Ep. 70: Sexual Identity Challenges
Richie Jackson, author of the newly-released Gay Like Me and long-time, award-nominated TV/film and theater producer, joins Andy this week. Richie and Andy discuss how parents can support their teens in their own journey of sexual identity, and how teens might become allies for their friends in the LGBTQ community.
Full Show Notes
Homosexuality, along with other sexual orientations and gender identities, are hot topics in today’s media. However, it is still new ground and can be confusing territory, especially for parents. Parents are already apprehensive about sex talks with their teens, but parents with LGBTQ-identifying teens can feel even more ill-equipped.
Despite the trend toward more acceptance, there are still challenges for LGBTQ people. Representation in history books is at best unequal, and often TV/film depictions are stereotyped or exaggerated. While tech-savvy teens can tap into supportive online LGBTQ communities, navigating the real world is not as easy – and often not as friendly. As a parent it can feel even harder to prepare your teen for the world when they identify as LGBTQ.
Richie Jackson, himself proudly gay, felt similarly as his gay son prepared to head off to college. Despite having 18 years, Richie knew there was a lot more his son needed to know about living in the world and being LGBQT. So, he started to write letters to him. In fact, he wrote so many letters that he had enough material for the beginning of a book. Those letters are now published in Richie’s first book Gay Like Me: A Father Writes to His Son. In it, Richie shares stories from his own life, good, bad, and humourous, as well as stories of gay leaders, creatives, and game-changers. The book is a true labor of love and an important read for anyone who thinks being “gay” is no longer a big deal.
Richie is adamant that it is vital for your teen to hear information from you, their parent, not just from outside sources. And no matter your teen’s sexual identity or gender, making sure they know about it is still important. Being an LGBTQ ally can change someone’s life.
By teaching all kids and teens LGBTQ history, Jackson believes that gay and straight children alike will learn to embrace non-heteronormative identities as gifts rather than burdens. As we saw in Peggy Orenstein’s interview, being gay or non-binary can free a person to create a new script for their relationships, their career choices, and in their everyday lifestyle.
In addition to great advice on how to talk to your LGBTQ teen about sex and prejudice, Richie and I discuss:
- Balancing vulnerability and caution in relationships
- Talking to teens, gay and straight, about sex
- LGBTQ obstacles now vs. then
- The importance of raising straight LGBTQ allies and advocates
- Writing a book as a full-time parent and producer
Richie has crafted a beautiful book and truly opens up to readers (and of course his son). It is as poignant as it is informative and helpful and I think every parent will come away with new insights!
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Word-for-word examples of WHAT to say to your teen
1. Remind your teen not to take on anyone else’s baggage:
“You won’t know where in their process they are. You won’t know if they’re in the closet, if they’ve been bullied, abused, if they’re self-loathing. So you have to take care with them. You have to be good to them because they could be hurting. But don’t take on their shame.”
2. When your teen diminishes their LGBTQ identity:
Step-by-step guides for applying the ideas from this interview
1. Inspire your teen with LGBTQ people from history:
Parents all know it’s important to provide teens with a wealth of examples from history and the present of positive role models. Richie Jackson feels the same. Richie stresses how important it is for LBGTQ kids and teens to be exposed to gay people from all walks of life and all ages. And while many classroom history books leave out examples of important historical gay figures (not to mention women and ethnic groups), the Internet has done a wonderful job of it. A simple google search should yield plenty of “listicles” of LGBTQ people past and present.
Create your own list of the 15 most important people to expose your LGBTQ teen to. Each week, bring up that person and their story to your teen. Be honest with your teen and tell them you want to make sure they have lots of examples of gay people living diverse lives – not just as caricatures on TV.
2. Write Your Teen a Book:
About Richie Jackson
Richie Jackson is the author of Gay Like Me, published by HarperCollins. He is an award-winning Broadway, television and film producer who most recently produced the Tony Award-nominated Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song on Broadway. He executive produced Showtime’s Nurse Jackie (Emmy and Golden Globe nominee for Best Comedy Series) for seven seasons and co-executive produced the film Shortbus, written and directed by John Cameron Mitchell.
As an alumnus of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, he endowed a fellowship program, the Richie Jackson Artist Fellowship, at his alma mater in 2015 to assist graduates in the transition from academia to a lifelong career in the arts.
He and his husband, Jordan Roth, were honored with the Trevor Project’s 2016 Trevor Hero Award. They live in New York City with their two sons.