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A most excellent answer

One of those agony aunt columns received a request from a parent unhappy with the fact that her son was gay, asking for advice on how to get him to stop. So Amy gave her a very reasonable answer.

You could teach your son an important lesson by changing your own sexuality to show him how easy it is. Try it for the next year or so: Stop being a heterosexual to demonstrate to your son that a person’s sexuality is a matter of choice — to be dictated by one’s parents, the parents’ church and social pressure.I assume that my suggestion will evoke a reaction that your sexuality is at the core of who you are. The same is true for your son. He has a right to be accepted by his parents for being exactly who he is.

You could teach your son an important lesson by changing your own sexuality to show him how easy it is. Try it for the next year or so: Stop being a heterosexual to demonstrate to your son that a person’s sexuality is a matter of choice — to be dictated by one’s parents, the parents’ church and social pressure.

I assume that my suggestion will evoke a reaction that your sexuality is at the core of who you are. The same is true for your son. He has a right to be accepted by his parents for being exactly who he is.

Weird, isn’t it? The people who want to change others’ sexual preferences all seem to suffer from a profound inability to empathize. Maybe opening their eyes like this will help.

Comments

  1. opposablethumbs says

    Beautiful answer to a horrible, self-serving question. Lovely to see a response like this.

  2. says

    A lot of people suspect that the letter itself is a Poe and was either sent in by a prankster or written by Amy’s staff. The central question, though — “How can I get my child to stop being gay?” — is all too real and all too common. Her answer to that is perfectly spot on.

  3. doubter says

    @Gregory in Seattle: It could be a fake, but some people really are that stupid and ill-informed.

    I’m just waiting for the right wing to start attacking the columnist.

  4. opposablethumbs says

    If so, it’s not a bad way at all to raise the issue and make a good public statement about it. As you say, the question is one that a lot of people do ask for real – whether this specific instance comes from an actual parent or not.

  5. thinkfree83 says

    The way that letter was written sounded like it was written by a spiteful child. Phrases like, “Everyone will make fun of me” and “he’s just doing it to spite me” seem like something you’d hear after a twelve-year old who was jilted by her crush at a middle school dance, not from a parent of a teenager.

  6. says

    @Kevin #5 – Poe’s Law states: “Without a clear indication of the author’s intent, it is difficult or impossible to tell the difference between an expression of sincere extremism and a parody of extremism.”

    In common use, “a Poe” is an expression or statement that, because of the lack of clear intent by the author, may be interpreted as either sincere extremism or a parody of extremism. It is a shorthand way of saying, “This looks too extreme to be sincere, but I can easily see it being sincere.”

  7. says

    @Gregory:

    I know what Poe’s Law is, but too many people dismiss things as Poes, like “there’s no way that’s real, I’m calling ‘Poe’ on it.”

    The very point of Poe’s Law is that you can’t tell if something’s a Poe because seriously, people have actually said that sort of thing before.

  8. says

    @TheMightyJ #8 – “Church group” is commonly used among Talibangelicals who consider themselves too holy and God-filled to belong to an actual congregation. Men and women in such groups adhere to specific gender roles and expectations, and their approaches to this kind of situation are quite different. A mother in that culture is more likely to bargain than a father, and she would be worried about herself getting teased. A father in that culture would very likely take a more “manly” approach and make demands, issue ultimatums, use mental and physical punishments, or simply wash his hands of the “problem” and kick the son out to fend for himself on the streets. He wouldn’t worry about getting teased: a man in a fundamentalist community would never admit to that. More to the point, a man in that culture would almost certainly never approach an advice columnist for help.

  9. ludicrous says

    thinkfree83 @ 7

    Well if we are going to do the “sounds like it was written by” thingy, your comment sounds like it was written by someone who doesn’t much care for children.

  10. says

    Luckily the loving parent in this episode only missed three birthdays. Miss four, and the child becomes a serial killer. Miss five, and the child becomes a libertarian. However, if you miss six birthdays, and two non-Chirstmas holidays, and the child jumps up twice, then left twice, you active God mode.

  11. Schlumbumbi says

    Arf… don’t you folks know anything ? It’s common knowledge that a certain type of columnists do fill their own columns with made up requests from made up people. Yes, stupid people think stupid things but even stupid christians are clever enough to not reach out to someone who has a habit of making fun of stupid people.

    If you believed, just for a second, that this ‘letter’ was real, you have been poe trolled.

