Dear Andy,

My son, the youngest of three, is nine years old. His two sister are three and five years older than him [respectively]. He follows them everywhere and wants to mimic everything they do. He’s become a very good dancer and singer in his own right. However, my wife and I are wondering if he’s gay. We don’t care if he is or not, my father-in-law is gay and we all love him. What I don’t know what to do is [how] help him in some way. My wife doesn’t want him to go through what her father went through growing up. We’re not sure that he is gay or not. We’re just concerned that he’s showing some feminine traits and we’re afraid that he’ll be hurt. We’re also afraid that he will be bullied at school or anywhere we go to.

-Parents in the dark

Dear Parents in the dark,

I wouldn’t worry too much if your son is gay or not. Not everyone knows at the same time. Some kids know before their teens and others right after. The beauty of 2016 is that life is different. Parents are more understanding and don’t see it as a curse or taboo. If he is gay and comes out, good. If he’s not gay and he’s happy that’s good too. What I wouldn’t do is label him at this point in life. He’ll grow up to be a fine man. You just have to let him grow up. If you try to protect him or interfere with his maturing milestones, you’ll be doing more harm than good. He needs to learn how to defend himself, as well as to stand up for his beliefs.

Bullies don’t only target gay children. They target everyone equally. Don’t let your assumptions that he will be bullied for being effeminate or gay. Worry about teaching him to defend himself from the children who have insecure parents that bully him for any number of given reasons. When he learns not to be bullied, he will lead a very healthy life and will never be afraid.

All you have to do is be there when he’s ready to come out. As well as be there if he’s not gay. Showing feminine traits is very subjective nowadays. If you’re comparing him to your father or to yourself as a benchmark of what masculinity is, you might need to take a better look at yourself and how you view gender norms. The fact that you’re questioning his mannerisms implies that you’re thinking about it. There are no set in stone patterns for masculinity and femininity. Those molds have been broken and we struggle daily to fit into something. Don’t expect him to conform to the gender definitions of preceding generations. Let him be who he is and watch as your son grows and develops with supportive parents.