Jason announces to his family that he’s gay. His sisters and his father tell him that it doesn’t make any difference, they love him regardless of whether he’s gay or straight or whatever. But what about his mother? Can she come to accept that her son is gay?
A tall woman in a white smock, the kind nurses wear, interrupted Betty's thoughts. “Mrs. Phillips, I’m Laura Gardiner. I’ll take you in to meet with Doctor Byers.” The nurse, or maybe she wasn’t a nurse, led her through a door and down a hallway to a large office. A tall, middle-aged man stood and smiled. He wore an expensive looking suit, and his smile was just like she’d seen on the TV show. But he didn’t look exactly like the man on TV. His complexion was more sallow. Betty realized he must have been wearing makeup on the show.
“Mrs. Phillips, I’m Doctor Paul Byers. It’s very nice to meet you.” They shook hands. “Thank you for waiting. There was an unavoidable emergency that I had to attend to. Please, have a seat.” He gestured to a comfortable looking couch, and he sat in a large leather armchair across from the couch, separated from it by a coffee table that appeared to be an antique, a very expensive antique. Betty glanced around the office. Everything in the room suggested ‘expensive’. She wondered what she was getting into, if seeing Doctor Byers would be covered by their insurance, and if not how much it would cost.
“Would you care for some coffee? Or something cold to drink, perhaps water?”
“No, thank you. I’m fine.” She didn’t feel fine, but she wasn’t about to tell him that.
Doctor Byers picked up a leather-bound notebook from the coffee table, opened it, and took out a fountain pen. Betty couldn’t believe it, a fountain pen! Who used a fountain pen these days?
“Mrs. Phillips, I’d like to start by telling you how we work. Is that alright?”
“Yes, I was wondering about that.”
“All of our new clients wonder about our process. First, we provide a service for both parents and children. We start by having a discussion about why parents, such as yourself, come to see us. It can be uncomfortable to talk about your child if you’ve learned that he or she thinks they are gay. To be able to help you and your child we need to have this discussion.
“Our first interview with the parent, the interview we’re having with you, is provided at no charge. The way we structure this interview is that I’ll ask you a series of questions about your son or daughter. Based on your responses, I’ll be able to do an evaluation that we’ll discuss, and any next steps that we might agree upon.
“You may have some preliminary questions for me. So, if you do, this would be a good time to ask them.”
“I was wondering about cost. Do you accept health insurance?”
“It depends on the insurance, both the coverage you have and if the insurance company will accept our billing. Many do, especially policies that have a Cafeteria Plan that can be used for other than traditional medicine. When insurance covers our fees there will usually be a copay amount that will be your responsibility. The copay amount depends on what your health insurance policy defines for this type of consultation. When we’ve completed today’s interview I’d like you to meet with Sara, our receptionist. She’ll get your insurance information and will contact your insurance company to determine if you’re covered.”
“What if we’re not covered?”
“Our consultation sessions, not including this initial interview, usually are ninety minutes long. Our fee is two hundred fifty dollars per hour. Typically we’ll have two consultation sessions with the parents, three consultation sessions with the child, and two or three joint consultation sessions. Our typical fee would, as a result, be about three thousand dollars, though it could be a little more or perhaps a little less.”
“Let me assure you that, based on our interview session today, you will leave with a better understanding if our services will be of value for you and for your child. If you decide that you don’t want to continue, then there’s no cost for you. If you decide to continue you don’t sign a contract for a specific number of consultation sessions. You can stop at any time and there will be no further obligation. If you stop, you can resume at any time in the future at the then current hourly rate with no penalty. Does this sound acceptable?”
“Yes, it does. I am very interested to find out about our insurance, if it will cover your fees, and if so, how much the copay will be.”
“Sara will take care of that for you. Shall we get started with our interview?”
Betty took a deep breath. “Yes, please.”
“All right. First, I’d like to get some background information.”
After Betty told about her family, about Jason’s announcement on Sunday, and the reaction of each member of the family, Doctor Byers began to ask a series of specific questions about Jason.
“How does Jason do in school?”
“He’s always done well. He was on the honor roll at Lomita Middle School in the seventh and eighth grades. He’s a freshman at Hillcrest High this year, and on his midterms his grades were one B in Spanish and all the rest were A’s. He told us he’s going to try to get all A’s in his final grades this year.”
“Is he a reader?”
“Oh, yes, I’d say he’s a voracious reader. He prefers to read to watching TV or playing video games.”
“What kinds of books does he read?”
“Science Fiction, of course. Computer books. He wants to take programming or software engineering when he goes to college. He also likes history, and often will read books on that subject. He likes to laugh, so he reads books with a comedic subject. He visits the library every couple of weeks and will come home with two or three books to read. He also has a Kindle reader, and he has a membership option, which we pay for, that lets him borrow a wide variety of books for no charge.”
“How would you describe Jason’s behavior?”
Betty smiled. “He’s wonderful. He always, well, almost always, does what we ask when we ask. I guess, being a teenager, sometime he’ll forget or be distracted by something he’s doing. Most often what he forgets is to take the trash cans out to the curb on Tuesday evenings, and he has to be reminded. But it never takes more than one reminder. He’s helpful around the house, and will come to me and ask if there’s anything he can do to help. He’s not messy like my friends say their boys are, he keeps his room very neat.”
