When a Loved One Says, "I'm Gay"
When my 16-year-old son Tony began staying out all night, I became very concerned. When I confronted him, we argued for several minutes, then he dropped the bombshell. "Well, you know I'm gay, don't you?"
My mind froze. Tony began filling the awkward silence with horrifying details. Three months before, he'd been hitchhiking home when a school guidance counselor had picked him up and seduced him. Now he accepted his "new" identity and was getting to know other homosexuals.
"Mom," he concluded, "I've found the man of my dreams. Everything's going to be all right now!"
In the days following, I was haunted by every mistake I had ever made as a mother. I had no knowledge at all of how to deal with this situation. After all, didn't God protect Christian families from the really big sins--like this one?
"Finding out about a gay child is agony," says Barbara Johnson. "It's almost like having a death in the family. But when someone dies you can bury that person and move on with your life. With homosexuality, the pain seems never-ending."
Life seems out of control. Suddenly you feel like you are talking to a stranger, as this unfamiliar aspect of your loved one's personality is revealed. The sense of betrayal can be devastating.
Typically, family members and friends go through days and weeks of deep grief and mourning. "I wished I was dead," recalled one father, "and I wished that my son was dead too." Stress-related symptoms may appear: nausea, migraines, sleeplessness. It's common to feel fear and even panic about others finding out.
Often, family members--especially parents--feel overwhelming guilt. "Where did we go wrong?" is a common question. Soon they are stuck in the "if only" syndrome: If only they had been a better parent ... if only they had become a Christian earlier in life ... if only they had lived their faith more consistently ... this list is endless.
"I caused my child's homosexuality" is probably the biggest lie a parent must stand against. No one person has the power to cause another's homosexuality. At worst, a parent-child relationship may be one factor in a whole complex group of influences.
Despite media claims, homosexuality cannot be primarily genetic. If that were true, it would have disappeared long ago--most children are born to heterosexual parents. But Christian counselors who specialize in this area of ministry have seen common life patterns in their counselees.
Typically, men and women struggling with homosexuality have felt "different" from early childhood. This situation can lead, in turn, to peer rejection and name-calling like "sissy" and "fag." A majority of lesbians--and a significant number of gay men--have been victims of sexual abuse. In women, abuse can lead to a deep fear of men; in men, it can lead to profound confusion about their masculinity. These and other factors disrupt a person's security and sexual identity, and open the door to same-sex temptation. Once these temptations are acted upon, they grow only stronger--and typically lead to the assumption of a "gay" identity in adulthood.
Some people resolve their sense of guilt by revising their beliefs about homosexuality. Parents--even Christians--begin to question the biblical position that homosexual behavior is sin (see Lev. 18:22; Romans 1:24-27). But the Bible consistently forbids sexual activity outside of a lifelong heterosexual commitment. So
Dealing with the truth of my son's reasons for getting involved in homosexuality has been a great challenge for me. I made many mistakes as a young single mother. In my private times with God, I can release the hurt, guilt and sorrow. Then I experience His comfort.
Once I have confessed my past sins, forgiveness is a spiritual reality for me, whether or not I feel forgiven. Sometimes it takes our mind and emotions a long time to catch up to what has occurred in our spirit and soul.
After Tony's confession of homosexual involvement, I cried out to God, asking His forgiveness for all the things I had done wrong in the past. But I would leave my prayer time feeling heavy with condemnation. Then I read a precious Scripture in Micah 7:19, "You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl our iniquities into the depths of the sea." As I claimed this verse, I had an easier time putting my past behind me.
It's appropriate to let your rebellious loved one know that you hurt for them. Let them know why you think their choices are unhealthy. Let them know that you will always continue to love them. And let them know that you will be praying for them. In dealing with my son, I have learned the difference between acceptance--acknowledging what is true in his life--and approval, which means affirming his behavior as good and right.
Separate your loved one's personhood from his or her behavior. Many people involved in homosexuality push aggressively for acceptance of their immorality. "If you reject my homosexuality, you're rejecting me." This attitude is based on their inability (or unwillingness) to distinguish between who they are and what they do.
In deciding your actions in a particular situation (such as their desire to spend time in your home), it can be helpful to take homosexuality out of the picture for a moment. How would you respond if this person was a heterosexual who was pursuing sex outside of marriage?
Perhaps most important, let your loved one know that God can bring freedom from homosexuality. In 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, the Apostle Paul mentions those Christians in the church at Corinth who had been involved in homosexual sin. But they had ceased, and God had declared them clean and righteous in His sight. This is good news for men and women seeking change.
Here are some additional suggestions to cope with this devastating situation:
* Find your own support system. Don't bear this burden alone. Find others who can listen to you without judgment, then pray for you consistently.
* Seek insights on the past. Pray for the right timing and situation to ask your gay loved one about his or her childhood. Discussing the whole situation with other family members or a Christian counselor can bring additional insights.
* Learn about homosexuality. There are many Christian books to help you, such as Someone I Love is Gay by Anita Worthen and Bob Davies (InterVarsity Press). Understanding the underlying "root" emotional and spiritual issues will give you insights into your loved one's life.
* Resist false guilt. You cannot control your loved one's choices--only your reaction to their choices. You cannot be guilty for things over which you have no control. And you have no control over the moral choices of others.
Today, my son has AIDS. He has not yet turned away from a homosexual identity. I still experience deep sadness over my son's situation, but my joy and peace run even deeper. Because of painful experiences in my own life, I have been able to reach out with empathy to other people in deep pain. Does that make my pain worth it? No. But it has made my pain worthwhile.
I don't know what the future holds, but I know Who holds the future. For today, His grace is sufficient.
Anita Worthen is involved in ministry to family members and friends as a staff member at New Hope Ministries in San Rafael, Calif.
Bob Davies is the former executive director of Exodus International, North America in Seattle, Wash.
This material is adapted from the book, Someone I Love is Gay: How Family & Friends Can Respond by Anita Worthen and Bob Davies (published by InterVarsity Press, 1996; used by permission).
You can order this book on-line. Go to our Book Resources section for ordering information.