Ask Ann Cannon: When is the right time to talk about sexuality with my child?

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Ann Cannon enlists the help of some friends in this week's advice column.

Dear Ann Cannon • At what age is it appropriate to question your child about his or her sexual orientation? We are a married gay couple with four kids. Of the four, our 13-year-old shows interest in things that are stereotypically gay. We are a family that celebrates diversity and ensures an environment that is safe and fosters creativity and tolerance. But this is a tricky topic, and I have gotten mixed advice from friends and family.

My husband feels we should wait until our son brings it up. I feel that in order to completely understand our child and to best guide him, especially during the difficult time of puberty, this would be a perfect time as we are having the difficult conversations about sex. Knowing his sexual orientation would be valuable to ensure we give him all the emotional support he needs at this time. What do you think?

My Kids’ Dad

Dear Dad • My initial reaction was the same initial reaction I’d have if a straight man or woman asked this question, i.e. how and when and where you talk to your kid about sex probably depends on that particular kid. Some children may be willing to ask their parents questions. Others, not so much. Seriously, my parents were absolutely the LAST people in the world with whom I wanted to chat about sex.

Anyway. I did go ahead and pose your question to several gay friends of mine, whose responses I print here with their permission.

As a gay man with four grown children of my own, I believe it is best to create, as it sounds like you have, an environment where your children know they are safe and loved, no matter what. We are all unique, and we all have different timelines and perceptions of ourselves. If your children feel secure, they will, at their own pace, grow to understand themselves and then share that knowledge when they are ready. Asking a child about their sexuality may force them to make a decision before they have come to fully understand themselves. This would be tragic. Give them time, give them love, and, perhaps most difficult of all as a parent, give them your patience. As Max Ehrmann said in his “Desiderata," “And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore, be at peace.”

And here’s another take from another friend:

Because the parents are a gay couple and mention the child’s “stereotypical” interests, I hope that they are right in their assumptions. But I do think that [puberty] is the time to discuss the realities of life, and if the child is gay, the sooner the better. We are all so blessed to live in a time when this kind of clear, life-influencing communication is possible.

Does this help? Or not? Clearly, there are no easy answers here. Regardless, it’s great that you and your husband are willing to have tough conversations with each other and that although your approaches differ, you are both committed to doing right by your children.

Keep communicating and keep an open mind.

Wishing you and your family the best of luck.

Got a question for Ann? Email her at askann@sltrib.com or visit the Ask Ann Cannon page on Facebook.