  12. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    If you believed, just for a second, that this ‘letter’ was real, you have been poe trolled.

    Gee, you have never listened to Xians who believe that homosexuality is a choice, not a mistake by their imaginary deity. It can be a true letter.

  13. says

    ludicrous #13

    Well if we are going to do the “sounds like it was written by” thingy, your comment sounds like it was written by someone who doesn’t much care for children.

    Children, even when being spiteful, should not be held to blame for doing childish things. Adults should be presumed to have progressed beyond childish things. To point out that an adult is acting childishly is no insult to children, but is an insult to the adult.
    </OT>

  14. opposablethumbs says

    … and as noted above, it doesn’t actually matter in terms of practical usefulness whether the letter is from a parent or not. It’s a good way to get an excellent comment – one that a lot of people need to hear – into the specific public space of the newspaper advice column.

    Got anything that’s actually, you know, interesting or pertinent to say, Schlumbumi? On this or any other topic?

  15. =8)-DX says

    Actually, the idea of “let’s pretend I’ve chosen to be gay and you’ve chosen to be straight”-week sounds like an interesting experiment.

    The parent would have to “come out” to colleagues, family and friends, or at least write a letter about their new sexuality. Next would come a change of clothing chosen by the child as appropriately signalling same-sex attraction. Then would be mandatory visits to an LGBTQ (or -frequented) venue, visits to a coming out support group and an arranged “date” with a same-sex-attracted partner (in on the deal so as not to hurt feelings).

    As long as the parent lasts, the child is obligated to pretend to be heterosexual.

    Sounds therapeutic.

    =8)-DX

  16. dõki says

    This letter displays some clueless and ridiculous beliefs that are common in (but not restricted to) fundamentalist Christian religions. Ergo, its cluelessness and ridiculousness demonstrate that it must be fake. Probably work of teh ghey illuminati. QED.

  17. ludicrous says

    Daz: Experiencing A Slight Gravitas Shortfall @17

    My objection is to the USE of children as examplars of behavior we disapprove. There are other ways to show disapproval without dragging childrens behavior into a discussion, I don’t think they deserve to be used this way. I hope there are young people reading these blogs, I hope they will feel welcome and be respected here more than they usually are in bloggery.

    I think an embarrassed child resides in most of us more or less and we have a tendency to distance ourselves from the struggles of growing up by continually making a distinction between what we consider mature and childish behavior. It happens so much, there is hardly a discussion that does not prompt someone to call someone else childish. Once you start to notice it, as I obviously have, it makes you wonder why it is one of the first things many think of when disapproving of someone.

  18. mnb0 says

    I liked the answer, but it’s far from most excellent. What if sexual preferences are a choice? Like with my late father, who had three children before his coming out and still had sex with a few women after his divorce?
    Put in other words: I’ll choose for myself whom I want to have sex with (given age and consent), male, female, old, young (18+ or something), black, white, green, purple, tall, short. All religious bigots just should shut up and mind their own sexual businesses. The “sexual preference is not a choice” argument undermines my freedom. OK, I exaggerate, but the argument still misses this important point. So I don’t get how “most excellent” this argument is, unless you think restricting the choices I do have is OK.

    The most excellent answer would be something like “so what if he/she makes that choice, we live in a free country and you don’t have any right to even comment on his/her choice!”

  19. ludicrous says

    mnb0 @22

    Good point, though most people may have little or no choice in sexual orientation, lets not ignore the B in GLBT liberation.

  20. says

    Gregory nailed it. While this seems very Poe-like, the fact of the matter is that queer youth are many more times likely to be homeless and to kill themselves PRECISELY because their parents care more about the peer pressure their church group applies than they do their own kids.

    This particular letter may be fake, but this is a real problem that occurs in many, many households.

  21. says

    And Kevin, this could easily be Poe. It seems too unbelievable to be true, but these things actually happen. In MN before the vote for the marriage amendment, we saw plenty of articles and evidence of parents who were torn over accepting their children and what the pedophile protection program run by Niesenstadt wanted them to do. And he ended up sending a woman a response telling her she would risk salvation by accepting her child. Clearly, this was a woman who was open to being okay with her kid, but needed her church’s approval to make up her mind. This stuff happens. If it didn’t, gay kids wouldn’t be disowned.

