How to handle denial of a sensitive subject in a support group

karen_mi_64February 28, 2007

Please dont answer if all you have is condemnationÂI deal with enough hatefulness living in a small town in the Midwest, IÂm not here shopping for more.

I got involved in our areaÂs fledgeling PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) group a year ago, after my son told me he was gay. This actually has nothing to do with him. It has, in a round about way, a bit to do with his ex-boyfriend.

IÂve seen all kinds of stunned, scared parents show up at our meetings. Considering this area is extremely religiousÂfundementalist Baptist, some of whom sound like Landover Baptist but for realÂwe have several who really want to change their kids and one in particular who is also a part of her churchÂs anti-gay prayer group. By the way, IÂm not looking to slam religious people eitherÂitÂs just that IÂve had a year of dealing with one specific church who protest us, and the kidÂs GSA meetings regularly.

Anyway, IÂve been working on getting this one set of parents to come to the meetings almost since the day I joined. Their son, IÂll call him Brad, has been out longer than mineÂin fact, was one for the first kids who formed the GSA group at their high school. ItÂs not that we went them to acceptÂitÂs that you can see the stress itÂs putting on them and their marriage and we want to help! Theoretically, they accept that their sonÂs gay, at least thatÂs what they say. I think a large part of it is that BradÂs quite militiant and doesnÂt give them the chance to go into denial, which is the river they really want to go swimming in!

Anyway, my sonÂs ex-boyfriend, IÂll call him Scott, is/was dating their son, "Brad". I donÂt know Brad that well, but ScottÂat one point his parentÂs threw him out and he was living with us for almost a month. It actually helped me deal with the fact that my son is gay, Âcause this was a really nice kid! They broke up, but remained friendsÂit was never all that serious between them in the first place and now ScottÂs dating this other kid. BTW, although Brad may have been out longer, be older and be more vocal about it, this is the first time heÂs dated.

At the meeting last Saturday, this BradÂs mother, IÂll call her Cleo, told us that sheÂs forbidden Scott and Brad from seeing each other because ScottÂs "sexually aggressive." She really, really hates him, that much is clear. Brad, BTW, is two years older than my son and Scott, is a football player and weightlifter with a reputation for getting in fights (mostly having to do with not taking it when harrassed). While ScottÂs hardly a saint, it really bothered me because it didnÂt sound like the kid IÂve known for the last couple years. He might be obnoxious at times, but she painted it to the group like Scott was basically forcing himself on her son.

So, I asked him. Apparently, after a night spent watching movies at his house, she caught them kissing goodbye before Scott left. According to Scott, "she made a really weird noise" and ran back inside. Anyway, like I said, I know this kid. I let him live in our house because he said he doesnÂt want to have sex until heÂs in a serious relationship. Given what I know about the various people involved, I believe the boys.

HereÂs my problem: she elicited a good bit of sympathy last Saturday, and I donÂt think she deserves or needs it. WeÂre talking about a 16 and 18 kissing goodnight, not an

attempted rape or an orgy. What do you do when youÂre in a support group and you want to tell one of the people youÂre suppose to be supportive of that theyÂre acting like an idiot? I think CleoÂs basically bad-mouthing one kid because she got slapped in the face with the fact that her son is, in fact, gay. I know IÂm having a maternally reaction, but I still think of Scott as kind one of mine, and this is an adult bad-mouthing a 16 year old, whoÂs already had a lot stacked against him. How do I go about proventing slander and pointing out that sheÂs over-reacting? Is she over-reactingÂor am I just expecting too much of her? Who should I be supportive OF? My gut says not Cleo. But IÂm the main one dragging her to these meetings. Can I have non-involved other oppinions?

Thank you.

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Hmmmmm....I guess there are many different ways to look at what is going on. Bottom line, right or wrong, I think she probably does "need the sympathy" or at least some support.

I think you may be being a little tough on her. Many parents of teenagers have problems with their kid's boyfriends or girlfriends...straight or gay. I'm just wondering if maybe she wouldn't have acted the same way if it was a daughter, and I think maybe she would have. Very conservative people, are very conservative.

Now, it is a shame if she is truly slandering this poor boy..using his name and other people actually know him. How bad are the things she is saying about him? I think most may be able to read through the "sexual agressive" label as her just being overprotective of her own child.

And, another thing to consider. I've been to support groups before and some people will have real major problems--- illnesses close to death, or major hospitalizations, while someone else may seem to think that a hang nail is a major drama. Every comes for their own reasons and thinks their own problems are major. Don't write off your friend's feelings; I'm sure they are dealing with a lot at one time and may just need some support to come to terms with everything. Plus, just because you like Scott doesn't necessarily mean he is right/good for their son...maybe there are things about him or the way he treats Brad that you are not aware of. No one really knows for sure if what anyone says at any support group is the whole truth or not, but support groups aren't formed to verify facts, they're formed to lend support and help let people talk and get feelings off their chest.

You could talk to her personally and say..hey, I really like Scott, I'm surprised you don't...and see how the conversation goes. Other than that, if she's not totally falsely bashing him, I'd just let it go.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2007 at 12:32AM
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How bad: (I don't know how to use the quote functions, so...) She essetially made it sound like she'd walked in on them having sex. I was the one who gave Scott the safe-sex talk--ended up giving him the sex talk in general, because at 15, his own had basically left that up to him to figure out. (He mostly had, but still...) Anyway, I sat him down and was all "I hope you were using a condom" only to get laughed at! Yes, appearently both boys thought her reaction was quite funny and are still seeing each other. However. It really irks me because this is a kid who's own parents are not likely to ever show up at the meetings, and who honestly, has had some (quite justified, I think) anger issues. They're getting court-ordered family therapy, but from what I hear from him, his step-father just pretty much blows it off. She also called him promiscuous, which I think is just her trotting out a bisexual stereotype, but she got away with it because she was already worked up. Then tehre was general bad mouthing: he's irresponsible (he's 16), smarter than everyone (16), thinks he can do anything (16)...

