Hearing Kirk Cameron on CNN's Piers Morgan's show discussing his beliefs that homosexuality is "unnatural" "detrimental" and "ultimately destructive" is disappointing to say the least. Watching your teen idol fall from grace is never easy. As one friend told me on Twitter, "@melanie360 take the Kirk poster off the bedroom wall." She's right; this Kirk Cameron is not one I admire. I take no personal issue with his devout beliefs -- what appalls me are his comments about how he would handle it if one of his own children were gay.
In response to Piers' question of, "how would you handle it if one of your six children says, bad news Dad, I'm gay?" Cameron replied, "I wouldn't say that's great son as long as you're happy. I'm going to say, you know there are all sorts of issues we have to wrestle through in life and just because you feel one way doesn't mean you should act on everything you feel."
Does he really think he would simply "talk them out of it"!?
In a world where it is challenging for most people to create a healthy, sustainable relationship, the last thing a child needs is the judgment and shame from their parents if they realize they are gay.
What is the actual impact of a parental response like Cameron's?
The impact is shame, feeling inadequate, less than, isolated, misunderstood and the growing belief that love is actually a conditional emotion. Shame is an incredibly powerful emotion for anyone to navigate through, let alone someone in the vulnerable position of exploring their own personal identity.
We've seen a lot of discussions about shame in the media this week related to the Sandra Fluke story. Rush Limbaugh's attempts to shame her sexual behavior and choices are at the core of the public's backlash against him. It's one thing to poke fun at someone; it's an entirely different thing to attempt to publicly shame someone. Ronae Jull, author and life coach defines shame as, "the feeling that I am wrong/bad and don't deserve respect or kindness."
As she discusses in her article on the power of shame:
Every woman who has been raised with put-downs knows what shame feels like. Every woman who has been in an abusive relationship (and even some who wouldn't classify their relationship as 'abusive') knows what shame feels like. Sometimes it's the little things: jokes about your weight or body shape, little comments about how your needs are not important, dismissals of your opinions and so on. Sometimes it's big things: name calling and labels ('You're just a slut,' 'What do you expect with a past like yours?') or public putdowns and attacks like those received by Fluke.
Parental shame and judgment
When the parent passes shame and judgment to their child, the impacts last far longer. Rick Clemons, The Coming Out Coach, shared this: "Coming out is a scary, exciting, horrifying, and curious experience. When a parent passes judgment right out of the gate, it only leads to the root of the problem in the gay community -- shame, self-doubt, and lack of confidence. The ensuing behavior for many gay men is then running to drugs, random sex, and alcohol to rid themselves of the feelings of 'less than'."
No parent wants to think of their well-intentioned parenting as being behind the emotional turmoil their children face. But in cases like this, it can have a lifelong impact. Whether someone decides to be gay or whether they're born that way is something people have hotly debated for decades. Today, most agree that there's more nature than nurture at play.
What Cameron is suggesting is that should his child be gay, that he or she should make a choice between being who they are and doing what he thinks is "right." In other words, who they are in their very core is wrong. His message: be something else so you can be on the "right" side of things. When a parent questions the very essence of their child's identity and uses words like "unnatural" "detrimental" and "destructive" to describe their very selves, the wounds that are cut are deep and incredibly painful and rarely solved by choosing between "right" and "wrong" behavior.
The role of Dad
Children need both of their parents. The lack of healthy fatherly role models is correlated with many of the most grievous of the ills in society: poverty, incarceration, drug usage, and suicide. On the flip side, healthy fathers play an incredibly meaningful role in helping their kids grow into securely attached, healthy adults.
What Kirk Cameron may have forgotten as he answered Piers' question is the role that a father plays in his son's life. As Larry Cappel, licensed marriage and family therapist shares, "For a boy, his first and most important male relationship is with his father. It is the model for all of his future male relationships. If he doesn't get authentic validation from his father growing up, as an adolescent and young adult he'll try to deaden the pain of his shame through his relationships with other men."
Advice for Kirk: So what if your kid's gay? What's a parent to do?
Dr. Dorree Lynn recently shared how a parent who may be feeling sad, embarrassed or even ashamed can best handle when their kid comes out of the closet. Her advice says it best.
For me, the scary thing after researching this article is that I don't believe that Kirk Cameron wants to hurt his children; I simply think he's doing what his faith tells him to do. Yet the impact of that belief system causes pain and suffering for any child born into a family with similar beliefs.
For all of the parents out there with kids who are struggling with their sexual identity, please think before you shame. Think before you blame and think before you speak. You are more important to your child than you will ever know and your words are like boulders on their heart when you judge or shame them.
Think about that Kirk and God willing, this position you're discussing is something that if you're faced with the reality of having a gay child that you would re-think it. My hope for you, or anyone else in your shoes, is that you would deal with this in a more loving way instead of simply invalidating your child's experience by saying "you don't have to act on all of your feelings." For the gay kid, it goes much deeper than that.