Tuesday 24 April 2012

Message to America’s Moms – So Your Child is Gay

Moms, this is a post for you. You may not have said anything to anyone else yet, but your child has told you he or she is gay. And you are feeling upset, hurt, isolated and confused.

“Where did we go wrong?” “Was it something I did?” “Was I too close?” “Not close enough?” “What am I going to do?” “What will his/her father say?”

And just to make it even more difficult than it already is – could it be any more difficult? – you’re a Christian. You go to church. You might even be an active member or even a leader in the church. You’re a Bible-believing follower of Jesus Christ. For goodness sake, you even read your Bible between Sundays. You pray. You go to mid-week Bible study. You’re in the intercessory prayer group. Your friends are all Christians. You’re a born again, Bible believing, church going, regular mom, who happens to love her child more than life itself.

I would like to tell you some important information that I think you should hear. One mother told me that when she heard this news about her son, the first thing she did after the initial shock was to use her head. She had always had a great relationship with her son so she knew her heart was right, but now she needed to use her head. I think this is good advice. You must find out what you need to know about this. Do your homework and find out the truth. This is your kid we’re talking about. You can’t afford to get this wrong. And many people do get it wrong. And for the sake of your child, the rest of your family, and your own peace of mind, I don't want you to be one of them.

I am Dr Stuart Edser, an Australian Psychologist. I am in Private Practice as well as being a university lecturer, an author, a Christian of long-standing, and a gay man. If you love your child, then please keep reading.

I recently wrote Being Gay Being Christian and I did this for only one reason - to help. I wrote it out of my own experience from when I was a young person with a deeply held faith and a gay sexual orientation.

There are three main groups of people for whom my book was written:
• Gay people of faith – to tell them that their sexual orientation does not exclude them from God
• Clergy and the wider Church – to tell them that they need to understand human sexuality a whole lot better and that they need to change their traditional teachings about gay sexuality
• Families and friends of gay people who are struggling, confused and torn over the sexual orientation of a loved one.

This last one is you. You’re a mother of a much loved child. You want the very best for him or her. You want them to be happy and safe and part of God’s family. You always saw them as one day growing up and having children of their own – now this may never happen. What are you supposed to think?

Please Mom, let me tell you a few things that will help you get your thoughts clearer. I can do this because of my training, my experience with working with people and my personal experience of my own struggles with sexuality and faith over a twenty year period.

What is Gay Sexuality?
Almost all adult human beings have a sexual component to their make-up. Psychologists call this component sexual identity. It is that part of us that finds others attractive or ‘hot’ and where we find certain things erotic. In other words, human beings are sexual creatures. This sexual identity is very strong for most of us. After the will to survival, the sexual drive is possibly the most powerful one within us. It shapes and drives so much of our lives. It is not sinful or dirty. It just is - a part of us that is integral to our existence and our recognition that we are human, integral to who we are, as much a part of me as my personality, my intelligence and my eye color.

In human beings that sexual identity has a direction, what psychologists call sexual orientation. For the majority of people – approximately 95% - that direction is toward opposite sex others. For a minority of people – approximately 5% - that direction is toward same sex others. If your child is gay or lesbian, then he or she is part of that 5% minority. Science now sees gay sexual orientation as a normal and consistent variation of human sexual identity. It's always been part of human experience and it always will.

Sexual Orientation 101
Homosexuality, or gay sexuality, is characterised by all the usual cues of attraction that human beings experience, both physical and emotional. There is nothing unusual in this and nothing that you do not already know about. The only real difference is that the attraction is directed toward a same sex person. So putting it another way, a gay person has the capacity to be attracted physically and emotionally to a person of the same gender.

All human sexuality is determined by a number of different things including genes, hormones, physiology, brain structure, family, society, culture and personal history. We know now that there is a very strong genetic component that partially determines which orientation a person will take. This is probably engineered in the womb with brain structure being shunted down a particular pathway, either gay or straight. As you know, secondary sex characteristics emerge at the time of puberty and so does sexual orientation. Young straight people begin to notice the opposite sex in a brand new way and young gay people begin to notice the same sex in a brand new way. No-one asks this to happen. It just does. No-one chooses to be straight. It just happens. And likewise, no-one chooses to be gay. It just happens. So no, being gay is NOT a choice.

An electric shock machine that subjects in a 1976 study
used to administer shocks to their penises in a bid to de-gay themselves
A gay sexual orientation emerges around the time of puberty and remains stable over the lifespan. In other words, it does not change. And it does not change whether we want it to, or our parents want it to, or our Christian beliefs want it to. It does not change. Sexual orientation, whether gay or straight, is stable across the lifespan. As I say in my book, it is neither wilfully chosen nor wilfully changed.