“What about his demeanor, does he get angry, does he have periods when he’s worried or seems to be depressed, does he ever isolate himself from the rest of the family?”
“Oh, no. He always seems to be happy, he smiles all the time. He likes to crack jokes and make us laugh. He’s a real chatterbox, and talks to all of us about anything and everything. He doesn’t get into fights with his sisters, ever. That amazes me because growing up I would get into fights with my two sisters and two brothers all the time. I’ve never suspected that he was depressed, just the opposite. He doesn’t seem to worry about anything. I have to admit that He had been distant and unusually non-talkative during the week prior to his announcement that he was homosexual.”
“You mean gay.”
“No, I mean homosexual. I don’t think there’s anything ‘gay’ about being homosexual. I just don’t understand how that happened. But then, that’s why I’m here talking to you, isn’t it?”
Doctor Byers stared at Betty for a few seconds. It gave her the same feeling she’d had when Jason stared at her after making his announcement that Sunday. It was like he could look right inside her head and see exactly what she was thinking. It made her very uncomfortable. He looked down and wrote for some time in his notebook, then looked up, smiled, and resumed asking questions.
“Does he ever lock himself in his room?”
“No, and the only time he closes his bedroom door is when he’s changing clothes or going to bed. There are no locks on our children’s bedroom doors, so he couldn’t lock himself in anyway.”
“Does he have his own computer? Do you monitor his internet access?”
“Yes, he has a powerful desktop computer, and Tim's old laptop computer. Tim thought the laptop could be more convenient if Jase needed to take it to school if he needed to do so. The problem is that it’s very heavy, almost nine pounds, so Jase almost never takes it to school and only uses his desktop at home.
“We have internet access. Tim is an engineer and knows all about computers. All of our computers are connected to the internet through our home network. We don’t monitor or restrict our children’s internet access, but if there was a reason to do so Tim says it would be easy. We’ve never had any reason to suspect that Jason or his sisters were going to inappropriate places on the internet.”
Again, Doctor Byers looked at Betty for a few seconds, then continued with the interview.
“Can you tell me about Jason’s friends? Does he have many friends or just a few? Does he have any best friends?”
“He seems to have a lot of friends.” Betty laughed. “They all seem to congregate at our house. We have a pool and a tennis court, and during the warm weather there are usually lots of kids out there, Jason’s friends and my daughters’ friends too. He has several friends, kids he’s known since elementary and middle school, who I suppose would be his best friends. He’ll go to their houses or they come to our house, usually three or four of them, and they’ll work on their homework together.”
“And where do they do that, in his room?”
“No, there isn’t enough space in his room so they’ll use our family room, usually lying on the floor. That’s something I don’t understand, how they can accomplish anything lying face-down on the floor and leaning on their elbows that way. Anyway, sometimes they’ll use the dining room table if they need to spread out papers or books or whatever their homework requires.”
“Does Jason have sleepovers at friends’ houses or at your home?”
“He used to have sleepovers when he was younger, when he was around 10 or 11, but he and his friends seem to have mostly outgrown that.”
“Does Jason have friends who are girls?”
“Yes, a few. They came to our pool parties.”
“Do any of these girls come by themself to visit Jason?”
“No. That’s something I’d certainly monitor, watching what they are doing very carefully.” Betty stopped to think for a moment. Perhaps when Jason had boys over she should have monitored them very carefully. She was pulled from her thoughts by Doctor Byers when he asked another question.
“Did Jason ever have a girlfriend?”
“I don’t think so. He’s never told us about a girlfriend, and I’m sure he would have told us.” Betty paused for a couple of seconds. “Jason seldom goes to the freshman class dances at school. He said that the boys stay on one side of the gym and the girls on the other, and not very many kids dance. He said it was boring. He said that when the first boy would walk across to the girl’s side the girls would look at and talk to him then when he walked back to the boys’ side they’d whisper to each other and giggle. He said because of that the boys felt embarrassed and kept to their side.”
“I have some more questions about Jason, and some of them might be embarrassing but they are an important part of the first step toward planning Jason’s reorientation. Now, have you and your husband discussed reproduction and sex with Jason?”
Betty blushed and looked down. She hadn’t expected this question and that is what embarrassed her. She realized that she should have expected it and been prepared with an answer.
“Of course, the school system has a comprehensive sex education program. And Tim, my husband, has had several talks with Jason on this subject. Tim has told me when he’s had each of those talks. I haven’t been included.”
“Did your husband tell you that you shouldn’t participate? Or did Jason ask that you not participate?”
“Oh, no. In fact, Tim wanted me to participate. But I declined. I told Tim that I thought it would be much too embarrassing for Jason if I was there. After all, I’m a woman and they’d be talking about things that aren’t any of my business.”
Doctor Byers looked surprised. “Things that aren’t any of your business? Shouldn’t the teaching about sex and reproduction with your children be part of your business?”
