Coming Out Too Early?

That just isn’t the right question to be asking. I read this really great article: Are Kids Coming Out Too Early. E. Winter Tashlin writes:

The Huffington Post ran a piece a few days ago from Amelia, a mother whose 7yr old son recently declared that he was gay. It was a lovely essay about love and acceptance, with a bit of parental concern in there too. The parents are being supportive of his identity, while at the same time, understanding that what he feels at seven may or may not be how he feels in the months and years to come. They seem quite content to take him at his word and see what does or doesn’t change with time.

There have been quite a lot of people on internet message boards saying that this is ridiculous, that this child can’t know at such a young age that he is gay. I’ve seen this particularly on LGBT message boards, where people are holding up their own coming out at older ages as proof that seven is “too young.”

Now I will grant that I didn’t know that I was gay/queer at seven, but not because I didn’t like boys. My best friend in 2nd grade was a boy named Noah, and I distinctly remember thinking that I wanted to grow up and marry him. I didn’t know that there was such a thing as “gay” at the time, but if I had, I would have considered myself to be so. Certainly by 4th grade I was having serious crushes on boys in my both school and religious community, although I knew to keep those thoughts private.

I don’t know if this boy will continue to ID as gay as he gets older, no one really can. But the idea that all kids are heterosexual until proven otherwise is starting to crack up.

It isn’t “prematurely sexualizing” a child to consider their orientation. After all, children’s books, movies, and family conversations, even at a young age, involve questions of marriage and relationships, just nearly always from a hetero-presumptive stance.

I recommend reading the entire article because he makes an interesting points about how some members of the LGBT community may find kids coming out a PR problem.
However, for me the take away from this article is:
  • when kids come out we support them.
  • any announcement of coming out IS NOT some sort of binding decision a parent or guardian should ever hold their child to in the future.
  • our society is changing and the assumption that all kids are straight (or should pretend to be so) just doesn’t apply anymore–not only was this inevitable with the strides that the LGBT community has made over the past 75 years, but hopefully it was a goal.
  • kids now say they are gay at earlier ages because they have the language to describe how they feel AND they are living in families that they believe won’t invalidate them, disown them, or send them to an institution.
  • supporting/accepting/validating a young kid who says they are gay is in no more “prematurely sexualizing” than saying to your six-year old daughter, “yes, Jenna when you grown up you can marry Michael if you want to” is prematurely sexualizing.

A Must Read!

Don’t Miss this Post: When Your 7-Year Old Announces ‘I’m Gay’.

“When Your 7-Year Old Announces ‘I’m Gay’” Huffington Post author “Amelia” on Michangelo Signorile show today, Friday, February 17, 2012 at 4:30pm EST. On Ch. 108, OUTQ SiriusXM. Free trial of SiriusXM online available.


Equality Everywhere

Equality. Everywhere.

Because my baby deserves it too.


Playgrounds and Prejudice

The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) has just released a report based on their research about LGBT prejudice and bullying in elementary schools: Playgrounds and Prejudice: Elementary School Climate in the United States. It is a survey of more than 1,000 teachers and 1,000 students from 3rd-6th grade during 2010.

In the Preface GLSEN Executive Director, Eliza S. Byard outlines that:

This report from GLSEN illustrates the extent to which children’s elementary school experiences still draw artificial boundaries on their lives based on critical personal characteristics. Name‐calling and bullying in elementary schools reinforce gender stereotypes and negative attitudes towards people based on their gender expression, sexual orientation, disability, race, religion or family composition. Elementary school students and teachers report frequent use of disparaging remarks like “retard” and “that’s so gay,” and half of the teachers surveyed report bullying as a “serious problem” among their students. Students who do not conform to traditional gender norms are at higher risk for bullying, and are less likely than their peers to feel safe at school. Our research also shows the connection between elementary‐school experiences of bullying and a lower quality of life.

The most comment epithets were those oriented toward intellectual or neurological difference, i.e. “retard” and “spaz,” but almost half the teachers and students surveyed said they hear “gay” used in any number of negative ways as well. The survey finds that children who are gender non-conforming endure the most bullying and name-calling. (I read this and feel as though nothing has changed since I was in elementary school. The children haven’t even updated the vocabulary of hate from the 1970s.)