  22. cicely says

    What if sexual preferences are a choice? Like with my late father, who had three children before his coming out and still had sex with a few women after his divorce

    And what if sexual preferences are not limited to binary, solely-heterosexual/solely-homosexual options? What if it’s more of a spectrum?
    Mean to say, what if your late father was mostly, but not exclusively attracted to men?
    -

  23. jand says

    @ 22. It was your own father and you don’t consider even consider he may have been bisexual? Being bisexual is not a choice, either. Talking of bi denial…

  24. carlie says

    mb0 at 22:

    What if sexual preferences are a choice? Like with my late father, who had three children before his coming out and still had sex with a few women after his divorce?

    Who you choose to have a relationship is a choice; who you’re attracted to is not.

  25. madknitter says

    All of the responses are very interesting, but it sounds like most of them were written by straight people. When I came out, my mother told me that since I had been married to a woman, then I wasn’t really gay, and that I could be straight if I chose. But she thought I was doing it for fun, or something. One doesn’t choose one’s sexual orientation. One chooses to accept it or deny it. By marrying a woman, I was denying it. By coming out, I was accepting it.

    To mnb0 (#22), your father may well have been gay before he got married, but felt unable to come out for a variety of reasons: the era (there was a time when gay people were put into mental hospitals and subjected to ECT), or his social standing (lots of gay kids get disowned when they come out), or many other reasons that you will never know. At some point in his life, he accepted who he really was, and came out. Was he right to do so? I don’t know, but I like to think he was.

    Whether this was written by Amy’s staff or by a real person with a real son whose coming out disturbs her (and yes, there are some people who are ashamed of their gay kids), the answer is a good one. A few weeks ago, on the Moth Radio Hour, there was a story by a guy who came out and whose mother sent him a funeral wreath. Charming. The Ali Forney Center in NYC is a shelter for homeless gay youth who have been kicked out of their homes for being gay. Think about donating to them for the holidays.

  26. says

    mnb0:

    What if sexual preferences are a choice? Like with my late father, who had three children before his coming out and still had sex with a few women after his divorce?

    Being bisexual is not a choice, thank you very fucking much. I wish people would get that through their collective thick skulls.

    As for all the people here and elsewhere who insist on crying “Poe!”, please, just shut up. Because certain things are outside your experience does not mean they don’t happen. Birthdays? When I was growing up, A forgot many more than 3 of mine. Church and congregations giving one a hard time? Yeah, I have no problem believing that, in light of my own experience and the experiences Patricia related here. She still has members of her former church stand outside her house to shame her.

  27. Rey Fox says

    The way that letter was written sounded like it was written by a spiteful child.

    There are plenty of adults out there who never grew out of such thinking.

  28. jand says

    @ 31 madknitter, you self-define as gay, and you say you were denying your orientation when you married a woman. I totally accept that. But mnbo explicitly states that his or her father had sex with women after coming out as gay, and after previously fathering three children. For crying out loud, if that’s not bisexuality then what is.

  29. dõki says

    mnb0 (#22):

    I’m not exactly a very educated advocate. I’m rather new to this, actually. I can only speak from my own experience, and hope not to step on anybody’s toes.

    That said, I imagine the discussion is not about what anybody chooses to do, but what they like. You can choose to do something you don’t like because of society’s pressure, or choose not to do something you really want to do because you fear the consequences.

    Now, I do agree that whichever choices you make should be valid, regardless of whether your preference is fixed, or is something you can switch on and off, or even something that varies with time. Now, I’m disinclined to believe that what you like or dislike is something everybody can control. Because for long years I tried to be straight. Dog knows I did, feeling ashamed and punishing myself for non-straight thoughts, policing my behavior (“is the way I walk manly enough?”). It didn’t quite work. A year ago or so I gave up, and have felt remarkably better since then.

    In other words, (and trying to enter the free will debate, which will result in the verdict that nothing is a choice, after all) we don’t have much rational control over what are our predispositions, even though we may opt to act in favor or against them (and live happily or miserably as a result).

    Again, I’m sorry for the possible misuse of terms, or confusion in my writing. It’s pathetic, but I still like vocabulary to properly express how I feel, hehe.

    (I’m a creature of the B-spectrum, fwiw)

  30. madknitter says

    jand #34, if the man did not name himself as bisexual, then he wasn’t. One gets to determine one’s own label or name. I haven’t had sex with women since I came out, but there is nothing stopping me from doing so. I’ve had several friends who have self identified as gay or lesbian, and still occasionally slept with a person of the opposite sex. They get to determine how they want to be identified in the world, and my opinion has nothing to do with it. You and I might think them bisexual, but they don’t, and I reckon that’s all that matters.

