By Rick Clemons for YourTango.com
I'm 50, I'm gay, and I was once a confused, mixed up, hormones-raging male teen, shamefully hiding my truth. Not only was I dealing with unfortunate physical manifestations of attraction at all the wrong times (as most teen males do), mine were coming to life due to my puppy love for half the guys in high school. I'd rather eat my dissected frog in biology class than admit I wanted to kiss Darrell, Seth, Michael and Cory.
Instead, I tucked my desires, along with everything else, back into my Fruit of the Looms, fully believing no other gay kids existed in my isolated, faith-based boarding high school. I was convinced I was, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the only guy of 200 on campus that was constantly assaulted by "Woof, woof, he's hot" thoughts.
Based on all the evidence before me, I'd convinced myself I was the only freak of nature for miles around the hills of Arkansas. All the other guys were desperately trying to get to third base with the girls. I, on the other hand, fantasized that they were making out with me, wrapping themselves around my chest, and well, beyond that I wasn't quite sure what to expect. What I knew was that the sight boy next-door smiles made me weak in the knees. I did nothing further to sort out what was happening to me, except wage a solo battle with the demons in my head. I definitely didn't explore the possibility of finding other gay kids in my area.
If you suspect, or know that your child is gay, trust me: they're feeling the same way I did. Feet glued to the ground, they're immobilized by any truth to the possibility that there are other gay kids like them. Feeling hopeless and helpless, they charge full-tilt toward the wicked idea that "I'm not good enough." Left to its own accord, this thinking will take up permanent residence in their brains. Thankfully, you, their parent, teacher, brother, sister, grandparent can be a support system, guiding them to the (very true) belief that gay kids rock. However, before you do that, you need some tools at your disposal to make them feel loved, accepted and appreciated for the beautiful gift they are to the world.
7 Powerful Tools For Helping Gay Kids Be Themselves
1. Assure them they're normal. Very few gay men and women ever stormed out of the closet filled with self-confidence and sporting their rainbow, "Don't Mess With Me" cape. Feeling like you're a freak is normal teen junk stuffed in your backpack... gay kids simply load their bag with a few more pounds of "not good enough" beliefs.
2. Watch your mouth and tell others to do the same. Even the biggest supporters of gay kids learned to clean up their own diarrhea of the mouth. A simple, "That looks a little girly," or an unintentional, "Stop being such a cry baby" devastate and cause gay kids to clam up. Thinking before we speak in the presence of gay kids, or kids you suspect might be gay, is a subtle nudge that shows you are a safe confidant.
3. Support without retort. As a parent, I often find myself, with my own non-gay kids, doling out support and advice in retort to some flippant remark they make. Slow down, and listen to the gay kids in your life without snapping back with advice responses to their words. Like other kids, gay kids are extremely sensitive, even if they seem tough and try to take care of themselves. It's wonderful to be at the ready with advice, just be sure that's truly what's needed at the time.
4. Go back to school. One of the toughest places for gay kids is school. Taunting, teasing, bullying make headline news daily with stories about gay bullying. Instead of reading the headlines, make the headlines. Reach out to organizations like the Gay Straight Alliance, PFLAG, Trevor Project, and get educated about gay kids and the dangers they face. The more you know, the more they know you care.
5. Make no assumptions. Not unlike the Bubba at school who assumes Joel is gay because he wears skinny jeans, a white t-shirt, and a chartreuse cardigan, you may have seen a feminine man or masculine woman and assumed you knew they were gay.
Instead of carrying a load of "are they, or aren't they" on your shoulder, instead create a safe space where your actions and words show gay kids that no assumptions are being made. Show them that one of the greatest gifts we can give each other is to not assume. When gay kids are ready to share, they will, especially if they feel safe speaking to you.
6. Empathize, validate, and reassure. We all love to feel understood. For gay kids, these desires are multiplied tenfold. Whether they come right out and tell you, "I'm gay", or they play denial dodgeball, your best approach is to empathize with them, validate their feelings and reassure them they're not the only gay kids in their school, social circles, church, city, state, etc.
To empathize with gay kids, don't say you understand because you don't. Instead, become their ally and let them know you've experienced similar feelings of confusion in different ways in your own life. Meeting them on the empathetic playing field makes it easier to validate their feelings. You don't have to be gay or lesbian yourself to share the moments when you finally understood that it was normal to feel what you were feeling. Finally, reassure them that you care, you love them, and you'll do everything in your power help them in their struggle.
7. Don't be someone you aren't. One of the quickest ways to be unsupportive is to pretend to be someone you're not. If you haven't come to terms with your own beliefs about homosexuality, then be honest with the gay kids in your life and let them know you're still trying to sort out how you feel about homosexuality — not how you feel about them. Gay kids can be defense driven. Even the slightest bit of patronizing will cause them to call "fake!" and not trust you. Honesty, when delivered from a place of compassion, signals to gay kids that you're an adult with integrity.
Gay kids may not yet be capable of explaining who they are and why they feel the way they do. As adults, we need to proudly own the responsibility for guiding kids, gay kids included, toward their authentic selves. In return, we become our authentic selves, making the world a better place for everyone.
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This article originally appeared on YourTango.com: "How To Support Gay Kids In A Homophobic World"