GLSEN concludes that:

Elementary teachers often intervene in incidents of bullying and harassment, and most report being comfortable doing so. Yet, most are not comfortable responding to questions about LGBT people and few elementary students are taught about LGBT families. This tendency is not surprising given that most teachers report receiving professional development on addressing bullying, but not about subjects like gender issues or LGBT families. It is clear that an approach that fosters respect and values diversity even before bullying occurs, in addition to addressing bullying as it happens, would be welcomed by elementary school teachers who are eager to learn more about creating safe and supportive environments. Ensuring that all students and families are respected and valued in elementary school would not only provide a more positive learning environment for younger students, but would also lay the groundwork for safe and affirming middle and high schools.

Definitely the elementary schools are where we need to begin education that will change the culture of  middle and high schools. I often wonder how much impact my daughter’s presence in her school will have on her classmates as they move into middle school. For the kids who are part of her school community having a queer-identified classmate will not be surprising as they move on toward high school.

About four months ago I wrote a post LGBT Bullying Ignored by School Policy in which I analyzed the policies of my local school district.  Our district’s Student/Parent Handbook and Code of Conduct identify “prohibited discrimination. For example:

No student shall be discriminated against or unlawfully denied the opportunity to participate in any program or activity on the basis of the student’s gender, race, color, national origin, or disability.

These guiding documents fail to go beyond those categories however. In my October 12, 2011 post I conclude:

According to the discrimination and the harassment policy of my local school district, sexual orientation and non-normative gender identity are not covered [as categories of "prohibited discrimination"].

Playgrounds and Prejudice finds that most schools fail to have comprehensive policies that protect children from harassment and discrimination based on sexual orientation and non-normative gender-identity. The new GLSEN survey shows that less than a quarter of the teachers said that their schools had a policy protecting gender identity, sexual orientation or performance of gender. GLSEN suggests, and I heartily concur, that a comprehensive policy to protect children with non-conforming gender expression or who identify as LGBT will lead to teachers being more proactive in the protection of their students. The GLSEN report concludes:

Although most teachers report that their school has an anti‐bullying/harassment policy, less than a quarter (23%) say that their school has a comprehensive policy that specifically includes protections for bullying based on sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, among other characteristics (e.g., race/ethnicity).

Anti‐bullying/harassment policies may facilitate teachers taking action in their classrooms. Teachers in schools with these policies, particularly with comprehensive policies, are more likely to address incidents of bias and to take proactive steps to ensure that gender non‐ conforming students and students with LGBT families are safe and supported in school. (page 115)

What should we take away from this?

School districts must institute policies that are comprehensive in their protection of children based on gender identity, sexual orientation or performance of gender.

School districts and principals need to articulate to their teachers and school employees that these policies must be enforced and that school employees who identify incidences of harassment covered by these policies will be supported by school and district leadership.

School districts, principals, and teachers must commit to bringing these issues of justice into the school and classrooms. We need to teach justice and respect.

How do we do this?

We go to our the teachers, principals, and school board members and express our concerns. We ask for comprehensive policies to be incorporated into school codes of conduct and student handbooks.

We use the tools and programs already created for use in elementary schools. These are free programs that come with everything needed to institute a school wide, age-appropriated set of lessons that can form the platform to bring these issues into the schools, facilitate discussion, and cultivate a culture of respect among the students.

As GLSEN has just released their survey Playgrounds and Prejudice they have also released a toolkit to help educators incorporate lessons of respect and understanding into their classrooms. Ready, Set, Respect! answers the needs of elementary schools as outlined by the survey.  GLSEN Executive Director, Eliza S. Byard  states: Ready, Set, Respect! will equip teachers with tools and resources that not only improve school climate, but also instill a shared sense of responsibility among students that name-calling, bullying and harassment have no place in a school or community.”

The Human Rights Campaign has also created the Welcoming Schools program:

Welcoming Schools is an LGBT-inclusive approach to addressing family diversity, gender stereotyping and bullying and name-calling in K-5 learning environments. Welcoming Schools provides administrators, educators and parents/guardians with the resources necessary to create learning environments in which all learners are welcomed and respected.