  31. says

    She runs in the Baltimore Sun (my paper). And today she suggests that a woman out her husband to a friend.

    Amy Dickenson can be hit or miss. I can’t find the link atm, but she at one point (about a year ago) suggested that a gay neighbor showing interest in a woman’s adult sons might be a predator. I think she means well, but…

    I’ve caught some flak for identifying as bi, but from my understanding I’ve gotten off pretty light. I would never tell a person to their face that they were really “bi”, but I don’t think their stated opinion is all that matters. If they’re living a bisexual lifestyle but actively denying that they’re bi, then I think they’re hurting other bi people who want to be more truthful about their orientation.

  32. jand says

    madknitter, of course we agree on self defining, I said that before. But I don´t know what nmbo’s father called himself. I can only define the declared behaviour: bisexual. And the conclusions of the son or daughter of this person are that he could choose.

  33. The Mellow Monkey: Non-Hypothetical says

    re: Poe

    I suggest anyone who wants to debate whether or not the letter is real should go enjoy here’s that bad advice you were hoping for. People ask absurd questions that are clearly fishing for a morally repugnant response all the damn time.

    Every letter to every advice columnist is a hypothetical question to everyone except for, possibly, the letter writer. So insisting the letter must be a parody is missing the point entirely. You will never know if the letter writer was sincere or not. Maybe that really dull letter asking about Miss Manners about napkin placement at her upcoming wedding was really from someone with a linen fetish who will never get married. Who the hell knows!

    But forgetting birthdays and reacting to a child coming out that way is all incredibly mundane, in my unfortunate experience. Shitty homophobic parents exist. Looking at ways to respond to said shitty homophobic parents is valuable, whether or not you believe this specific shitty homophobic parent exists.

  34. frog says

    I know a surprising number of people who thought they were one orientation (usually straight) and then fell in love with a person of their previously non-preferred gender. Since these are friends, I get to ask them to explain; and some say, “Well, I kind of knew I could go the other way” and others say, “I had NO IDEA until I met [spouse].”

    FFS, it’s not as if anyone feels attracted to all members of whatever gender persuasion. People don’t even feel attracted to all the “conventionally attractive” members of whatever gender.

    And I know far too many people who “experimented” at some point in their lives. Maybe their general tendency is all to one side, but obviously not so stark that they couldn’t get aroused by someone of the “unexpected” category. Sexual attraction is much more than a simplistic drive toward boobs or penises.

  35. Winters says

    The letter seemed fake not because there’s not assholes like that in the world, just because of how it was written. The forgetting birthdays thing was too much, especially 3 in a row. The “I’m very busy at work” line just seemed completely bullshit, like they needed to reinforce this fictional parent’s “too busy for my child” attitude.

    It failed on literary grounds I guess is what I’m trying to say. Most of these advices column letters seem faked to me anyway. The advice was good though and I guess that’s all that matters.

  36. says

    Winters:

    The forgetting birthdays thing was too much, especially 3 in a row.

    I see you’re the sort of ass who can’t be bothered to read the previous comments. If you had, you would have noted that two of us in this thread have direct experience with a parent forgetting birthdays, more than 3. Golly!

  37. Koshka says

    Winters # 47,

    It failed on literary grounds

    Have you considered that there are some people in the world that do not write well but still write letters to papers?
    The letter reads like someone having a conversation. I know people who write just like this, they transfer there thoughts directly onto a piece of paper.

  38. ryancunningham says

    @15 Schlumbumbi is not a real person.

    Arf… don’t you folks know anything ? It’s common knowledge that a certain type of commenter does to fill their own posts with made up complaints from made up people. Yes, stupid people think stupid things but even stupid commenters are clever enough to not reach out to a community who has a habit of making fun of stupid people.

    If you believed, just for a second, that this ‘post’ was real, you have been poe troll poe trolled.

    But am I a real person? Is my complaint real? It’s time to play recursive hyperskepticism!

  39. The Mellow Monkey: Non-Hypothetical says

    Winters @ 47

    The forgetting birthdays thing was too much, especially 3 in a row.

    How about forgetting two birthdays in a row and then knowingly scheduling an out-of-state booty call on your kid’s birthday the third year? Too much? It happens. Shitty parents are real.

