Explaining my ex-husband is gay to adults is difficult. Telling my kids, “Dad is gay,” is almost easier. Explaining Dad is gay means Mom and Dad are getting divorced – well, it required a few creative comparisons.
Almost immediately after telling my kids about the divorce, my son wanted to know “Why is this happening to me?” At the time, I was not prepared to adequately answer his plea. Shoot, explaining the shift in sexual feelings to well-educated adults is tough.
I frequently have adults ask me, “How did Rainbow realize he was gay?” They want to know did he wake up one day and was spontaneously gay? Did he have a random physical encounter? Did he know he was gay our entire marriage and never said anything?
The answer to all these questions is no, no, and no.
Simple Explanations and Comparisons
I have repeatedly fumbled the explanation for adults. How exactly do you explain the year and a half process Rainbow went through? I can’t say I understand it myself – at least intellectually. My heart felt the impact of his changing sexuality long before my brain did.
The divorce itself is hard enough for my kids, I need to have my shit together and nail explaining why dad is gay means a divorce.
Additionally, I need a simple comparison they will comprehend. A comparison that gets the point across in a manner they will not just understand but can empathize with. A comparison with no judgments attached. A comparison that will not generate hate for their Dad who loves them unconditionally.
Based on information from a friend with a gay father, I already know odds are high someday both kids will likely be angry at their Dad.
When they reach a certain age they will understand (in a way they can’t fathom now) how their parents’ divorce was due to their Dad’s sexuality. This realization has significant potential to generate hate if we don’t handle how we explain Dad is gay (and how he realized he was gay after marrying Mom) well right now.
Also, to minimize the potential for anger later, Rainbow and I are very cognizant of keeping our kids’ lifestyles’ stable. However, a poorly given explanation for the divorce due to Dad being gay could blow all our efforts sky high.
However, before explaining why to my kids, I need to start with what gay means.
First, it’s important to know Rainbow and I have always been very open to and non-judgemental about homosexuality.
Before we go further, I feel it important to clarify how I define gay (homosexuality). For me, homosexuality is more than physical intimacy (sex acts) between individuals of the same gender.
Homosexuality is an inherent attraction and desire for a deep emotional bond with the same gender – including expression of that bond through physical intimacy (sex).
While I personally am not convinced people are “born gay”, I feel the innate desire for emotional and physical love from the same gender is formed in individuals based on their life experiences. This desire is not one they control or “choose”. As such, I believe everyone has the right to love and be loved regardless of their or their partners’ gender.
Having this perspective, Rainbow and I had unknowingly laid the groundwork for our kids to take the news of Rainbow’s homosexuality in-stride. Casual comments at dinner asking our son if he thought any of the girls – or boys – in his class were cute being an example of how we communicate our non-judgemental views.
Explaining Gay: 3 Types of Love
Being Christian also assisted in our kids’ understanding of gay. Through various sermons, Sunday school, Wednesday night activities, and vacation bible school, our children have been exposed to the idea of different types of love.
When explaining gay to kids, having an understanding of different types of love is critical.
Psychologists normally recognize seven types of love. However, there are thousands of nuances to love. For our purposes of explaining gay to our kids and saying, “Dad is gay”, we boiled love down to:
Romantic Love: An attraction and love between two individuals involving deep passion and emotional connection including a desire for physical intimacy (sex). Affection, loyalty, connection, respect, and trust beyond friendship love.
Friendship Love: A love shared with multiple people consisting of a combination of affection, loyalty, respect, and trust. Typically initiated by shared life experiences, interests, or goals. Hugs and sometimes kisses are desired between friends but not deeper physical intimacy (sex).
Agape Love: More clearly defined than the two previous, agape love is an unconditional love for another individual with or without reciprocation. This love is based on goodwill, benevolence, and willful delight in the object of love without any physical contact. It involves faithfulness, commitment, and an act of the will.
Again, there are many ways to view, segment, and describe love. However, these are the three broad love categories (and the general definitions) used as a basis for explaining gay to our kids.