The Welcoming Schools Guide offers tools, lessons and resources on embracing family diversity, avoiding gender stereotyping and ending bullying and name-calling.

For slightly older student populations, kids in middle and high schools, GLSEN has lots of resources to help organize Gay Straight Alliances (GSA). GLSEN also sponsors the Safe Space campaign.

The Safe Space Kit is a collection of resources for educators to create a positive learning environment for LGBT students. It contains a 42-page guide that provides concrete strategies for supporting LGBT students, including how to educate about anti-LGBT bias. It also comes with Safe Space stickers and posters to help students identify supportive educators.

I suggest purchasing a copy of Queer Kids: The Challenges and Promise for Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Youth for the school counseling center of your local schools. It is a book written for school counselors, parents, and youth.

Lastly, many high school drama programs have already put on productions of The Laramie Project, a play written about the death of Matthew Shepard on October 12, 1998. These productions are a great way for students to create public forum that encourage discussions about LGBT issues, including discrimination and hate crime. This year was the 13th anniversary of his death and we mark it as an important reminder of the need for everyone, gay and straight, to make the safety all queer and gender non-conforming people a personal commitment–Be An Ally.


Queer Kids Make this a Better World for Everyone

I love how our queer kid has changed our lives.

Because of her . . .

I work harder to make the world better for all queer kids.

I have the chance to participate in her own amazing, unique journey.

I see the world through different eyes.

I am more courageous.

I demand more authenticity and truthfulness from myself. If she is going to put her identity on the line, I better do it too.

I have a great role model to follow.

I am a better person.

Thank you, my sweet girl. I love you.


Reteaching Gender and Sexuality

This is a spectacular video featuring queer youth: Reteaching Gender and Sexuality. It is not about changing bullies, but about making a culture in which are kids are thriving, and loving, and being awesome. It’s about changing a culture of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and that coming out is not something that happens once. Coming out is a daily process.

Reteaching Gender & Sexuality is a message about queer youth action and resilience. The video was generated to contribute additional queer/trans youth voices to the national conversations about queer/trans youth lives. Reteaching Gender & Sexuality intends to steer the conversation beyond the symptom of bullying, to consider systemic issues and deeper beliefs about gender and sexuality that impact queer youth. Share the video with your friends, family and networks and talk about what THIS means to you!

And check out their full 34-minute documentary Put This on The {Map}. This is just the kind of resource we need to introduce educators to the kids who are in their classrooms every day. This needs to be shown to people across society to help reeducate us to the true beauty that is our gender and sexual identities. We are so much more than simple binaries.


The Ugly Heart of Bullying

This post has made my morning: Unpacking Bullying posted at Trans/plant/portation.

The bullies themselves are not the core of the problem. It is families and society that teaches hate, intolerance and hurting others (sometimes just so they won’t hurt you) is the larger problem.

When a child decides to say something mean, they’re not necessarily (or often, for that matter) selecting a castigating remark based on what they think is the best “fit” for that target; they go straight for the thing they think is most hurtful. Often, that is a gay slur. They didn’t invent epithets, we adults taught it to them. We also showed them how to use these words with the sharpest points and manner of presentation possible. When we focus on bullies, we seem to forget that we ourselves are implicated in their behavior.

Education needs to happen at home, in our culture at large, and in schools – but it isn’t a message of “don’t bully” that the kids need it is a message about being strong and confident without kicking everyone else down so you can step on top of them.

The Food Chain

Yesterday my daughter and I were talking about bullying and the fact that it comes from families of origin, but the hate and fear is magnified by each kid’s own insecurities.

“So, the bully is so afraid of being at the bottom of the food chain that he pushes his way to the top so he can eat everyone else before they eat him?” That sums up part of the issue.

When I went to my daughter’s school to speak with her principal, I didn’t want to hear about the zero tolerance policy for bullying. By the time we are addressing incidents of harassment it is already too late. I wanted us to work together to teach the kids about diversity, acceptance, and the real ramifications of hate speech.

