#MilitaryFamilyFriday: Coming Out in the Military

Not all that long ago, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” meant that gay and lesbian servicemembers couldn’t serve openly. But ever since it was repealed, that’s no longer an issue. It’s been a long time coming, and there’s still a way to go. Still, despite advancements and a more open-minded stance within the military, coming out can still be nerve wracking. Read the rest of this article on my about.com minisite.

I’m always looking for great organizations, programs, and other resources to help the men and women who serve our country. If you’ve got a suggestion or referral, please drop an email to armin [at] mrdad [dot] com.

Is He Gay? Boys Will Be Boys—or Will They?

Dear Mr. Dad: I’m worried about my eight-year-old son. He loves sports and does a lot of “boy” things, but sometimes I find him playing with dolls. Does this mean he’s gay? Is there a way to tell this early on? And if he is gay, what should we do?

A: Whew, that’s a lot of questions, so let’s dive right in. Boys play with dolls all the time—they’re just named Batman, the Hulk, and Captain America. But since you’re worried about it, I’m assuming you mean that your son is playing with Barbies. Does that mean he’s gay? Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer. Plenty of heterosexual men occasionally played with dolls (girly ones) when they were kids. At the same time, studies of women conducted by Kelley Drummond and of men conducted by J. Michael Bailey and Kenneth J. Zucker have found that those who engaged in “gender nonconforming” play as children were more likely as adults to identify as gay or lesbian.

There are two important things to keep in mind. First, we’re not talking about occasional cross-gender play, which is incredibly common—and perfectly normal. The gay and lesbian adults in these studies were almost always bucking the stereotypes as kids. Second, the operative phrase here is “more likely.” In other words, while cross-gender play may be an indicator of homosexuality, it is by no means 100% accurate. Plenty of boys who play with dolls and girls who play hockey are heterosexual—and plenty of boys who play with trucks and girls who wear frilly dresses and have tea parties grow up to be gay.

With Bruce Jenner publicly (and bravely) announcing that he’s really a woman, I’ve heard from a lot of parents who are worried about “gender dysphoria”—that their son might actually become their daughter or vice versa. Again, while play may be an indicator, what’s more predictive is a child who refuses to acknowledge his or her biological sex, refuses to wear clothes associated with their sex or to play with opposite-sex children, and wants to go to the bathroom the way opposite sex people do, according to Britain’s National Health Service. But it’s nowhere near 100% accurate. Bailey and Zucker found that the majority of children who seem to have gender dysphoria grow out of it by adulthood. As a preschooler, my oldest daughter (now 25 and heterosexual) spent 18 months wearing pants and a cute hat and insisting that she was Oliver Twist—and refusing to answer to any other name. (She also insisted on calling me Mr. Bumble.)

Bottom line, it’s pretty unlikely that your son is gay. But either way, does it really matter? There’s nothing you can do about it anyway—if he’s gay, you’ll find out about it sooner or later, if not, you’ll find out about that too. If he is, you have two options: You could give him your unconditional support, understanding, and love. Or you could make him feel rejected and unloved. Choose option A. Please.

In an article in the journal Pediatrics, Caitlin Ryan and her colleagues found that “lesbian, gay, and bisexual young adults who reported higher levels of family rejection during adolescence,” were more likely to be bullied in school. Worse yet, they were 8 times more likely to have attempted suicide, 6 times more likely to suffer from depression, 3 times more likely to use illegal drugs or have unprotected sex.

In the end, your child’s sexuality is his business. Watch and learn. In the meantime, love him. He’s your son and always will be.

Boys Will Be Boys, Even If They Dress Like Girls

Dear Mr. Dad: I came home a little earlier than usual, walked into my bedroom, and saw my 6-year-old son sitting in front of the mirror, wearing one of my short dresses, heels, and applying mascara. He didn’t notice me at first because he was so busy talking to himself in the mirror. But as soon as he did, he scooted past me as fast as he could and went straight to his room. I’m worried and would like to talk with him about this, but he’s been avoiding me for days. What should I do?

A: You say that you’re worried, but you don’t say what, exactly, you’re worried about. If it’s simply that he was wearing your clothes, that’s probably not a big deal. In fact, at your son’s age, it’s a healthy sign. Playing dress-up gives kids a chance to explore what it might feel like to be someone else—even someone of the opposite sex—and that’s a skill that’s important as he learns about empathy.

If you’re worried that he may be gay or have a gender identity disorder, the chances are pretty slim. Pretending to be of the opposite sex is by no means an accurate predictor of anything–especially at your son’s age. To put this in perspective, ask yourself whether you’d be as worried if your son were a girl and you caught her trying on her dad’s clothes. For some reason, we’re generally okay with girls who dress like boys, but boys who dress like girls set off all sorts of alarms. Interestingly, children are often even less tolerant than adults of their peers (especially boys) who don’t wear the clothes they’re “supposed to.”
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Guys and Dolls—Playmates or Enemies?

Dear Mr. Dad, I have an eight-year-old son who loves sports and video games and does lots of other “boy” things. But he also likes to play with dolls—really girly ones. Does that mean he’s gay? Is there a way to tell this early on? And if he is gay, what should we do?

A: Have you ever noticed that there’s something of a boy-girl double standard? When a girl climbs trees, refuses to wear dresses, plays with trucks, and tears the heads off her Barbies like my oldest daughter did, no one worries about whether she’s gay. In fact, being a Tom-boy is seen as kind of cool. But when boys buck traditional gender roles, people start to panic.

So let’s get this out of the way right up front: your son is too young to have discovered his sexual orientation. Could be that he just likes dolls and is giving his imagination a workout. The fact that he plays with dolls doesn’t mean that he’s gay (neither would singing show tunes or having tea parties) any more than wresting or showing an interest in hunting or monster trucks would mean that he’s straight. There are plenty of heterosexual men who played with dolls when they were kids, and plenty of guys with daughters (myself included) who’ve discovered that playing with dolls can be a lot of fun. It’s even more fun when the daughters join in.
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