Books That Can Help Parents Understand Their Gay Children

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Mary Yarber teaches English and journalism at Santa Monica High School. Her education column appears weekly in The Times

One of the biggest shocks a parent can receive from a child is the child's revelation that he or she is gay. If you are struggling with this news, your feelings may include anger, guilt, disappointment or complete denial.

Mental-health professionals say that gay teen-agers tend to drop out of school, use drugs and alcohol, and commit suicide at rates far higher than among their heterosexual counterparts. But a parent's reaction to a child's big news can, to a significant degree, help him or her to maintain academic and emotional stability.

While coping successfully takes time and careful thought, you may also benefit from reading about the kinds of feelings your child is experiencing and the ways that other parents have dealt with their gay children.

The following titles are some of the most popular among parents and friends of gays:

"Now That You Know: What Every Parent Should Know About Homosexuality" is one of the best all-around guides to homosexuality and related topics. Written by Betty Fairchild and Nancy Hayward, the book includes chapters such as "What Is Gay?" "Gay Couples" and "AIDS and the Family."

Also, gay sons and daughters tell their own stories of what it's like to grow up secretly gay, to fake straight relationships and to worry about how parents will react to the truth.

Then the parents describe how they reacted to their children's "coming out" and how they finally reconciled with them. In paperback, "Now That You Know" costs $8.95.

"Loving Someone Gay," by therapist Don Clark, gives a good overview of what it means to be gay. But the best part of this book is its advice on how to express your feelings, ask questions and strengthen your relationship with a gay child, relative or friend.

"Loving Someone Gay" has just been updated to include a section on the AIDS epidemic and how family members and friends can help the gay person avoid it or, at worst, to endure it bravely. It costs $7.95 in paperback.

"Parents of the Homosexual," by David K. Switzer and Shirley Switzer, explores the guilt and anger that parents often feel toward their gay children, themselves and God in the context of Christian scholarship. Chapter titles include "Where Does the Fault Belong?" "Where Did We Go Wrong?" and "But Doesn't the Bible Condemn Homosexuality?"

The best feature of "Parents of the Homosexual" is that it discusses in detail every biblical reference to homosexuality. It costs $7.95 in paperback.

For a Jewish perspective on reconciling with a gay child, try "Twice Blessed," by Andy Rose and Christie Balka. This anthology offers stories of 17 women who say they consider themselves doubly blessed--first by being Jewish and second by being gay.

There is extensive probing of the Old Testament's references to homosexuality, a chapter for Jewish educators who teach about homosexuality, and a discussion of the AIDS epidemic from a Jewish point of view. "Twice Blessed" costs $14.95 in paperback.

"Beyond Acceptance: Parents of Lesbians and Gays Talk About Their Experiences" presents firsthand accounts of 23 parents who worked together in Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, a national support group.

This book covers a range of topics, all from the parental viewpoint, such as "Finding Out" and "Taking a Stand and Telling Others."

It is especially interesting--and sometimes gently amusing--to read the parents' first reactions to their children's coming out, including "What will the neighbors say?" and "I thought, 'Oh my God, my daughter is a pervert!' "

Particularly helpful is the chapter that lists and corrects 12 common misconceptions about gays, such as "acting like a sissy or tomboy causes people to be gay," or "a traumatic event with a member of the opposite sex can cause homosexuality."

Compiled by Carolyn Welch Griffin, Marian J. Wirth and Arthur G. Wirth, "Beyond Acceptance" costs $9.95 in paperback.

AIDS is most likely a concern for parents of any teen-ager, but if you have a gay son, you may be especially worried. (Incidentally, exclusively gay females who do not use intravenous drugs are a very low-risk group for AIDS).

Again, the best way to work through this fear may be by learning more about the epidemic, and "Questions and Answers on AIDS" is a good start.

Written by physicians Lyn Frumkin and John Leonard, this book explains how AIDS is acquired, the five main illnesses it can lead to, the latest treatments, and how your child can avoid all of this. At $3.95 in paperback, it is also a bargain.

Finally, browse through "Gay Men and Women Who Enriched the World," which highlights the successes and contributions of gay members of society.

This is a collection of brief profiles of 40 people who contributed to Western civilization and were known or reputed to be gay. Among them: Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, Tennessee Williams, Virginia Woolf, James Baldwin and Lord Byron.

In hardcover for $6.95, this book suggests that, even though your child may be heading in directions that you hadn't planned on, he or she can achieve greatness.

Any of these books can be ordered through most Westside bookstores, or you can find them in stock at specialized bookstores, such as The Sisterhood Bookstore in Westwood or A Different Light in West Hollywood and Silver Lake.

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