Actually, I'm less than thrilled about Brad and Sean dating, too, but that's got more to do with their both being angry kids, who sometimes do things just to get a raise out of others--which escalates because they play off each other... Not to mention Brad drinks and has been pulled over DUI.

I know I'm just pissed, but damn it--I'm pissed! (hehe)

    Bookmark   March 1, 2007 at 1:48AM
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So, they were making out, the mom walked in thought they were having sex (although they weren't) and made a big deal about it. Again, I think if they were a straight couple the mom may have had the same reaction and may be saying the exact same thing about Scott (aka Sean?). I don't think anything she said is all that out of bounds...and I think those type of comments can proabbly apply to many teenagers at some point.

Plus, and I know you may not want to hear it...but I'm not so sure the boys weren't going to have sex. Of course they may appear to you one way, but kids will be kids, I wouldn't write it off. It seems like you may have "the parent syndrome" going on with Scott...that he is "perfect and can do no wrong"...maybe, just, maybe he is a little promiscuous, irresponsible and thinks he's smarter than others but you don't see even admit he's an "angry kid" and they don't make a good couple.

I'd let the issue be. She doesn't sound like she's doing or saying anything all that bad for a support group. Parents often think the people their kids aren't dating aren't good enough for their child. Her "feelings" about him don't really seem like slander to me.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2007 at 10:07AM
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So much for using a different name--it was late and I didn't even notice. At least he's got a common name.

You don't think forbidding two kids from seeing each other is an over-reaction to catching them kissing?

This support group isn't just for the parents, we're suppose to be supportive of the kids, as well. For the most part, the kids don't get bad-mouthed because their parents are right there, and some of our meetings the kids attend. I don't know, it just strikes me as more BS from her.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2007 at 5:53PM
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Taking the equation of sexual orientation out of the whole issue there will always be parents who cannot accept their children being sexually active.

I had neighbors like that once. They once blamed a 14 year girl for leading their 16 year old son down a sexual path. You would think she raped him. Of course their little angel of a daughter became the neighborhood tramp. Total denial until she presented them with a GK at 15.

You can't support someone who doesn't want to see reality.
Just as anyone who seeks support needs to take the first step in getting there, this mother is not really ready to take that step. She's still playing the blame game.

I would continue to support your young friend and pretty much ignore her rantings.Eventually the others will tire of it. Don't argue the point, just continue to state that you find him a nice young man and find it hard to believe he would behave aggressively from what you've seen. The others will believe what they want to believe. Don't let it drag you down.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2007 at 7:06PM
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My heart goes out to you. This is a really difficult situation.

My first reaction was that PFLAG is a support group to help people undestand more about what it is to be gay and how to love and support those loved ones. It is not a place to support bigtry and homophobia. From that perspective, I think it would be appropriate to say something along the lines that you feel these people are reacting based on stereotypes and not looking at the real human beings involved, and that their reaction to this boy is overly harsh.

Then again, I have lived most of my life in a fairly liberal bubble, very different from the environment you describe, so it is easy for me to say, but probably very tricky for you to do.

Perhaps you could bring it up in the context of how it makes you feel. Talk generally (rather than blaming this mother) about how it makes you feel when people make homophobic assumptions about gay men/boys being sexually agressive/predators/promiscuous--that it makes you feel like it is an attack on your own son. Maybe if you put ir in more general terms, she will realize that she is doing the same thing and stop and think about it.

Then again, maybe she is unable to take that step. It is sad, and I feel very sorry for her child. She should be happy that he is so sure of himself and has found someone to explore his feelings with. Sadly, it sounds like she is very far from seeing it this way or accepting her son for who he is.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2007 at 11:06PM
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It sounds like this other mom is still having a lot of trouble dealing with the fact that her son is gay. She's hurt, angry, defensive, blaming others, blaming herself?

But surely, you're not the only one who's noticed this.

And that's the whole point. Everyone else at that meeting knows it too, and that's why her rants, while offensive to you, probably don't carry much influence with the group. All the other parents hearing her rants, while clucking sympathetically, are probably heavily-discounting everything she says and just trying to give her the space the needs to grieve and process her negative feelings.

You can point out kindly and in general terms the harm such stereotypes and assumptions can do -- Maybe even acknowledge that, yes, it CAN be shocking and painful to actually witness your child engaging in sexual behavior with a member of his own sex (even kissing - I'm assuming it wasn't 'brotherly') -- But this woman needs help, and that's why she needs this support group.

Let's hope she moves forward in her acceptance before she does more damage to her relationship with her son.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2007 at 9:58AM
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You say you are "dragging" her to these meetings? Why? If she doesn't want to go, then leave her alone until she wants to deal with it. Its really none of your business. If her son is the 18 year old, then legally he is an adult and she can't forbid him from seeing anyone. If her son is the 16 year old then she does have the right to control who he sees as much as possible. She certainly has the right to control who comes to her home and what goes on under her roof. So if she doesn't want Scott at her home then that's her choice. As long as she's not legally slandering Scott, then she can say what she wants about him. You are free to disagree. I say MYOB.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2007 at 12:47PM
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