To My Kid:
I support you as you evolve. It is such a privilege to share this journey with you. I’ll do my best to guide or follow in uncharted territory.
I’m sad for those who can’t accept that. I’m angry at those who try to invalidate you.
My job is to nurture you and protect you. My job is to make you strong enough to fight for your truth and loving enough to nurture beauty in others.
Endure and flourish, my love.
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.
Attention School Personnel: This is NOT A DRILL.
This is an Actual Test of Your Professional Ability
Friday, my daughter came out to the school counselor and the music teacher. She told us all about it over dinner. This is what we discovered:
We see now that when our daughter comes out to the teachers she does not base her own self-worth and identity on what they say (which would be unhealthy anyway), but instead our girl refuses to be denied by them and will push the teachers further in their understanding when they try to say she is too young to know. Then our sweet baby rates their reactions based on what she knows should be the appropriate response of an educator!
This school is NOT READY FOR MY DAUGHTER IN SO MANY REGARDS.
(Substitute) School Counselor
The school counselor who is currently just filling in for our awesome regular counselor who is out on leave got very low marks for how she handled the interaction according to our daughter. Apparently, the counselor was speechless. The temporary counselor earned herself an eye-roll and a “she’s a TRAINED SCHOOL COUNSELOR for heaven’s sake” comment when the incident was recounted over dinner on Friday evening.
This was when we realized: a-ha, our girl’s not coming out to them, she is testing them! She has enough support; that is not what she is looking for. She simply wants to continue the process of being her out, authentic self at school and she is testing these professionals against what she knows are the right ways to react and support LGBT youth.
School counselor grade: D. Comments: Perhaps the counselor should be allowed a do-over to improve her grade. It was a pop quiz after all. Moreover, she was just filling in and was surely not prepared to be asked to deal with such an unusual situation.*
Veteran Music Teacher
The music teacher got HIGH marks for: coming around after my daughter upped her evidence-based argument. The music teacher then addressed the issue of bullying proactively, made a strong verbal commitment to my daughter as an ally, and then outed herself as a devout Christian (of questionable appropriateness as a public school employee, but fine as a caring human being) and made a “I believe God knows what he’s doing, and he can see the future, and he doesn’t make mistakes – don’t you let anyone tell you otherwise” statement. It was this well-intentioned music teacher’s version of a pro-gay Christian vaccination against stupid homoprejudiced Bible-Belt Christians.
Music teacher grade: A. Comments: Music teacher goes to the head of the class!
The New Evidenced-Based Argument
My girl has developed a virtual bag of reasoned responses to all sorts of questions and statements that people present her with. Some are defenses against bigoted comments and some are educational explanations to be used when confronted with an ignorant person who makes unintentionally offensive statements.
She has been working on her answer to the dismissive “you are too young to know” statements that she gets from adults for some time, but has seemed unsatisfied with it, until now . . . .
So, the music teacher gave her some variation on the old “you have many years to figure out who you are/you are too young to know/you will get to puberty and figure out who you like then” chestnut.
Oh, the familiar disappointment.
Then . . . it comes to her and she says something like this to the teacher:
Imagine you are a fifth grade girl in the hallway at school. There is this cute boy that every girl likes; I mean, EVERY GIRL has a crush on him. He is super cute, nice, everything. He walks down the hall past you and you feel nothing. NOTHING.
Then this girl you like, who is super cute and really nice walks down the hall past you and you feel all tight and tingly. Maybe you think to yourself, ‘hmmm, this must be a delayed reaction from the boy?’ But, NO, you realize you never get that tight, tingly feeling with the boy, only with the cute girl.
Apparently this was proof enough to convince the music teacher that when my daughter says, “I’m a lesbian” she means, “I’m a lesbian.”
First, I am so proud they way she handled this. She was quick on her feet and has intuited that appeals to reason aren’t convincing enough; she must appeal to emotion and the body’s own unconscious physical reaction to attraction. She has deduced that she must prove that she has consistent physical responses that support her claim of same-sex attraction.
This leads me to my second observation, do adults have to prove their identities to all and sundry when they come out? I don’t think so. Maybe a few times to family members, but bosses or college professors would never question or refute a man who declares, “I’m gay.”