History and Anthropology
Gay people have been identified throughout history as far back as records go. Historians tell us that records from antiquity show that same sex attracted people have existed and lived among the various tribes and nation-states for thousands of years in an unbroken line across the vast reaches of time right up to the present day. And anthropologists tell us that same sex attracted people have been identified in every culture across the world with no exception. So across all human time and all human culture, there have been gay people. Same sex attraction is not some modern thing that we have cooked up in the West over the last hundred years. Not on your life!

Is it a Sickness?

No it is not. I repeat, being gay is not a sickness. No matter what you hear other Christian people tell you, or even hear from some unscrupulous groups, being gay is not a sickness or an illness or a disorder. It is a perfectly natural psycho-biological state, as natural as being straight is. The research dating from the 1970s onward has been far-reaching, exhaustive and vast into examining this very issue. It found unambiguously that being gay is not a sickness, not a cause for becoming sick, not a predisposition to mental illness and that gay people are as psychologically stable and healthy as any in comparable straight populations.  In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association removed it from their book of mental disorders, the DSM. 2013 will be the 40th anniversary of that removal; forty years of gay people not being thought of by the medical and psychological professions as being sick or mentally ill. And forty years of gay people not having to think of themselves as being disordered. Gay people don’t need to be cured because they are not sick. And the science has shown it clearly.

What about ex-gay ministries?
Some Christian ex-gay ministries peddle claims that they can ‘cure’ gayness by their special methods. Be assured – they cannot. Every major professional psychological association in the world repudiates such claims, including my own the Australian Psychological Society. Putting aside that it is not a sickness and so doesn’t need a cure, thousands of people have tried these methods in the past because they were not accepted either by their parents or by society or church, but none have changed their orientation. If you’re a gay man, it doesn’t matter how many girls you go out with or kiss or even have sex with, or how much football you play or watch on television - it doesn’t make you straight. Your underlying orientation doesn’t change. Same with the girls. If you’re a young lesbian woman, it doesn’t matter how often you put on lipstick, or date guys, or watch romcoms with your ‘boyfriend’, your underlying orientation does not change. That’s because behaviour is not the same thing as orientation.

Some of these ministries use scientific sounding reasons to make their rationale sound plausible, but don’t be fooled. It is just so much psycho-babble which we psychologists have rejected out of hand. Gay people do not have overbearing mothers or have love deficits with their fathers any more than straight people do.

At right, click on the trailer for the 2012 Australian documentary The Cure which features several friends of mine.

Trailer to The Cure documentary which shows
the cost to human life of ex-gay programs. 

The toll on gay people who have tried these ministries has been huge. Often depression, guilt and shame for their unrelenting thoughts, feelings and behaviour is about all they can look forward to. They would never call themselves gay and they are not straight so they end up living in a between-world, a shadow land of isolation, loneliness and misery that they call ex-gay. Many people who have been through these ministries will often think of suicide because they know they cannot change but they feel they must in order to be accepted. So suicide is thought of as the only way out. In the twenty-first century, this really is outrageous. Unfortunately, there have been far too many who have succeeded and young people have lost their lives and parents and families beautiful young men and women who deserved better.

Don’t let your child near one of these ministries! I mean it. They are dangerous and they are harmful.

Ex-gay ministries do NOT work 

A powerful representation of such a ministry and a mother who would simply not quit in trying to change her gay son - a true story – is Prayers For Bobby with a matchless performance by the incredible Sigourney Weaver playing Mary Griffith mother of Bobby Griffith. If you want to know the real truth about conditional love, watch this film, but be prepared to have your heart broken.

What about the Bible?
A fair enough question. There are over 31,000 verses in the Bible. Do you know how many of them talk about male male sexual activity? Six. Do you know how many talk about gay sexuality as modern science understands it today? None. That’s right. Not one! The Bible does not talk about the phenomenon we know today as gay sexuality – a lifelong, stable sexual orientation that emerges during puberty and directs a person’s sexual identity toward a partner of the same gender.
So what does the Bible talk about then? Basically, two things: (1) ritual sex, that is, sex performed in the worship of God as part of a liturgy – the ancient Jews were forbade copying the heathen nations around them who did have ritual sex, including, but not limited to, homogenital behaviour in the worship of their gods – which is why this ritual sex is always associated with idolatry and often, vice versa; (2) exploitative sex – involving the buying and selling of sex or people for sex.

Now your average gay person is not into ritual sex or sex slavery, like the heathen nations surrounding ancient Israel, anymore than they are into ritual human sacrifice, as the Aztecs were, so these verses don’t apply to us. You will get told a whole lot of stuff by well-meaning Christian people who themselves are either ignorant or who have personal agendas of their own. Anyway, it’s your child we’re talking about, not theirs. You have to live with the consequences of your actions and attitudes to your child, not them. And I want you to have the truth of this. The Bible is not talking about modern gay people but about ancient sexual practices that are either ritualistic or exploitative.