When Rainbow came out to the kids after sharing news of the divorce, we did not explicitly state the love definitions above. Instead, inspired by my daughter’s regular, “Love you – in a friendship way!” statement to her friends, we said only that we loved each other in “a friendship way.” We told them Rainbow and I (Dad and Mom) shared friendship love, not romantic love.
Rainbow further explained to the kids (again without explicit reference to physical sex acts), that he desired romantic love with other men, not women.
Over the next few years, we know we will have to be more explicit with our kids about the physical side. (The birds and the bees discussion is just over the horizon!) However, our kids grasp the idea of romantic love involving more physical contact than friendship – and it’s enough for now.
We then clarified marriage is intended to have romantic love. Dad desires romantic love with other men, so Mom and Dad couldn’t stay married.
Dad is Gay, But How Did He Get That Way?
While this discussion explained Dad’s homosexuality, it didn’t clarify the “why me” type inquiry of our son’s bedtime question. A “why me” inquiry Rainbow could only empathize with but not really explain at the time.
Since I had not really questioned the “why” of the situation and instead jumped to the “what now”, I did not have a readily available comparison for my son. Basically, my son was asking, “Dad is gay, but how did he get that way?”
Over the next couple of days, I stumbled on a simple comparison I felt my kids would understand.
“Are you left-handed or right-handed?”
This was a question I posed to both kids separately over the next several days.
The opportunity to share the analogy cropped up with my daughter one evening at bedtime. The conversation went something like this:
“Are you left-handed or right-handed?”
“How do you know that?” I probed.
She hesitated a moment and then stated, “I just know.”
“Do you “just know” because someone else’s told you that you were right-handed? Or maybe using your right-hand is the only thing you remember doing?”
Almost seeing the little wheels in her head turning, I continued, “Have you ever tried to use your left-hand? What if someday someone accidentally put the pencil in your left-hand and it was easier to write and generally felt better?”
(Keep in mind that I am left-handed. My kids have always known being left-handed was an option. They have personal exposure to what left-handed life looks like. Also, they have no prejudices associated with predominately using one hand versus the other.)
She lay still. Gazing upwards at the top bunk, cuddling her stuffed animals and blanket close. I could tell I was stretching her mental world.
“Wouldn’t you want to be left-handed if it felt better?” I gently inquired.
She nodded. “Yes, I would want to use my left hand.”
“Now what if I came along as your mom and said I want you to use your right hand. You love me and want to make me happy – even though you just discovered you’re left-handed. What would you do?”
“I would try for you.”
“Yes, I know you would, sweetie. But how do you think you would feel after awhile using your right hand knowing it feels better and is easier to use your left? Do you think you might start to not like me so much because I’m preventing you from using your left hand when it feels better than your right?”
“That’s what happened with Daddy and his desire for romantic love with another man. He was told his whole life he romantically loved women. He just accepted that fact. Then one day someone showed him he could romantically love men and romantically loving men felt better than romantically loving women.”
“Now that Daddy knows he wants romantic love with men if we stayed married, eventually Daddy would not be very happy. Just like you wouldn’t be happy using your right hand when you prefer your left. His unhappiness would make me unhappy, because I love your Daddy, and you and your brother would feel that unhappiness. Daddy and I don’t want that for our family. We want our family to be happy.”
After our chat, my daughter prayed for the happiness of our family. (She has repeatedly expressed her love for her gay daddy.) The fact that she did tells me my simple comparison of left-handed versus right-handed made some sense to her.
While the comparison isn’t perfect, it demonstrates the “why” behind the shift in Rainbow’s sexuality in a way my kids could empathize with. Equally important, the comparison has minimal negative judgments. Dad is gay, but he is still Dad.
Further, understanding how an individual may become unhappy living in their current situation after learning a new, better feeling way of living was an option, explained the “why” for the divorce. A “why” my son clearly needed to understand.
Beyond the what and the why it is very important my kids understand one final thing:
Dad is gay – and that’s okay. We still love him and he still loves us.