Man in the Kitchen: Embracing Your Child’s Sexual Identity

Man in the Kitchen: Embracing Your Child’s Sexual Identity

raising boys
Ken Carlton and son Matty. Photo courtesy of author

“Hey Dad, got a minute?”

“Sure. What’s up?” We’re watching a Law & Order re-run while I pack for a two-week trip to Africa. I am not an organized guy.

“You know, since you’re going to be away for my 16th birthday, there’s something I want to tell you.”

“Uh-huhhh.” Jeez, where did I stow my passport?

“You know I’m gay.”

“Hmmmm.” I count the pairs of socks in my suitcase. I hate doing laundry in hotels. Finally I look up at him. “Say, do you think we can lower the TV?”

That talk was over a year ago and truth in advertising, it was not a complete fall-off-the-sofa moment. I’d had my suspicions and my wife was all but certain, long before me. Still, when that little boy you urged to play soccer (miserably so) for three seasons in elementary school pulls you aside and announces he is homosexual, it does get your attention.

Author and son in younger days. Photo courtesy of author

Stealing center stage

The second you hear those words, all your pre-conceived notions about his future fly out the window. Then, a moment later, you realize it is not only his future but yours that you’re thinking about. This is an emotional ice bath dunking and make no mistake: it is also about you! Everything you thought, said or did is now filtered through a different scrim and lesson #1 is that you have to adopt a radically different view.

Some of you are already there with your own children. You speak the language of gender fluidity, sexual identification, and a whole slew of pronouns that are awfully hard to fit into sentences. You are at the intermediate level and working hard.

Others, however, are thinking, “Nope, not me. That’s not us.” May I gently suggest, think again?

Matty at Women’s March January 21, 2017. Photo courtesy of author

I am not writing this column to out my son (he gave me the okay before I crafted a single word), but to share a wakeup call with anyone who is raising a child. Because whether you think so or not, you are now a full-fledged member of this brave new world! Your kid – gay or straight, bi or trans, or just not sure – is coming of age in far more accepting times. And whether you’re watching from the sidelines or parenting a child in transition, your most important role is deciding how you’re going to fit into what may at first feel like a very puzzling environment.

© Alice Donovan Rouse/Unsplash

Father does not always know best

Here’s some good news. For all the gloom-filled rumblings in today’s current clime – from the threat of nuclear war to the cruel injustice of economic inequality – our kids are going to inherit this earth and they are already better stewards than we are. They scoff at global warming doubters. They embrace the STEM curriculum. They ridicule Donald Trump’s tweets and don’t need anyone to tell them black lives matter. My stepdaughter and her peers are brimming with confidence because no one told them girls can’t succeed. Whether we know it or not, we are raising an enlightened generation. Is it any surprise they’re not getting all bent out of shape over who kisses who?

Matty is now a high school senior and we recently toured a well-known U.S. college where our chipper, backward-walking tour guide cheerfully informed us that the school provided, among other things, queer for people-of-color housing, male and female transgender rugby clubs, and bathrooms to fit every pronoun in the book. I learned more about sexual identity and political correctness than I did about the school’s meal plans.

Granted, as parents we’re slogging through murky gender role times, often hard to grasp. Change always is. However, even if you are a card-carrying member of a party or religion that devoutly denies these realities, the fact is, your kids do not. In fact, they embrace them. Or best of all, don’t notice what all the fuss is about in the first place!

Looking ahead to college. Photo courtesy of author

Matthew gave me his blessing to write this piece as long as I promised not to make it cloying or precious. No tear-stained pages professing that I love him even more because he’s gay. I get it. This generation is losing the word “alternative.” It’s gender fluidity that’s been “outed,” not your son or daughter. He/she/they/it have been “out” to their friends for years and if you’re lucky, they will let you in on their reality sooner, not later. With Matty’s sixteenth birthday admission he was not asking for permission. He was just letting me know that I’m still his “dada,” still part of his life.

We were driving home from our college tour weekend in the middle of the night, somewhere between Chicago and New York, when he announced out of the blue, “I can’t wait to meet a great guy.” I glanced sideways at him across the front seat, his face illuminated by the glow of the radio dial and thought to myself, God I’m going to miss that little boy. And in the same breath, I can’t wait to meet his first serious boyfriend. I wonder what I’ll make for dinner.

Poached fish. Photo Courtesy of author

Flavorful Easy Poached Fish

Is it possible there is a recipe that everyone likes and is impossible to ruin? I’ll venture this is a no-can-miss affair. It caters to any flavor and nearly any fish and you can’t overcook it. A worry-free dinner that pairs with anything.


  • 1 lb. of white fish – cod, haddock, halibut, etc.
  • 1 cup of broth (chicken or vegetable)
  • Chopped garlic and green onions
  • A few shakes of soy sauce
  • Salt and pepper, or any herb seasoning to taste


  • Cut fish into small filets that fit into a deep enough pan for broth
  • Salt and pepper the fish
  • Bring broth to a low boil
  • Add garlic and onion and a little soy if you like
  • Set fish gently into the liquid
  • Sprinkle fresh chopped herbs on top of fish
  • Simmer at barely a boil for 10 minutes or so
  • While simmering, occasionally spoon the broth with goodies over the fish
  • It’s done when the fish flakes off easily with a fork
Ken Carlton is founder and editor-in-chief of Beyondish, a food review and storytelling website. He is the author or ghostwriter of eight books, including the award-winning memoir, THE HUNGER, the story behind Greenwich Village’s celebrity hotspot, The Waverly Inn. Ken wrote the "His Point of View" column for Cosmopolitan and appeared as a dating expert on OPRAH. He still muses about food, relationships and parenting at his website, Food for Marriage. A New Yorker and Parisian at heart, he has scripted conferences in Paris for CNN and Fortune magazine. Ken and his wife, a professor, split their time between Brooklyn, NY and Chicago. You can follow him on Instagram @foodformarriage


  1. Great piece. I will say I was a bit disturbed when I saw the headline on Facebook. Children are not sexual and don’t need to be sexualized more than they already are. ‘Your teen’s sexual identity” would be more appropriate.

    • We think Ken’s post is great too. The editorial team and the author worked together on the title of this thoughtful post. By use of the words ‘your child”, we are referring to a parent’s offspring, as opposed to their age. Hope this clarifies the title for you.

  2. Thank you Ken, what a beautiful and well-written article. I can assure you that few to none of the REST OF US, especially those of us 50+, had anywhere near this easy a time of it with OUR parents. But that’s what our fight as gay men and women has been about all our lives -acceptance, understanding, compassion and LOVE.

    And it’s all there in your moving and insightful tale!
    Calvin Hambrook
    Toronto Canada

  3. Excellent article. Especially emphasizing the all about me moment. Important to say it in order to recognize and validate that feeling, so you can then move on to the more important things for your children.

  4. I love this article. I only hope the world and this group of gender fluid people have as optimistic a future as the author proclaims. I not only see the hatred and division that Trump has brought but what makes me more pessimistic is the people who support him and the Tea Party types and all those who want to go back to a white 50’s America when Father knows best. The author handled his son’s admission beautifully. I am on the east coast: white, female, straight, a mother, grandmother with friends of all sexual persuasions, male and female. I’m just not so sure of his rosy view of the future.


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