If you want a more detailed coverage of this material, I devote an entire chapter to these Bible verses in Being Gay Being Christian where you will find a great deal of help in understanding this issue. Just click on the book cover at right.

What about the Church?

Well, this one is tougher. I know a gay man of faith who grew up in the Methodist Church. His father was actually a Methodist minister. My friend told me that when he disclosed his sexuality to his parents, they were both supportive including his father, and so much so, that later on, when he began to take some heat from local parishioners, his father left the church and the ministry because of the way they had treated his son. Now that’s unconditional love in the face of an ignorant and aggressive church. For me, the love between us in our families should trump the church every time. Love comes first. Church affiliation comes second. And Jesus himself said that love was the greatest commandment. Your son or daughter needs you now. They need you to be there, to show the love you have for them. They need you to step up here. Why? Because of all the people they will eventually tell about their sexuality, it is the parents who are most often the hardest because your child doesn’t want to be a disappointment to you. So, don’t you be disappointed. Don’t show disappointment. Be happy that your child trusts you enough to be able to handle their disclosure and to be supportive of them.

What about God?
The God that Jesus taught us about is a relational God whose essential nature is love. He loves us beyond our understanding. This is why love is the greatest commandment. The direction of our sexual identity is not going to get in His way. If you believe that God is creator, then He created your child as much as He created you.

Four verses of unbelievably exquisite poetry from the pen of David, who more than likely loved Jonathon as more than just a friend, describe this:

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be (Psalm 139: 13-16).

This describes your son or daughter too. It’s not just for straight people you know, but for all humanity. His works are wonderful. I know that full well. And so is your son, your daughter. God doesn’t make mistakes.

Psychology and Parenting
The psychological mission of adolescence is twofold: to separate and to distinguish. In essence: I am not my mother, I am not my father. This is a process, a healthy one, and it takes time. It is typically marked by some rejection of parental values or behaviour for a while. Our kids come through it eventually and turn into young adults. Young gay people also have to come to terms with their sexuality at the same time as going through this process. Even without this, it's a difficult time in their lives usually, so with this extra psychological journey, they need our love and support even more.

They need all the stuff you're already good at - love, acceptance, guidance, presence, being an anchor, some freedom, encouragement, laughter and celebration of their successes. This is exactly the same for young gay people as it is for straight. This is what they need. If your child has told you that they are gay, this is what they're going to need from you.

What would be very unhelpful is:

"It’s only a phase" – it isn’t.
"You need to repent" – they don’t.
"You must take up your cross" – no, a person’s sexual identity isn't a cross.
"Don’t tell anyone else" – that is shaming them.
"Go to your room, we’ll talk about this later" – you just demonstrated the one thing they fear
from you – disappointment.

Gay and Lesbian youth
So Moms, what’s it going to be? I know you love your child. Okay then, show it. Be the best mother you can be. Don’t let ignorance and bigotry get in the way of doing what you know is right. Don't let what others do or say influence you. As a mother, you can help to guide the whole family through this. And anyway, being gay is actually a great blessing and as you get to know more of how all this works, you will see this too.

Belinda Carlisle and her son James
This is a really important time in your child's life. So many American families get this wrong and it causes so much unnecessary pain and anguish and even death. As an Australian, an outsider, I see the strong faith of the Bible-based form of evangelical Christianity in America and can admire it. It has many good things to emulate, but it also has its shadow side. No doubt, you've seen that too. Its attitude to gay and lesbian people is one part of that shadow side. And it's great to know that there are other voices speaking up in the church now for the truth. So please Moms, get it right. Do whatever you have to do to get your head and your heart around this so that you can celebrate your child. God knows, He loves your child, so can you too.

Pax et Amor - Stuart


  1. G'day Stuart,
    I'm neither American nor a Christian but I really enjoyed this post. I read it out on the phone to my elderly mother, the proud church-going grandmother of our lesbian daughter. Unfortunately, her Christian friends have a very negative attitude to homosexuality and although my mum doesn't share their views, she will value being able to argue the points you raise.
    Thanks again!

  2. Hi Julia, your comment reached me while I was sitting by myself in a cafe reading and having a coffee. And I confess, it brought tears to my eyes for a couple of reasons. I thought of all the rubbish that the church goes on with regarding gay people and the harm and anguish it causes to good people just like your mother and your daughter. But my teariness was also brought about because a comment like yours makes the four years of hard work in writing Being Gay Being Christian and the BGBC Blog since its publication all worthwhile. Reading something so encouraging is a real boost I can tell you. I am so proud of your mum, as I am sure you are, that she is prepared to get out there and defend the truth against ignorance and prejudice and call a spade a spade. She loves her grand daughter and knows that the church stuff about her is just plain wrong. So good on her. And good on you too for letting me know about it. Sincere thank yous. Much peace and love - Stuart.