30 April 2013

Parental Prejudice

What happens when Parents hate Gays?

            Parental prejudice is a powerful force upon the minds and lives of their offspring.  Who we are as individual people is not only biologically given to us by our parents, but the very way we think about things is strongly influenced by the opinions our parents express and the teachings they employ in our upbringing.  Results of this prejudice may be manifest in many different ways, but just how deeply these opinions and teachings have molded and affected our attitudes and actions is often not clearly seen until many years later.  The presence of anti-gay sentiment and homophobic attitudes or actions in the home, can strongly influence a child in a variety of ways.  Those influences tend to have lasting effect and contribute to the manner in which a child develops into his adult lifestyle.

            In a personal survey of ten Facebook friends who identified themselves as adult gay men, I found some interesting results from six basic questions posed to them (see attached).  When asked about the comfortableness they had to discuss sexuality with their parents, all of those questioned unanimously responded that their being gay was an uncomfortable thing to discuss. The majority of those questioned knew how their parents felt about gays before they were ten years of age, showing how early this uncomfortable feeling about being gay was present in their home life.  Repressing sexual expression was one of the first influences parents had on these children.

            Prejudice is not an instinctive characteristic of humans, but rather is a learned practice. By the age of two, most children are able to distinguish and interpret an ‘us vs. them’ group mentality, knowing differences of gender, race, and which of these characteristics they personally identify with (Fowler, 2013).  When parents verbally express dislike, or hate towards another group of people they do not consider themselves a part of, this directly influences the listening and attentive children under their care.  Responding to this concept, children who identify with the group their parents dislike, often employ intricately detailed mechanisms to avoid confrontation and keep some semblance of conformity to their parent’s ideals in their own lives. Outwardly, these children may appear the perfect example of what their parents would desire, but inwardly, the child may be repressing and struggling with personal identity issues (Lee, 2012).

            According to the results from the survey I conducted, verbal expression of prejudice against gay people was most often done by belittling and mocking statements and religious denouncements.  Personally, I can remember very well many times in my own growing up experience, where I heard and saw both my father and other men charade and disparage gay men using popular stereotypes and perceived generalizations about their femininity.   Seeing or feeling myself to have some of those characteristics, only further emphasized my own connection with such a hated, maligned and otherwise reprehensibly perceived group. 

            This family prejudice is further supported and encouraged through social connections with church and the media.  As parents express their ideas about the issues of life in the privacy of their own homes, but in full audience of their children, many will back-up their arguments with something a respected church leader or famous media person has stated in support of their position. A religious parents personal interpretation of certain religious texts and their meaning, are often used to support anti-gay rhetoric and indoctrination of children. Televangelist Pat Robertson, famous for his Christian evangelicalism and his presidential aspirations, publicly compared being gay with having a morbid, suicidal and venereal disease-ridden existence. Jerry Falwell, of similar religious and political credentials, openly declared homosexuals as a danger to the family and children (White, 2006).
            Avoidance, has been one of the strongest responses parents have employed to deal with this controversial subject.  Many parents have avoided to ever discuss sexuality and certainly even the more defined areas of what being gay really means (Lee, 2012).  Children experience their parent’s prejudicial attitude not only through the outright expression of opinions, but also through their parent’s lack of expression concerning the issue. Silence can often be just as damaging as vociferous expostulating.

 Some parents strictly prohibit their children from participating in anything that is perceived in connection with gay identity.  Gender roles and expectations become the avoidance techniques used to promote parental prejudice against gays.  Boys need to be boys, and girls need to be girls.  Such statements and influences from infants to teens regarding clothing, toys, and activities, all work to influence children according to specific ideals and patterns of living which are deemed socially acceptable. Racial groups and religious affiliation play a big role in defining the influences parents are socially supported to use in expressing their prejudices to children Fowler, 2013).

            Fear in a gay child’s life, is the natural result of this overt effort on the part of parents. What will Dad say if he finds out I am gay?  What will my Mom do to me if she knows?  Being afraid on one’s own parents is a psychological tragedy and influences the decisions a child makes for their own life.  A son or daughter may resort to desperate actions and take serious actions to build a fa├žade of acceptable normality around their life in order to hide their own perceived inadequacy as a gay child (Lee, 2012).