I understand that adults guide and educate children and adults see this questioning of children as part of their obligation to help a child through life. However, we should consider reframing our “you are too young” denial to something more affirming. If one must search for evidence in order to believe a child’s assertion, consider asking questions that affirm and further the discussion, “what is that like for you?” or “how did you figure this out?”
Just imagine if the story I recounted above about my very confident, articulate, and strong-willed daughter coming out to the counselor and music teacher featured a scared child in need of support and encouragement instead. What would that girl’s experience have been? How would she have felt afterwards?
*(addendum from 30 January 2012) When our beloved school counselor returned to work, my daughter promptly sought her out for an appointment. After they met, my daughter came right home and told me about the interaction. My girl was very happy to tell me that the counselor made sure that she was supported at home and that she knew that the counselor’s office was a safe and supportive place within the school. A+ for our counselor and in the months since I originally wrote this post I am so happy to report that my daughter’s teachers have been great and that her friends have really supported her. So far, so good!
Despite my searching and my attempts at visibility, I have yet to hear about other young LGB kids or talk to any other parents of gay kids.
I am sure there must be other kids from 5-10 years old who have come out to their families as gay.
I think it would be nice if these kids could find each other. I know there are communities and discussion forums for parents of transgendered kids and their children. The LGBT Youth Centers I have explored usually state 13 as their lower age limit.
Gay children have different needs than their adolescent counterparts – though the children will shortly grow into older kids. It seems that nurturing gay kids in childhood would make adolescence a little easier.
Why Queer Children Now?
There are reasons that children are coming out earlier than ever – greater visibility in the media, perhaps an increase in acceptance by the general population, and so on. This 2009 ABC News article: “‘Smear the Queer': Gay Students Tell Their Stories” describes the experiences of students who knew they are gay in elementary school and then suffered from ruthless classmates and teachers who were at a loss about how to handle the situation.
San Francisco State University Clinical Researcher, Caitlyn Ryan’s research shows that:
In generations past . . . people came out of the closet at much older ages. However, with increasing awareness of homosexuality on TV, in high schools, on the Internet and in the news, . . . children today are more likely to put two and two together much earlier.“Many people knew that they were gay at early ages, typically boys — they knew when they were 5, or 8 or 10,” [Ryan] said.
This early awareness, in combination with immature children, can lead to serious problems in schools without proper intervention.
There should be a broader discussion happening about the needs of young gay children. Research and articles in the press address LGBT bullying as a middle school or high school phenomenon, but from the article linked to above and other such collections of stories, children are being singled out for being gay in elementary school.
And lots of people know they are gay in elementary school or earlier.
The delightful blog Born This Way posts pictures readers have submitted of themselves as children along with a short blurb about themselves and the photo. The point of the blog is to show through photographic evidence and 20/20 hindsight that the readers were born that way. Many of the entries are accompanied by statements such as “when didn’t I know?” or “I was five when I had my first crush . . .”
It seems that there is proof that there were gay children, but
where, oh, where are the queer children and their families now?
Please feel free to email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hugs. Lots of them.
It is clear to me now that holding my daughter is the most important gift I can give her during this period of intense growth. Since she chose to come out to the world she has grown up so much, but she also wants her mama to embrace her more than ever.
Last night during a long period of silent embrace she whispered, “it’s good to know someone’s here for me, whether it’s grades, sexual orientation, or sexual [gender] identity.”
These days I wonder all the time what we can do to inoculate our kids against the insidious onslaught of a bigoted society? Perhaps holding them as much as they need to be held, every time they ask for it is a start.
Hiding out in the bedroom with my coffee, sleeping dogs, and the laptop, the room is bright with the east light of late morning.
I hear giggles, shrieks, and incessant chatter. I smell bacon. More happy girl shrieks.
It is the morning of a sleepover with two of my daughter’s best friends.
Last night they were so loud, shrieking and laughing, and running out into the living room to show us their zombie makeup or the “NOH8″ they’d stenciled on their faces like photos on the internet. I looked at my partner, winced, and said:
“I think it’s going to be like this for the next six years.”
He mimed wanting to end it all at the thought.
But I know this is exactly what being 10 years old is supposed to be like . . .
and in this moment I know everything is just as it should be.