If a kid legitimately doesn’t know that “fag” isn’t a synonym for “stupid” he doesn’t understand that he is participating in LGBT bullying. Calling someone “stupid” isn’t okay either, but kids learn these terms from somewhere and they don’t always understand them. (I cringe when I recall my ignorant use of certain words – and I am appreciative that the adults who set me right did not humiliate me when they did)

The Big Picture

Safe and nurturing environments for our kids do not arise from simple assemblies about not bullying, but from inclusive education about the contributions of LGBT people throughout history, that gay families and straight families are more alike than dissimilar, that gender is not binary, and so on.

Let me leave you with the author’s last statement, but seriously go read the entire post:

We also affect how we think about bullies by focusing only on two extreme responses: the kids who commit suicide, and the kids who then hurt or kill other kids, as in the Columbine school massacre. But there are a whole host of other responses that get no media attention, and thus only a thin slice of the conversation. These are the kids who walk around with self-hatred, who insist they’re not gay for years longer than they may have otherwise, who become bitter or dysfunctional, who join ex-gay or gay reformer organizations, and so on, and that is another big price to pay for avoiding a subject or looking at only a few aspects of it.

We need to be more honest about LGBT/youth/LGBT youth suicide, because we care about human life and living it with happiness. This means we need to get honest with ourselves about how well we support our youngest generations’ emotional needs, and what we’re willing to do to make material improvements in their lives.

I am trying to nurture a strong, proud lesbian before the haters get to her. She already sees her identity as not hers alone, but part of a formidable community around the world and throughout time.

When I listen to her recount what happens in school I hear her interpreting the slurs of other children as attacks on all women or all queers – not just her. She seems to regard the world as having teams, some that support all that is best about LGBT-ness, and another made up of a disorganized set of people who are “narrow-minded and ignorant.” The ignorant, she believes might be educated, and the truly narrow-minded must not run amok without some push-back, but they are beyond wasting time on, especially when she could be swinging on the swings with her friends.


Risks in the Family: Vulnerability & Authenticity

Family and Drag – Part I

I want to share a blog post from Pink, Purple, and Blue entitled, “Have a Little Faith.” It touches on so many pertinent issues faced by families and their LGBT members.

Parents, Drag, and Celebration

This bisexual woman enjoys drag, but has not shared it with her mom, because her mom has been only conditionally supportive. Yet, her mother calls her and asks to she the videos of her performances. At first the daughter questions her mother’s motivation and says no, but after time passes the mother is able to express her wish to see them, without the intent to judge.

This posted depicts the complicated relationship between parents and their children, even when the children are all grown up and living life away from home. I hope that the writer is correct and her mother is ready to be exposed to her drag performance videos openly and with acceptance, if not with appreciation.

The author’s hesitation springs from experience. Her mother doesn’t embrace her LGBT identity, but she doesn’t condemn it either. The point that the writer makes about her mother showing up when asked, but not celebrating her daughter’s identity spontaneously is crucial.

Celebrating your kids for being who they are, without being asked is essential to raising healthy, confident kids and having family relations that are authentic and meaningful. This writer says:

I’m fairly certain that my mother will die and I will still never be fully sure about her feelings towards my life. That’s just the kind of person she is; her cards are usually played close to her chest.

This seems like a common sentiment, but such a sad one. I certainly don’t want that with my daughter.

This writer is brave and vulnerable – right on! She’s right if there is headway made at least one party must be vulnerable and take a risk. I wish her the best.

Family and Drag – Part II

Beautiful Transgressions and Taking the Long View

Speaking of taking risks: recently my lovely daughter was in a big, family wedding. She willingly grew her hair out for six months, wore a pastel bridesmaid’s dress, and as far as I can tell didn’t come out to anyone during the weekend, which would have caused drama that both detracted from the bride’s special weekend in the spotlight and added more stress to an already stressful situation. My daughter was gracious and accommodating or at least that’s what I discerned.

BUT – when it came time to pack for the events of the long weekend she announced that she would be wearing her suit and tie to the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner. I even took her out and bought some really stylish black dress shoes from the boy’s section of the shoe store. Dressing in what was essentially drag* for the wedding rehearsal and rehearsal dinner, was both risky and beautifully transgressive.

Apparently the wedding planner could stop referring to our girl as he and him, no matter how many times my daughter corrected her.

