Youth and sexual identity: A different path

Reading this article in the New York Times made me think of some of the cases I have worked with involving teens and family disclosures of sexual attractions to others of the same sex.

Most stories of teens, sexual identity and religion of late involve references to live-in programs or parent-child discord. With permission from those involved, I want to briefly describe a situation that challenges several stereotypes. I am masking this to avoid identification but the basic points are right on. Scott (not his real name, of course) felt intense attractions to boys since he was in mid-elementary school. He was a well rounded boy who did well at any sport he tried, although he preferred individual sports. He also enjoyed singing, playing in the band, and acting in community plays. The younger of two boys, he loved his brother and they had a harmonious relationship. He recalls no sexual molestation.

In his early teens, he confided in his father (with whom he felt most comfortable) that he wasn’t getting “those feelings” for girls but that he was getting them toward certain boys. His dad was a sensitive and involved father who assured Scott of his love. Scott and his dad then told Scott’s mom who was upset but also reassured Scott that he was loved. In their discussions, they talked over what Scott thought about being attracted to the same sex. In addition to his other gifts, Scott demonstrated a devotion to his faith. He told his parents that he wanted to talk to a Christian counselor to ask some questions. They agreed and called me.

In the mean time, Scott parents contacted the local PFLAG chapter and attended a meeting. They wanted to talk to other parents who had conservative views about sexuality but had found ways to support and love their children. At least at this chapter, they did not find this. Instead, the participants said they would need to change their religious views because of their gay son. Otherwise, they were told, they would harm their son unless they began attending an affirming church. They did not go back.

For his part, Scott had some questions for me which surprised me. Was I one of those therapists who would tell him to just accept being gay? If I was, he said, he wanted to leave now. I assured him that I would take his values and beliefs seriously. Here is a long story, shortened: Scott was quite set against “being gay” but understood that, for him, being same-sex attracted was nothing anyone caused. He also did not have hopes that he could just change. Once he was assured I would not try to push him to come out, he asked questions about sexuality, maturation, and disclosure. In our visits, we discussed the social and identity issues probably most kids with attractions to the same sex experience – whether gay-identified or not. Scott believed he had lots of time to figure things out.

That was several years ago, and I am now aware that Scott’s beliefs about sexuality are essentially the same and have been integrated within a consistent worldview. Although he is not fond of labels, if pressed, he describes himself as bisexual and dates girls selectively. His parents have struggled with the typical theories of homosexuality and at times, been quite resentful of the church in their odyssey. They have been to an Exodus conference (which they loved) but cannot find a parent’s group they like.

Of course, this is a story in progress. I am not offering it as typical. In fact, when it comes to the relatively calm manner these folks handled the disclosure, sadly, it isn’t typical. However, in many respects, this seems to be a different path to a healthy sexual identity.