymous Cyber Bullying Reporting Service was launched by SchoolReach, an automated parent notification service used by public, private, and parochial schools throughout the United States.
These support groups were not around when I was coping. I wish they had been when I later found out the root of my son’s depression. I discovered in a letter what confirmed my fleeting thought a year earlier: he was, in fact, gay. He was not “out” to us, and may have been in denial to himself as well. I think he must have internalized the homophobia he experienced at school. His self-esteem was low. He was unhappy and had psychosomatic illnesses. For a while, he thought he had mono. He, divorcing himself from his father, younger sister, and I, would spend hours in his room with the door shut. It pained me to see him isolating himself. In the past, he had enjoyed family activities.
He consented to seeing a psychiatrist, but that doctor couldn’t read between the lines and was hoodwinked by my son who told this mental health expert that he wasn’t “gay.” He had “fallen through the cracks.” Wasn’t there anyone who could help? I, of course, was at wit’s end. How do you help someone who claims that “there is nothing wrong?” There was a Gay-Straight Alliance at his School, but as he confided in me years later, “If I joined, the kids would have have known for sure then that I was gay.”
Even with my lesbian grandmother who died in the late 6o’s, I felt as if I had no role model so I would stand in bookstores reading parenting books for advice. Most parenting-a-teen books had scant information on how to deal with issues raising a gay son. Of course, now there are many more books out on the subject such as Kevin Jennings’s (the former director of GLSEN)and social worker, Pat Shapiro, M.S.W.’s classic, Always My Child. A Parent’s Guide to Understanding Your Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Trans-Gendered or Questioning Son or Daughter.(Fireside Books: 2003) or the more recent Coming Out, Coming In. Nurturing the Well-Being and Inclusion of Gay Youth in Mainstream Society by school guidance counselor, Linda Goldman, Ms. (Routledge: 2008).
With teens in contemporary society “coming out” in middle or high school, there is definitely more openness and more publicity about the gay community. It used to be that gay and lesbian kids waited until after they were out of high school to tell Mom and Dad.
Because there was not this openness in our house, I felt ineffectual as a parent as I wasn’t much help to our son. Eventually, he stopped going to school altogether and choose to watch “The Price Is Right” in his pajamas. What a trajectory for a bright adolescent!
The next year, he transferred to another school in another town. He was no longer one of a few gay kids whose reputation preceded him at a new school. His outlook was better than the previous year. When he was old enough, he moved to California where there was a large gay population who embraced him. In the interim, we joined PFLAG (Parents for Lesbians and Gays) with nationwide chapters and learned how to deal with issues unique to raising GLBT kids.
But, strange as it seems, children are not just bullied at school. Parents can be the culprits, too. Hate begins at home. If teens aren’t respected and loved unconditionally despite their sexual orientation, they may take to the streets. Gay and lesbian youth on the street make up between 20 and 40 percent of the 1.6 million homeless and runaway teens according to some studies.
To make sure you are doing your due diligence at home, see tips on my blog “Parental Homework for Anti-Bullying Defenses,” and “Antibullying Tactics Begin at Home,” September 21, 2011.
I’m happy to say that our son never ran away from home. Time worked magic and now our son is happy and comfortable in his own skin. Sex columnist Dan Savage who conceived of the internet video, and now television program, “It Gets Better” is truly right.