“Of course it is,” Betty snapped. She took a deep breath and composed herself. “Tim and I have discussed sex and reproduction education and decided that age-appropriate discussions with Jason are the responsibility of my husband. Our daughters are my responsibility.”
“Hmm.” Doctor Byers wrote for quite a long time, leaving Betty sitting there feeling like she was an ornament on his desk.
Doctor Byers looked up and smiled. “Does Jason masturbate?”
“Goodness! How would I know? I certainly hope not.”
“Your husband hasn’t discussed this with you?”
“No, he hasn’t.”
“Hmm.” Doctor Byers once again wrote for quite a long time, and Betty was beginning to become irritated. This ‘interview’ with Doctor Byers had moved away from what she’d expected into areas that she didn’t think were germane to resolving Jason’s problem.
Doctor Byers continued. “Do you have an opinion about masturbation?”
“Of course. It’s immoral, and against the teachings of the Church. It’s something that Jason absolutely should not be doing.”
“Do you think that Jason is following those precepts?”
“I certainly expect that he is remaining pure and uncorrupted by shunning the devil’s temptations. That is what he was taught from the scriptures.”
“So you believe that masturbation is a corrupting process and that it’s proscribed by the Bible?”
“Of course. Good Catholic boys never do such a thing.”
He looked up. “Jason is fourteen years old. The statistics show that 74 percent of all boys have masturbated by their fourteenth birthday regardless of their race or religion. By their fifteenth birthday it’s almost 100 percent. It continues into adulthood for most men. It’s possible that a strong religious conviction might be a reason for discontinuing masturbation. Does Jason have a strong religious conviction?”
Betty avoided answering the question. “I’m a Catholic. Using your words, I have a strong religious conviction. Tim is a holiday Catholic. That means he goes to church on Christmas and Easter. Jason had been an altar boy and outgrew doing that, but he goes to church on most Sundays with me and his sisters.”
“Do you know why Jason outgrew being an altar boy?”
“I’m not sure. One Sunday he came home from serving at the eight a.m. Mass and said that he had told Father Morton that he wasn’t going to be an altar boy any longer. I questioned him at length, and he said that it had become boring, getting up early and doing the same thing at every Mass. He said that the Monsignor kept pushing him to serve at more Masses, especially on weekdays, and that upset him. I was, of course, upset about his decision, but he made up his mind and I didn’t want to get in an argument over something that seemingly was no longer an important part of his life, and that might turn him away from the Church.”
“When did he stop being an altar boy?”
“Let me think. He was in the eighth grade, about a month before school let out for the year.”
“So, let me get back to my question. Does Jason have a strong religious conviction?”
Betty looked down and shook her head, then looked up at Doctor Byers. “I thought so. Until he made his announcement I would have answered ‘yes’ to your question. Now that he’s decided that he’s a homosexual I don’t know what to think. The Church condemns homosexuals and homosexuality. Being a homosexual and a Catholic are mutually exclusive.”
Doctor Byers wrote something then looked up at Betty and smiled. For some reason Betty thought his smile looked like that shark in the TV commercial.
While Doctor Byers was interviewing Betty, Jason was not at home either. He decided to visit his best friend, Ron Cantham. Ron had just returned from a week-long school trip and learned of Jason’s announcement. Their discussion was also an interview, but one that, despite the topics being similar, turned out to be very different than the one at Aaronsen Family Services. In this interview Ron asked Jason the questions.
“So, tell me what your folks said when you told them that you’re gay.”
“Everyone just sat there, sort of stunned, without saying anything. I was so nervous, and scared, I just kept eating like nothing had happened. Then Jen got up, walked around the table, grabbed me and pulled me out of my chair, and hugged me. She said it was cool that I was gay, and she loved me and didn’t care if I was gay or straight or whatever, and that I was her favorite brother.”
Ron started laughing, and Jason waved his hand and continued.
“Yeah, yeah, I know I’m her only brother. But it was really cool to have her say what she said. The best part was when she told my folks that she learned in school that it’s genetic and that I can’t change from being gay.”
“What happened next?”
“Well, Thea ran around the table and hugged me and really floored me and blew my mom’s mind when she said she and Jen have known that I’m gay and they were wondering when I’d tell them. Mom went on a rant and called me a homosexual, can you believe that? She said it was something she and my dad would have to talk about.”
“So what about your dad? What did he say?”
“I was getting freaked because Dad hadn’t said anything. But then he asked me to come to him and he hugged me and said that he loves me and nothing would ever make him stop loving me. Right then I was ready to start bawling, lemme tell you.
“I told Dad I love him, and then I told Mom I love her. I stood there for a long time waiting for her to say she loves me, and finally she did, but it didn’t sound very sincere. So I decided to push it and I asked her if she’s okay with me being gay. She said I’d surprised her, and that it was something she and Dad would have to talk about and that she needs time.”
“Yeah, it does, lemme tell you. I just stood there looking at her and I could see that my being gay is absolutely not okay with her. That really made me sad. Still, I can count on my dad and sisters to be there for me.”
Ron grinned and said “And,” as he pointed to himself.
“And you too, of course. And your folks.” Jason took a deep breath. “It’s so bogus. Why did my mom have to be a homophobe? Why couldn’t my mom be like your mom?”
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