Too early to worry about son's sexuality at age 12

My husband recently ran across some Web sites our 12-year-old son had been viewing. There were YouTube videos of Zac Efron in (the) shower, boys romping on (the) bed in underwear, cartoon characters with big pecs. While he wasn't actually viewing nudity, he was looking up all these male sites.

My question is, does this mean our son is gay? He does not have characteristics of being gay. I've always been worried since both our boys were little because their father's brother is gay. My husband (the boy's father) is the complete opposite of his gay brother. He has manly traits, but his brother is very feminine. I don't see the gay brother's traits in my 12-year-old. But after seeing that he's been viewing these sites, I'm very concerned.

Do you feel like it would do damage to our son if my husband spoke to him about if he was gay or not? My husband said he doesn't want him to feel like his brother did (where he didn't feel accepted) and wanted to let our son know that we accepted him. I feel like this could really hurt my son's feelings if it's just maybe a case of curiosity. -- C.M., Austin, Texas

I don't necessarily think it would do damage, per se, to ask a 12-year-old boy if he is gay. But I don't think it would be very useful, either. And it might add an unnecessary and confusing layer of anxiety and self-consciousness to the mix.

Don't ask.

Don't ask for the same reason you don't ask a 12-year-old boy if he's straight. He's 12! Barely pubescent, if that. What could he possibly know, definitively, about the kind of man he will one day be? In terms of pyschosexual development, your boy still has a long road ahead of him.

I'm saying that any answer he could give you would have the very limited perspective of a 12-year-old. I mean, I asked Colleen to marry me when I was 12. Today I don't even know where she lives. The last I knew she was alive at my 30th high school reunion, which was five years ago.

I'm saying your question about your son's emerging sexuality is both premature and not very useful. I'm encouraging you to take a deep breath, relax ... and examine your own anxiety.

You say you've "always been worried" because your sons' father has a gay, effeminate brother.

This tells me three things: 1) that you think or suspect that homosexuality is passed along genetically, and 2) you think homosexual men can be identified by effeminate characteristics, and 3) you'd really, really rather your sons not be gay.

The debate about The Gay Gene -- or The Straight Gene, for that matter -- rages on. I'm here to tell you: nobody knows. I, for one, am deeply skeptical scientists will ever isolate a gay or straight gene. But, where you're concerned, it doesn't matter. If homosexuality is a genetic "given" (like two blue-eyed parents having a blue-eyed baby), then policing Web sites isn't going to change the outcome of your boy's sexual identity.

Which isn't to say parents shouldn't police Web sites. Gay or straight, there are things in the world a 12-year-old has no business seeing.

Effeminate characteristics? While I would say that homosexual men preponderantly do not embody "the masculine" as do their heterosexual brothers, this does not mean that all gay men are effeminate nor that all effeminate men are gay. I'm saying your observation of your son's characteristics doesn't tell us much of anything right now.

Hope your boy isn't gay? There's more than one reason some -- most? -- parents harbor that hope.

Perhaps you think that being gay is, on its face, an inherent wickedness.

Perhaps you think it is a kind of sickness or mental health pathology.

Maybe it's as simple as worrying that living as a homosexual is a difficult journey, socially and culturally speaking.

Me? I'd have to be pouty for a while about not getting grandbabies. (I'm not joking.)

What matters is that your boy is learning that respect is the most important rule. Respect for others and respect for self. Respect for his body and the power of sexuality. That there is no such thing as "just sex." That someone teaches him, gay or straight, that healthy living is more than cruising for the next casual "get-my-jollies."

The last thing developing children need is to have to carry the burden of their parents' sexual anxieties along with the burden of their own.

Originally published in View News, March 23, 2010.