According to my daughter this angered her, yet I wonder if there is a part of her that expected (hoped) this would happen because it drew attention to the very nature of her gendered performance at that moment. She is shrewd like that – she always has been. It’s one of the things I enjoy most about her. She can take the long view when she wants to undermine the status quo/powers that be.

You definitely can get a sense of this ability in My Daughter’s View of Herself, when I describe her clear three-year plan to address gender, then gay awareness/rights, and then being out at school. She may not be aware of her astute stratagem, but do it intuitively.

She’s taking calculated risks, making herself vulnerable, pushing the envelope of accepted behavior, addressing the reaction, and then pushing further. I definitely don’t want to think of this being directed toward teenage defiance. Yikes . . . and wow.

*Notes on Drag

I say “drag” because this is what it must look like to outsiders, but I don’t think of it this way because from day-to-day, sometimes hour to hour, our girl dress in outfits that range from the extremely feminine to the fully masculine. For us it is all her – there is no differentiation between what is performance and what isn’t. It is all performance, and none of it is.

This morning she went off to school in a short, pleated gray and pink plaid skirt, a gray t-shirt with a pink bow embroidered on it, silver flats with silver roses on them, and a pink and gray sweatshirt to keep away the autumn chill. Her nails are painted a precious lavender and she is wearing sparkly earrings.

Which outfit is drag?


Show & Tell

This is a post that invites you to talk to us or suggest a topic.

What do you think? What are you wrestling with at the moment? Send me your thoughts and suggestions.

Here’s what I’m running with today . . .

Yesterday I received this comment from TJ:

Love this post and am thoroughly celebrating your very precocious queer daughter. Another point for all those “How do you know for sure?” naysayers: Sure, this young person’s gender and sexual identity may shift over time. Maybe many times. And her crushes may look very different from day to day: femmy girls, boyish girls, bois, queer bio-boys, trans-folk, whatever. I celebrate the wonderful flexibility that comes with being queer and NOT having to pick identity boxes. So proud of your daughter for asserting her queer self so early, and hoping that pressure from conservative straight OR gay communities never stifles her self-expression.

I love this comment! Yes, yes, yes. There is a whole exciting world out that that she doesn’t know exists, and she really isn’t ready for. Yet it is exciting to think of all the exploring she will do as she grows up, not just in meeting different people, but traveling to different communities, and trying on different identities.

I hope she sends back stories to her ol’ mom about her amazing week at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival or some other cool event or destination.

Lesbian, Gay, Queer, Femme, Butch, . . . : The Power of Labels

I use the word lesbian to describe my daughter, because lesbian and gay, are the words she chooses to describe herself. I prefer queer because I see it as more inclusive and less restrictive, but she is young and hasn’t become aware of all the nuances of identity and attraction. But for her lesbian has a strong identifiable history, community, and a connection to feminism. Being a feminist is also an important feature of her identity.

She is at a stage where clarity of identity is important – especially since she lives in a less accepting environment. The kids she interacts with on a daily basis may know the concepts of gay and lesbian, but not usually. Anything beyond the straight-gay binary is just too complicated yet.

She likes saying “I am a lesbian and I am proud,” “I am a feminist and I am proud.” Ah, the power of labels to make us feel powerful!

A Universe of Possible Crushes

TJ, you are absolutely right. She made the picture of Dreamgirl X, because that lovely lady is one familiar type of female she interacts with and is drawn to. Someday hopefully she will travel to other places and meet other types of people.

The spectrum of gender performance and identity in elementary school is so very, very limited. In fact, she may be one of the few who actually push the envelope of gender non-conforming appearance.

In high school I think there is greater freedom. For instance, there is a slim high school-aged check-out girl at our local market with short, dyed hair and hip, arty glasses. She doesn’t look like your typical Southern high school girl.

Last week while I was looking at the cheeses in the refrigerated display of our local market my daughter leaned in toward me: “that girl’s cute” she said with a shake of her head toward the girl working the register in the lane behind us.

Apparently this short-haired nerd-pixie is also her type.

I leaned in, looked over my shoulder, and whispered, “we’ll have to go to her lane then when we are done shopping then.”

*Sigh* Isn’t the local grocery market a quintessential location for young crushes?! So sweet. (Reminds me of John Updike’s short story, “A&P”)

I am thankful that my daughter will share these harmless, innocent observations with me, because I am sure I was too embarrassed or insecure or private or something to share such a detail with my mom.

Gender Performance and Feeling Awesome

I’d also like to add to TJ’s comment to my post How Do You Know For Sure [that your daughter is a lesbian]?, to say that my daughter likes to play with gender performance too. But this is obvious to the people who know her – her sexual orientation is not (and therefore must be proved).

The other night she and I went to her very first play – not an animated kids’ story made for Broadway or the Rockettes’ Christmas Spectacular, but a real get-your-catharsis-on play. This was exciting for her and so asked if she should dress up. “Sure” I said and off she went, thrilled to wear her suit and tie. She came back to my room dressed in her gray pinstripe suit to make sure I was wearing an outfit that would compliment hers(!). She’d decided I should wear gray or black, but immediately approved of my navy blue Mad Men-inspired dress with pearls and pumps.

We had a wonderful night at the theater and she reveled in how “handsome” she felt. She even took a couple extra spins before the mirror just to enjoy it fully.

So, as TJ says:  So proud of your daughter for asserting her queer self so early, and hoping that pressure from conservative straight OR gay communities never stifles her self-expression.

I hope that coming out and growing up in the Bible Belt committed to being her authentic self means that when she’s grown there is nothing that can stifle her.

Lastly, thanks for all the great comments I’ve gotten this week!


No Sex in My House. Guess Again.

My daughters aren’t even thinking about boys yet.

In some families with ‘tweens (kids ages 9-12 years old) the kids aren’t being vocal about liking or admiring anyone in their class, at church, or on their swim team. It seems that they are wholly asexual.

So when I say “yes, my daughter is a lesbian, and yes, she is out at school” it seems like a strikingly sexual assertion.

I argue that preteens are surrounded by and identify with heterosexual romance and heterosexuality in ways that we don’t even notice. Taylor Swift and Justin Beiber bring straight sexuality and romance into the bedrooms and carpools of most American children and we don’t think about it at all.

This is how it was for my generation and this is how it is for my daughter’s generation. Listening to romantic and sexy songs is one important way we become individuals with romantic (and sexual) ideas and desires, ideas and desires defined by the culture we live in. This is totally normal.

Let’s take the lyrics and videos by Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber for example. Remember, these songs are pretty tame compared with some of the things our kids listen to everyday.

The video for Swift’s 2009 hit You Belong with Me features the adorably nerdy Swift longing for the attentions of her cute, young, male, football-playing neighbor.

Swift laments,

I’m in the room, its a typical Tuesday night
I’m listening to the kind of music she doesn’t like
And she’ll never know your story like I do

But she wears short skirts, I wear t-shirts
She’s cheer captain and I’m on the bleachers
Dreaming bout the day when you wake up and find
That what you’re lookin’ for has been here the whole time

If you could see that I’m the one who understands you
Been here all along so why can’t you see?
You belong with me
You belong with me

By the end of the video, the authentic, quirky, yet very lovely Swift casts off her glasses, takes down her hair and captures the attention of the romantic male lead. She rescues him from the clutches of the stoney-faced, cheer captain also played by Swift.

My daughter, as well as all her friends, know every word to this song. It is innocent enough and the yearning for the attentions of the cutie who seems unaware of our hidden charms is typical.

However, this song and video like so many others just like it make heterosexuality for kids in elementary school and middle school so normal that it becomes invisible to the adults in their world.

Turning to Justin Bieber, his song Baby (with Ludacris) from 2010, even describes a love “affair” ended and mourned by the age of 13. The video is so focused on opposite sex relationships that it includes a boys vs. girls breakdancing showdown.

Both Swift and Bieber were still in their teens when their first hit songs topped the charts. Not much older than the ‘tweens who sing along to their music.

If every future straight adult, that harmlessly indulges in the desire to be or be with Taylor Swift or Justin Bieber were to wear a t-shirt that said “I’m straight” to elementary or middle school one day, my child announcing “I’m gay” would seem pretty insignificant.

No preteen sexuality in your house? Unlikely. (But that’s okay.)


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