  40. The Mellow Monkey: Non-Hypothetical says

    You know, I’d just like to say that I love that the intersections of inattentive parenting, homophobia and religious pressure have all resulted in people debating the literary merits of a letter. Because the real people who really have grown up in those situations don’t matter at all. Battling homophobia is nothing in comparison with the preening pride one can take in declaring “FAKE!” on the internet, after all.

  41. says

    MM:

    How about forgetting two birthdays in a row and then knowingly scheduling an out-of-state booty call on your kid’s birthday the third year?

    That extra special touch, that. I got the “you know how busy I am, did you stop to think of how selfish you’re being” crap when I bothered to mention it. Oh, and one birthday, she didn’t come home, went to a party and crashed.

  42. says

    MM:

    Because the real people who really have grown up in those situations don’t matter at all.

    Well, you certainly don’t expect people to check their privilege, and bother to take a moment to be happy this sort of shit didn’t happen to them, do you? Goodness, the hardship.

    Battling homophobia is nothing in comparison with the preening pride one can take in declaring “FAKE!” on the internet, after all.

    This thread is a fine example of the teeming assholes who simply can’t wait to try on their sniffy superiority.

  43. Winters says

    @48 Caine – I read the comments, ass. You apparently didn’t read mine. I acknowledged there are plenty of people out there that are shitty enough to do something like that. There’s no reason for them to disclose it in this letter though. That’s why it seems like it was just added in by the author to make the fictional parent come off as a worse person.

    I’m telling you I don’t believe the person writing the letter, not the people claiming their parents forgot their birthday in the comments. Jesus fuck.

  44. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    There’s no reason for them to disclose it in this letter though.

    Why? Your argument, or lack thereof, is predicated on that presupposition.

    I’m telling you I don’t believe the person writing the letter, not the people claiming their parents forgot their birthday in the comments. Jesus fuck.

    Again, WHY? Support your argument with evidence from sources outside of yourself and your opinion….

  45. Winters says

    I’m telling you I don’t believe a story somebody told on the internet as part of a casual conversation. I guess I’m basing it on other conversations I’ve had with other human beings. Some of you people sure like to pick fights when there’s not one to be had anywhere else.

  46. Rip Steakface says

    To those crying Poe:

    It doesn’t matter if it’s real. It’s still a most excellent answer. Duh.

  47. Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought says

    The message the answer to it sends is way too valuable for me to care whether the letter was fake or not.

  48. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    I’m telling you I don’t believe a story somebody told on the internet as part of a casual conversation.

    The letter was published in the Chicago Tribune, where Dear Amy syndicates her column from. The Trib has fired people who behave unethically. Show us the unethical behavior here, if Amy can produce the letter…..

  49. Winters says

    @60 Nerd – I doubt the advice columns are held to the same standard as the rest of the paper.

    I read the “Dear Prudence” column on Slate frequently and I get the feeling that most of those are either flat out faked or seriously embellished too. Every other one involves some woman in a sordid affair with her boss, brother in law, sharing a kiss in the bathroom with a co-worker after a Christmas party, catching her mother in law having an affair with the UPS guy, etc. I would imagine the readership they pull in with the sex stories is quite a bit higher than if people submitted their mundane everyday problems.

  50. throwaway, never proofreads, every post a gamble says

    Look how skeptical I’m being by not believing the letter to be written by a genuine person making truthful statements! Bow in terror! for my doubt is superior to your uncritical acceptance of the letter! The signs which you are totally incapable of discerning for yourselves, proles, are readily apparent to one of my mental caliber, and establishes my place as the most alpha of alphas, deserving the title of Top Skeptic! Disagree with me at your own peril!!!

    /snark

    That type of behavior is almost as annoying as people posting ‘First!’ and sadly just as common. “Calling Poe” needs to be remanded back to Youtube comment sections, where it undoubtedly was erroneously coined, a secular-sphere equivalent of calling “fake”.

  51. Winters says

    Jesus Christ…PZ, your blog is great reading. Your comment section is fucking horrible. Sorry for trying to make a lighthearted comment about the author’s piss poor writing skills. You guys are really knocking that “more inclusive atheist community” thing out of the park.

  52. Knabb says

    @ 60, Winters

    I read the “Dear Prudence” column on Slate frequently and I get the feeling that most of those are either flat out faked or seriously embellished too. Every other one involves some woman in a sordid affair with her boss, brother in law, sharing a kiss in the bathroom with a co-worker after a Christmas party, catching her mother in law having an affair with the UPS guy, etc. I would imagine the readership they pull in with the sex stories is quite a bit higher than if people submitted their mundane everyday problems.