            Talking to one’s parents about sexuality is difficult whenever the parents have been socially indoctrinated to express the concept that sex is a forbidden topic to discuss with young people.  To discuss gay sexuality is even more difficult in these homes.  Most of those who answered my survey, admitted they were petrified of ever talking to their parents about being gay, and many of them who are now grown, have still never talked to their parents about it.
            To what end then, does a parent’s prejudicial reaction against gays actually benefit their family or the outcome of their child’s life?  Perhaps a parent naively thinks that if they express their verbal displeasure against gays, and use avoidance of ‘gay’ activities, clothing, or social stereotypes, that somehow, their own children will not be influenced by the gay community? Of all those who answered my survey questions, the clear majority are now living grown-up lives as openly gay men.  These all admitted that their parent’s opinions strongly encouraged them to either be stronger or more committed to try to please them, but couldn’t erase their personal gay identity.

            Parental prejudice certainly affects children and molds them to respond and think in certain ways.  It seems obvious that though some children who are not gay, can grow up conforming to the stereotypes their parents have instilled in their minds, many who are gay, do not.  Though there are many instances where gay children have grown up with their parents prejudices embedded so deep in their psyche that they have tried to live ‘closeted’ lives, marrying heterosexually and even having children, none of these efforts have made those children ‘not-gay’.  Many have simply subjected themselves to hardship and heartache in order to appease their parent’s wishes.

            Whether a gay child, growing up in a homophobic environment, subject to his parent’s prejudice, actually turns out healthy and happy as an adult, seems like something of a miracle. Until parents can come to grips with their own understanding and comfort level with human sexuality, not as Medieval priest’s maligned it, but as modern doctors and scientists have discovered it biologically proven to be, anti-gay parental prejudices against gays will continue to have a damaging effect on the lives of children of families all over the world.

 Parental Prejudice Survey
1)         Did you grow up in a home which was:
a. Free to discuss sexuality?
b. Uncomfortable discussing sexuality?
2) At what age were you aware of your parent’s feelings for/against people being Gay?
            a. Before age 10
            b. After age 10
3) In what way did your parents convey their feelings about Gays to you?
            a. Ignoring the issue in the news or conversations
            b. Belittling, mocking, and ridiculing Gay people in your presence
            c. Vehemently deriding and religiously denouncing Gay people as sinful
            d. Avoiding certain activities, literature, music, or people perceived as Gay
            e. Answers b, c, and d
            f. none of the above
4) As a child, how did you feel about talking to your parents about being Gay yourself?
            a. Petrified from ever doing so
            b. Uncomfortable talking to one parent, but open to talk to the other
            c. Totally comfortable talking to both or one
            d. Still have never talked with them about it
5) Are you openly Gay to everyone in your life now?
            a. Yes, OUT to everyone
            b. No, not OUT to everyone
6) In what way do you feel that your parent’s opinions of Gays affected your personal development?
            a. Instilled feelings of fear and self-worthlessness
            b. Made me strive to be more acceptable to them by denying myself
            c. Made me proud to be myself and prove them wrong
            d. None of the above
            e. All of the above

Here are the resulting responses from the ten men I surveyed:
Question 1= 10 b’s    Uncomfortable discussing sexuality                                         
Question 2=  6 b’s,    After age 10
                     4 a’s      Before age 10                                
Question 3=  3 e’s,    Belittling, mocking, and ridiculing Gay people in your presence,
                                  Vehemently deriding and religiously denouncing Gay people as sinful,
                                  Avoiding certain activities, literature, music, or people perceived as Gay
         2 c’s,   Vehemently deriding and religiously denouncing Gay people as sinful
         1 b       Belittling, mocking, and ridiculing Gay people in your presence 
         2 a’s,    Ignoring the issue in the news or conversations
         2 f’s,    none of the above
Question 4=  4 a’s,    Petrified from ever doing so
                     3 b’s,    Uncomfortable talking to one parent, but open to talk to the other
                     3 d’s,    Still have never talked with them about it                         
Question 5 = 8 a’s,   Yes, OUT to everyone
         2 b’s   No, not OUT to everyone
Question 6=  3 c’s,   Made me proud to be myself and prove them wrong
                     2 b’s,    Made me strive to be more acceptable to them by denying myself
                     1 a        Instilled feelings of fear and self-worthlessness   
                     1 e       All of the above   
                     3 d’s ,  None of the above

Works Cited

Fowler, Bridget. “Stereotyping and Prejudice among Children” University of Iowa, n.d. Web. 21 Apr. 2013

Lee, Justin. Torn. New York: Jericho Books, 2012. Print.

White, Mel. Religion Gone Bad. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2006. Print.

Personal survey. 21 Apr. 2013.

The content of this post is written by the author of this blog for the purpose of encouragement and enlightenment on issues facing GLBT person's in or from Old Order and Conservative Christian church affiliation. Comments and observations are always welcomed by follower's of this blog towards fostering helpful dialogue and enrichment of spirit.

No comments: