Social stories are a way to teach people on the autism spectrum to communicate more effectively and appropriately. One way to use social stories is to give people on the autistic spectrum a communication scenario and have them map it out prior to that situation actually happening.
I’m finding myself making up social stories as a guide for telling people that my teenage son is gay. I anticipate some reactions and I have responses planned for the inevitability of these reactions. Here is my comprehensive list of social stories for the parent of an LGBT child (eventually that will have a little TM next to it):
- Reaction: How does he know?
Response: How did you know you were straight? Another variation: When did you choose to be straight?
- Reaction: It’s because you and your husband are so liberal.
Response: You’re right. Because we are liberal and accepting, our son felt safe sharing with us that he is gay. Sadly, there are many people who never tell their families that they are gay and often lose real contact with family members. Even worse, there are many people who , don’t admit to even themselves that they are gay and either lead very discontent lives or make the decision at a much older age to come out and in the process marry women, and then have to deal with the collateral damage that coming out later in life may cause.
- Reaction: How can you embrace it if he is so young?
Response: Would it be better to tell him to come back to us in a couple of years either with different news or once he decided he’s really gay? Either one of these would cause a teenager so much inner turmoil, I would never wish that on my child.
- Reaction: Maybe he’s just looking for attention.
Response: Maybe. But I doubt it because since he came out to us he’s wanted nothing more than to fade into the background. When he first told us he was gay, he told us and then followed up with “and I don’t want to talk about it right now.” It took us a good few weeks to have a follow up conversation. Half the time I try to talk to him about issues regarding him being gay, he doesn’t want to talk about it.
- Reaction: Have you gotten him help?
Response: Most definitely yes. Not to “cure” him though. To help with anxiety and a little bit of depression. This is a hard process for anyone and we want him to be supported in any and every way possible.
- Reaction: How can he be gay if he’s orthodox? How does that even work?
Response: Well, we raised him Orthodox and he is gay. As he gets older, it will be up to him to decide whether he feels like he can synthesize the two. He’s not blind to what the torah says about homosexual relations, nor is he naive enough to think that the Orthodox world will ever fully accept him. In some ways I’m sad that he’s already world weary when it comes to this. He has heard first hand views of what some people who represent some sort of torah authority have said. Views that if I had to hear them first hand, I don’t think I would be able to handle. I hope that he can live a Jewish life to the fullest extent possible. I hope that he can take the good that our tradition has to offer and figure out a way to make it work for him. I don’t think this is a unique attitude to having gay children.This should be our attitude towards all of our children. We have raised our children with Orthodox traditions. There is no guarantee that any of them will continue exactly on the path we’ve chosen. But at the end of the day, my son and all of our children (our collective children: mine, yours, his, hers) are our children. I have to choose whether my love for them is dependent on them being exactly like I am. I make the choice that it is not. You may choose differently.
- Reaction: What about what the torah says? I can’t abide by what your son is doing in the bedroom.
Response: Well, first of all my son is 15 years old. He isn’t doing anything in the bedroom at the current time. I happen to know that because he and my husband and I have a very close and open relationship. We have told him that straight or gay, 15 would be too young to engage in sexual behavior. You might think because we are Orthodox that it makes better sense to ignore it since it wouldn’t be right for any frum kid to be engaged in sex, that discussing it legitimizes it. We disagree. We are realistic. We certainly hear what you are saying but no matter what, kids need to know about safe sexual practices. Getting back to what the torah says. You (person giving me reaction) don’t have a gay son. But you have a daughter. She’s a teenager too. How will I abide if she doesn’t follow ritual family purity laws? When she has her period once she is married, can I be assured that she goes to the mikvah before engaging in intercourse with her husband? What? None of my business? Neither is what my son chooses to do when he is older your business (or mine either).
- Reaction: OK. He’s 15. He says he’s gay. What does it mean? Why does he need to make this announcement to the world? Why is it so important that he “come out” or have gay “pride”?
Response: You and I have never done something that wasn’t the “norm”. We were attracted to the right people at the right time. We can’t understand everything involved with being a gay teen. I’m going to let Mordechai Levovitz respond to this one. He put it very well in his recent article in the Times of Israel:
“At JQY we believe that creating hope for LGBT youth in the Orthodox world does not start with changing halacha, reinterpreting the Torah, or permitting sexual behavior. It begins with combating institutionalized shame and re-building a strong sense of self esteem. This is the true meaning of pride. It is not about celebrating one’s sexual behavior or even their particular sexual desires. We are not a gay community because we desire the same sexual things, but because we connect in similar formative experiences like feeling different, coming out to parents, being bullied in school, dealing with homophobia and zealotry, reconciling our identities with our faith, and fighting for our rights to equality and dignity. LGBT people share an experiential narrative and destiny. Pride is about affirming our self worth despite the challenges we face. So if “gay pride” confuses you, substitute the words “gay self-esteem”. Certainly, there is nothing un-tzniut about self-esteem.”
- Reaction: Why are you telling me about your son?
Response: Because I consider you a friend and I want to share this with you. You may be someone who has known my son since he was a baby or you may have only recently met him. But I’m choosing to share this with you because I believe that you are someone who can support him and us and we want you to be part of our lives. Being part of our lives means knowing what is happening with one of us.
- Unspoken Reaction: I sure am happy it’s your kid and not mine.
Spoken Response: Don’t assume it isn’t your kid. Not every single family has a gay kid. But more likely than not every extended family does. So maybe it isn’t your kid, but it could be your niece, your nephew, your grandkid, your cousin or your kid’s best friend. Think about what it would mean for one of these kids to be LGBT and the kind of support they might need. You might not be as “liberal” as I am but that doesn’t mean that someone who legitimately needs your support shouldn’t know that you have some to offer. You might have to do some soul searching, I’m not saying this is easy for everyone who has deep seated preconceptions about this issue, especially as it relates to Judaism. But realize that there is someone out there who needs support. Who is in pain because he or she thinks that his/her loved ones will reject him the minute (s)he comes out. You can be the person who makes them realize that no matter what, they are loved. And it can make all the difference in the world.
My underlying message here is that we do not believe that our son “chose” to be gay and we love and support him now and always.