    Either that or there is just a high volume of letters, and the ones we actually see are specifically selected. In some cases, that would be because they’re more likely to be read, in other cases there are likely other reasons as well. In this particular case, it’s because the response is something that shitty homophobic parents need to read and internalize. Particularly when this fits a pattern with Ask Amy – harsh responses to bad parents sending letters that show how crappy they are are routine. It’s almost as if she realizes that shitty parents are very capable of causing problems, and smacking their letters down publicly might get some shitty parents to be less shitty, even if the letter writer dismisses it.

  53. Al Dente says

    I believe the letter is genuine for one simple reason. The writer is concerned only with themselves, viz: My son is gay, what will the people at church say to me? He’s gay because he’s upset with me. I was too busy doing other things to celebrate a birthday. It’s all “me me me.” I don’t think a fake letter would be all about “me.”

  54. Tethys says

    Sorry for trying to make a lighthearted comment about the author’s piss poor writing skills.

    Maybe you should try being sorry that you have been rude and dismissive to people who have piss poor parents.
    No matter how lighthearted you think you were, real people were not amused that you refuse to believe that A) this letter is real, and B) parents do accidentally on purpose forget their childrens birthdays.

  55. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Sorry for trying to make a lighthearted comment about the author’s piss poor writing skills.

    While show abject idiocy and lack of humor and writing skills. You shouldn’t criticize or try to be funny, as you fail…

  56. throwaway, never proofreads, every post a gamble says

    Sorry, Winters, I hope that your whining to PZ wasn’t spurred by my comment. I had no intention of implicating you alone, just the behavior I see whenever the believability of something is called to trial for no reason other than the self-gratification of being among the few correctly seeing through a ruse. It’s like a defense mechanism whereby people avoid getting burned by being duped into believing something that, to many, is actually mundane (the experience of ostracism, the forgetting of birthdays, the importance of peer groups perceptions of your capacity as a parent, etc).

    What I’m against is the raising of the threshold of believability in order to prevail in the game of not falling for something which is harmless, inconsequential, and has no bearing on the intelligence of those who may believe it or those who may not. Hyper-skepticism is just a signifier that someone may be trying to climb the pegs of skepticism without doing any real hard work.

    Establishing skeptic credibility through denying every-fucking-thing that is actually mundane and realistic is just reeeaaally fucking annoying to me. And since everyone else gets to share how they think this is fake, I guess I have to spoil it by expressing how annoying that is. Woe be inclusivity if it excludes peg-stepping hyper-skeptics!

  57. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    @60 Nerd – I doubt the advice columns are held to the same standard as the rest of the paper.

    If Ann Landers, who Amy replaced, heard you say that she would have set you straight in nothing flat. Where did you learn ethics and skepticism? You seem to no understand either.

  58. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Nothing is real. You’re all suckers.
    Sincerely,
    another brain in another vat

    Hmm…possible humor here…

  59. says

    My friend’s cousin Tom tried to kill himself back in the 80s.
    Tom was a body-builder and very strong, took a bunch of pills and warned us not to tell or do anything or he would leave.
    My friend didn’t know what to do, was scared to tell.
    His sister was scared to tell.

    Not being my house, I left when I was told to and kept in touch by phone, was summoned back after a bit.
    Came into my friend’s cousin’s house, his mother was there, his aunt, both of his cousins.
    NONE of them would drive him to the hospital, none of them would call an ambulance.

    His mother was too worried about what the neighbors would think if she called an ambulance. Volunteer fire Dept., all that.
    I waited around for this religious, conservative family to do something. Seeing that Tom was too drugged to take off on his own anyway, I went to the basement phone while they all avoided things and called for an ambulance. Of course, his mother’s fears were true, the nieghbors on their scanners heard of “drug overdose” at his address, people he knew were in the fire co’s rescue vehicle etc.

    Yes, people do INCREDIBLY stupid shit when they have this kind of social and religious pressure.
    Worrying about your church group finding out your kid is gay so demanding your kid stop being gay… worrying about people finding out your kid is suicidal, so they sit around and do nothing while their son tries to kill himself. The son who was brought up in that atmosphere and who I found out was a gay basher – literally. Sought out and beat up gay men.

