Coming Out at 7 Years Old: How Should Parents Respond?
Amelia knew there was something different about her 6-year-old son. For one thing, he’d developed an obsession with Blaine, one of the gay characters from the hit TV show Glee. And then there was his statement that the gay couple on the show were “just like me” because “They don’t like kissing girls. They just kiss boys.”
This didn’t faze Amelia one bit, although she didn’t want to rush to any conclusions about her young son’s sexual orientation. She figured he might come out as gay a few years down the road – or might get over his crush and never mention it again. What she wasn’t expecting was, several months later, for her now 7-year-old child to begin proudly and frequently asserting that he was gay.
Her response has simply been to tell him that she loves him, no matter what. She’s talked to his teachers at school and made clear that he identifies as gay, that she and her husband see nothing wrong with that, and that any bullying or intolerance at school will not be taken lightly.
And her husband, Dave? Well, I’ll let this excerpt from his recent blog on the Huffington Post speak for itself:
The idea that I would be immediately disappointed/angry/suicidal that my son identifies as gay offends me, both as a father and simply as a human. It seems the further we all move along into the 21st century in terms of technology, the more some parts of society regress to the 1950s — or the Victorian era, if we’re being honest — when it comes to ideas of social mores and attitudes on certain subjects: Ward Cleaver would have been angry if the Beaver had come out of the closet, so surely a father 60 years later would have the same reaction. I mean, come on, that’s only common sense!
Excuse me while I roll my eyes for an hour or two.
I don’t see how a father, or any parent, can look at their son, the one they’ve loved since before the child was even born, and upon hearing him say, “Dad, I’m gay,” turn their back on him. The comments from men much older than me telling stories just like that break my heart. My wife always wants to adopt the teenage kids who write to her; I want to adopt the 60-year-old men who cry when they read that I tell my son how awesome he is. I don’t care if they are as old as my father; they deserve love just as much as anyone else.
Some people might be uncomfortable with accepting a young child’s statements of sexual orientation at face value. And it’s true that, in a culture which conditions children to accept heterosexuality as the norm, young children very rarely have the insight to realize an alternative is possible.
Often, it does take until a child is in their early or late teens to understand that there’s an explanation for why they feel different. Even if they know early on that they’re gay, they might not have the vocabulary to articulate it. Identity can be complicated – I had a much easier time identifying as a lesbian as a young teen, and was only able to fully come to terms with an attraction to boys several years later. Coming out as bi or trans can often be even more difficult and confusing than simply identifying as gay or lesbian – even with a healthy support network.
But that isn’t always the case. Sometimes, it’s just obvious that children are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered at very young ages. Take Jenna Talackova, the trans model who knew she was a girl at age 4, and started hormone therapy at 14. I’ve known several friends and family members who were obviously gay from age 6 or 7 – and when they finally came out of the closet, it was a bit of a relief to be able to openly acknowledge it. Everyone had simply been waiting until they were comfortable enough to talk about it.
Increasingly, our society is entering new and uncharted territory in parenting. As more children see healthy, loving, gay relationships in their lives and the media they watch, they’ll know it’s normal for them to grow up and marry whomever they want – another boy, a girl, or someone who defies all categorization. Maybe they’ll grow up and have no interest in sex or relationships at all. What is the appropriate reaction when a young child asserts that they’re queer? Develops crushes on the same sex? Explains that their gender identity doesn’t match the body they were born with?
Should parents pretend not to notice? Tell them not to commit to an identity until they’re older? Or simply accept it at face value and not make a huge deal out of it?
I think that Amelia and Dave are modeling the ideal reaction. One that doesn’t make a big deal out of the revelation, but that is clearly supportive. One that gives their son room to grow, change, and develop – whether he continues to identify as gay in the future or not.
What about the Care2 community? When did you know you were gay, straight, trans, bi, asexual, or whatever you identify as? Have you always known? Did it hit you in your teens? Feel free to share your coming out stories in comments.
Photo credit: Beatrice Murch