My best friend recently related an amusing story to me. It seems his mom, when he was young, wouldn't let him play the violin. She thought it was "gay".
She advised that he learn how to tap dance instead.
The story was quite amusing amongst our fellow queers. Many are the gay men who did their time in "Homosexual Head Start" clubs such as drama, dance, or the Jazz Choir.
It got me thinking. This incident had quite an impact on my friend; it's one of his strongest memories. And while it's somewhat misinformed on today's notions of masculinity, it started me thinking about parental programming.
It is a parent's responsibility to their children to educate them in social customs long before the education system has a chance to work its charms. Toilet training is probably the earliest example of this parental duty.
Most of these parental duties are carried out well, and most kids turn out to be heterosexual. In these instances, there's nothing to discuss. So I won't.
But what if the child grows up to be gay? Most literature extant tells a parent NOT to take responsibility for their child's sexual identity. I'm not convinced this is entirely right. When looking at my own life, and the experiences related to me by my gay peers, I can almost always find an incident in which when discovered in a situation that had sexual or gender identity connotations, the same gender was positively reinforced at the expense of a negative reinforcement of the opposite gender.
For example, when I was in third grade, our PE teacher offered different activities from time to time, and let the child choose in which one he or she wished to participate. I was once given the choice between square dancing and kickball. I was the only boy to choose square dancing, and I remember feeling superior at the time because I would be the only boy for the girls to give their attentions to. They'd all want to dance with me! This feeling allowed me to endure the taunts and sneers of my fellows.
Until my parents found out, when I mentioned in passing what was going on at school. I was told in no uncertain terms that I was to play kickball, as that was "athletic" whereas dancing was for "sissies". I was given a note to take to the PE teacher instructing her of my parents feelings, and their instructions that I was to play kickball or else. I remember my PE teacher being as embarrassed and mad about the situation as I was.
What really happened here? Looking back, it seems that I was being punished for wanting to spend time with girls rather than boys. It's entirely possible to view this incident as a positive reinforcement for homosexuality and a negative reinforcement for heterosexuality. Girls were removed, and replaced with boys. Hmmm.
Let's move a little ahead in development to high school. I have a friend who, in high school, chose to take a Home Economics course. He reasoned that learning to cook and sew would help him better support himself for the lean college years. He also happened to be the only boy who made this decision, but this fact bothered him not at all.
It sure bothered his parents, though. So much so that they forced him to drop Home Ec, and to really drive the point home, forced him to join the football team. They told him that Home Ec would make him "shy", whereas football would make him "assertive".
What happened here? A teenager was removed from an environment of (fully clothed) women and placed into an environment of (often naked) men. Could this also not be seen as a point for the queers?
I have a lesbian friend who was forced to take an "Office Automation" (ie, typing) course instead of drafting.
I have a gay friend who happened across a stash of his father's Playboy magazines which were replaced with Sports Illustrated when he was discovered. I don't think the swimsuit edition could compensate for the confusion caused here.
In none of the cases did a discussion about sex, gender, or practicality take place between the parent and the child.
So what happens when the child comes out to the parents (if they do ... many don't)? Usually, the parents feel some measure of responsibility (perhaps remembering the incidents related above) but are soothed by both the child (in my case, it was in the hopes of winning acceptance) and popular thought that they had nothing to do with their child being gay.
Causing parents to think that they had nothing to do with their child's homosexuality often causes alienation, in my experience. Most of the people who've had something like this happen to them usually also have been (or are) estranged from their families. In my case, I was told, "If that's the way you're going to be, you can be that way alone. We've got nothing to do with you." Oh, really?
Fortunately, both I and my parents changed over time, and the pain of family estrangement is in the past for me. I also don't really feel that my parents were solely responsible for my homosexuality. There's too many other things that have happened to me to think that way. But I can't, in all honesty, say they didn't contribute to it at all, either.
When a parent states they didn't do anything to "make" their child gay, or to the gay person who thinks that it's "not their fault", I say think again. If you don't you simply cannot enjoy the tapestry that is your life ... nor the many ways your parents contributed to it.