    There at the time was Tom’s cousin, my friend’s sister, my friend herself.
    She came out as a lesbian 3 or 4 years after this.

    I’ll let you guess how this deeply religious, deeply ignorant Catholic family handled THAT one.

    THEY ROUTINELY said things just like those in the letter.
    The only thing that got them to grudgingly accept Kris is the fact that she was not going to fake anything for anyone.
    They also were convinced “all these shuttle flights are the cause of the bad rain this summer.”

    Ignorant and foolish people write like ignorant and foolish people, and there is no shortage of them.

  60. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    I read the “Dear Prudence” column on Slate frequently

    And what does a narrow internet column have to do with wide-ranging newspaper published column? Dear Prudence substituted for her mother after Ann Lander’s death until Amy was hired to fill the void. It was obvious to most Trib readers there was different requirements for different media, and they don’t always transfer.

  61. jodyp says

    It’s kind of baffling and upsetting to me that anyone would doubt the veracity of this letter.

    I’m gay and I’ve seen much, much worse. I’ve seen every level of passive-aggressiveness thrown at innocent lgbt kids from their families, up to full-on physical abuse. Most of my friends have some kind of horror story, including my husband.

    That kind of neglect goes on all the time. Saying it seems fake does a discredit to them, because it’s all too real.

  62. says

    Considering the number of letters popular advice columnists likely get, I rather doubt they need to make many of these things up. They receive so many letters that they end up seeing those from the good, the bad, and the downright ugly and can pick and choose. There are probably a number of similar letters sitting around in the mail pile as well. But in the end it does not matter, this kind of attitude exists, plenty of people have had parents like this. There is no good reason to suspect it is anything but real other than ignorance of this.

  63. frog says

    The content and particulars of the letter are probably real. I agree, though, that the style is somewhat fake-sounding. Fortunately, there’s an obvious explanation: editing.

    Y’all don’t think they publish the untouched letters, do you? Surely most of the submissions look like the comments section of local newspapers.

    Most people ramble a bit, and even well educated people aren’t all the best writers. (I know. I work for an academic press.) It’s almost certain that the columnist or a staff person trims out the digressions, tightens up the prose, and corrects the worst infelicities of language.

    Voila, a real letter that may sound too good to be real.

  64. loopyj says

    I like her response, though I fear that “If you cannot learn to accept him as he is, it might be safest for him to live elsewhere,” could be read by the letter writer as permission to kick their son out of the family home.

  65. Amphiox says

    Winters, if it was “fake” then technically it would be literature.

    Don’t you think that the fact that (you think) it “literally fails” would therefore be more likely an indication that it is in fact real?

    And the reason we choose not to be hyper skeptical is because the situation it describes is so banally common, so even if that particular case were not “real” the answer is applicable to a thousand thousand other cases that ARE.

  66. Subtract Hominem, a product of Nauseam says

    Caine @ 54:

    This thread is a fine example of the teeming assholes who simply can’t wait to try on their sniffy superiority.

    And yet, despite their disregard for any humans in these situations, they still manage to think of themselves as humanists.

  67. imperious says

    He’s getting back at me for forgetting his birthday for 3. I’ve been busy at work.

    This is a made up letter. And quite well done, but pretty obvious.

  68. erik333 says

    @2 Gregory in Seattle

    I suppose you basically have to consider homosexuality a choice in order to maintain god’s word(tm) is objectively moral(tm).

    As for birthdays, I tend to forget everyones including my own. But then, I don’t (and in all likelyhood won’t) have children anyway. Which probably correlates with not caring enough about things like birthdays to remember them, I suppose.

  69. says

    As for birthdays, I tend to forget everyones including my own. But then, I don’t (and in all likelyhood won’t) have children anyway. Which probably correlates with not caring enough about things like birthdays to remember them, I suppose.

    I don’t think the problem is the forgotten birthday’s per se. It’s that the mother cannot think of her son’s homosexuality in any other terms as some sort of “petty revenge” for an “totally understandable” slight.

    My mother treats my atheism (or, more accurately, my anti-theism) in much the same way. She’s convinced I have some petty grudge I’m holding onto and that I just need to “grow up” and “forgive them”.

  70. Al Dente says

    imperious @82

    but pretty obvious.

    If it’s obviously a false letter then you should be able to show its falsity, because I think it’s a genuine letter.

  71. Onamission5 says

    Actually, the “forgetting his birthday… busy at work” bit sounds all too close to something my mother would have said by way of making her deliberate non-recognition of my birthday two years running sound somehow palatable for public consumption. Because she knows deep down that only crappy mothers refuse to acknowledge the day of their bisexual youngest child’s birth as punishment for bringing their invited by Grandma girlfriend to Grandma’s house on Thanksgiving, but that is indeed what she did anyway. This little deflection I could see as being her way of denying the obvious to herself: you made a crappy, manipulative choice, Mom, hoping your child would come groveling back full of guilty apology, and it backfired.

    Yeah. All too real, thanks.

  72. eigenperson says

    I suspect the attitude of the letter is all too real. If the writing voice doesn’t read as genuine (and it doesn’t to me), that’s probably due to being “edited for clarity”.

  73. tomh says

    Anyone who thinks the letter is fake has no idea how many letters that column gets every week. Thousands, easily. You could pick any subject and find letters on it of every description. The idea that she would have to invent a letter to make a point is beyond ridiculous.

  74. Colin J says

    Rip Steakface @58:

    To those crying Poe:

    It doesn’t matter if it’s real. It’s still a most excellent answer. Duh.

    Strangely enough, most of the people crying Poe have said exactly the same thing. Including Winters.

  75. says

    It’s quite a common thing that advice columnists get accused of making letters up, and quite a common thing for them to point out how many thousands of letters they get every week (or day) and that they really don’t need to make up letters. On any given subject, they can typically just plunge their hand into the pile and come up with a dozen in the same vein.

  76. says

    Imperious @82:
    Is there a reason you think the letter is fake?
    Given the diverse reactions of parents who find out their child is gay, what makes this letter cry out it is fake?
    Parents have thrown their kids onto the streets for being gay, disowned them for being gay…hell my best friend told me a few times that his father said he would shoot any of his kids if they were gay!

    A parent forgetting a gay teens’ birthday-while tragic- is not a difficult claim to believe.

  77. David Marjanović says

    I know a surprising number of people who thought they were one orientation (usually straight) and then fell in love with a person of their previously non-preferred gender.

    I don’t find that surprising at all in a society that 1) assumes you’re 0 on the Kinsey scale by default and 2) if that becomes untenable, it assumes you’re 6 on that scale. It takes many people quite some time to figure out that 3 exists, and then it takes them even more time to figure out that the rest of the spectrum exists as well. Good luck if you’re asexual = not on the scale at all…

    It’s time to play recursive hyperskepticism!

    That’s the best kind! :-)

    You know, I’d just like to say that I love that the intersections of inattentive parenting, homophobia and religious pressure have all resulted in people debating the literary merits of a letter. Because the real people who really have grown up in those situations don’t matter at all. Battling homophobia is nothing in comparison with the preening pride one can take in declaring “FAKE!” on the internet, after all.

    This uncharitable conclusion is not the most parsimonious one as far as I can tell.

    For example, up to this post, I had no fucking idea that anybody neglects their children’s birthdays like that.* I’ve read enough about truly awful parents that it doesn’t surprise me, but I didn’t know it was a thing and wouldn’t have imagined it on my own.

    Austria’s Minister for Social Affairs was in a TV debate a few years ago and said she was sure all parents want the best for their children. I’m trying to say there really are people who don’t know better. It’s not that “the real people who really have grown up in those situations don’t matter”, it’s that many people don’t know you exist.

    Combine such lack of knowledge with a naturally skeptical person who doesn’t by default believe what they’re told – you know, the kind that grows up in a religious family but realizes at age 8 or 5 or 3 that they’re an atheist because religion is just so obviously absurd –, and you get to see the argument from personal incredulity: ‘I can’t imagine it’s true, so it must be fake’. I think that’s what has happened several times in this thread.

    * In a culture where birthdays are a thing, of course. There are probably a few million people left in the world who can only estimate their age to within maybe five years.

  78. David Marjanović says

    Parents have thrown their kids onto the streets for being gay, disowned them for being gay…hell my best friend told me a few times that his father said he would shoot any of his kids if they were gay!

    That’s something else I only learned on Pharyngula. It’s not like there’s no homophobia where I come from, far from it – but these kinds I had never heard of.

  79. tarnado says

    @8 – That’s what brings me to comment.
    Prof Meyers – there is no indication of gender in the letter. I even assumed the writer was male, in my own mind. It’s very difficult to NOT imagine a gender when reading the words someone has written, perhaps.