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.

Guide & Follow

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.

 


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.


Coming Out at School: This is Not a Drill

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.”

Observations

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!


Where, oh, where are the queer children?

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: raisingqueerkids@gmail.com.


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.


Embrace against Hate

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.


“Be the Change You Want to See”

Accounts of gay teens killing themselves and LGBT individuals being tortured and murdered abound. I read, and I feel sad and anxious. I desperately do not want this to happen to my kid, or anyone’s kid.

A Dangerous World

Currently I live in a community with no queer visibility. Since we moved here two years ago, I’ve felt the lack of a LGBT presence. Recently it feels like a desert. Parched, I am crying out for a drink. There are crosses galore here, but no rainbows.

I became angry about this. I know there are queer people in this part of town, so why aren’t there any rainbow flags in the shop windows or stickers on cars?

People here are afraid, and for good reason. Workplaces are hostile. State and local policies are discriminatory, or blind at best. There aren’t domestic partner benefits or protections. Stories of bigoted cops harassing gay motorists are not uncommon.

I Am Complicit

The invisibility of my family’s identity, affiliations, and commitments make us complicit. I am the problem.

For the bulk of my adult life I have lived in places where I regularly saw rainbows in shop windows welcoming LGBT shoppers, or a long, thin, horizontal rainbow on the back of the truck in front of me at a red light, or an adorable woman, woman, dog, dog, cat stick figure family on the back of the SUV parked next to me at the grocery store.

Me, my naked car, my unadorned office door – this is the problem. I am the problem. Or at least I am part of the problem.

For many years I have benefited from the fact that others put their identities on display, so I can celebrate and appreciate the great community in which I live, or the cops can hassle them just a little extra at a traffic stop, or some bigot can scratch “Fag” across the hood of their car.

Human Rights Campaign

Walk the Walk

A couple of weeks ago I told my daughter, “I want us to put an equality sticker on our car.”

“Can we do it together?” she asked.

We went out into the garage, cleaned off the back window, and affixed the sticker using her kid-sized hands and my adult-sized ones.

I put my rainbow-colored Safe Zone sticker on the most visible spot next to my office door, and the matching Safe Zone pin on the bag I carry to work, and everyday I have worn a pin, necklace, or wrist band that makes my sentiments and commitments visible.

Misgivings?

I had some trepidations.

I thought what if this harms my opportunity to advance at work? To that I concluded, first I have never wanted to work in a bigoted work environment. If I am just fooling myself that this place is inclusive by never testing the bounds then I am cowardly. Second and most importantly, my kid means more to me than this one job. If I expect her to stand up for her beliefs and identity, then I sure better do the same.

I thought what if my gay co-workers think I am being some weird poser with my purple NOH8 wristband? Queerness is not an open topic of conversation where I work. No one has ever asked me about my identity, so why should I care what others might assume about me?

Once again my fear and insecurity can allow the problem to continue or I can walk the walk.

I can’t make the larger community resplendent with rainbow flags, equality symbols, and little gay stick figure families but I can bring a little of it everywhere I go. I can make LGBT-ness visible to the cashier at the market, the student in the hall, and the teachers and staff inside the elementary school.

I don’t want my kid, or someone else’s, to grow up in a world feeling all alone. Hopefully, every so often these days someone is behind me at a red light or beside me in the produce section and finds comfort in a sign of LGBT community.

Be the change you want to see in this world.

 – Mahatma Gandhi


When Art and Truth Combine

Check out the amazing video I just linked to on the Raising Queer Kids Facebook page. It is both a work of art and so touching. Watching it made me feel so clearly the importance of supporting kids, our own and others.

I so appreciate Randy Potts’ sacrifice and courage to go public. His story gives birth to real understanding, empathy, and conversation. Thank you Randy, even if I never meet you.


I say “I’M GAY!” You say “. . .”

Years ago I arrived at a cafe to meet up with someone very important to me. As I had planned, I announced, “M and I are getting married!” “Oh . . .” she replied with her face clenched. “Uh . . . congratulations.”

Ouch.

While this person still has an important place in my life, there is a part of me that will never forgive her for her reaction that day. Our relationship changed a little in that moment.

Today is National Coming Out Day. The truths that people are sharing today are much more important than an engagement announcement. No, really, coming out is more meaningful than announcing that you’re getting married.

Getting married is something you do, being queer is something you ARE.

As the mom of a gay child I often end up being the one to talk through her identity and its significance with adults who’ve just found out. Generally, thankfully, the adults she comes out to know to say “awesome,” “right on,” or “wow.” They save their questions and thoughts for me.

The common responses I get from other adults include:

  • How do you know for sure?
  • Don’t you think this is just a phase?
  • How can she really know at this age? She’s too young to know this.
  • She must be confusing her friendship with other girls for romantic attraction.
  • Well, I’ll support her, but I wouldn’t wish this on her. It’s going to make her life so much harder.
  • That’s so awesome that she knows who she is at this age.

It will be useful to discuss my own responses to each of these statements, as I have with How do you know for sure?, but for right now, on National Coming Out Day I would like to share the reactions that I most appreciate and that are most appropriate.

The best first responses to my daughter’s revelation either when speaking with me or with her include:

  • That’s so awesome.
  • Congratulations/Mazel tov.
  • How exciting.
  • Hooray.
  • Thanks for sharing this with me. I am so happy for you.

(By the way, these statements are equally appropriate for engagement announcements)

If you have questions or concerns, save them. Celebrate that this friend/family member/coworker just chose to share something very personal and potentially dangerous with you. They may feel vulnerable, scared, elated, proud, or more likely some combination of these emotions when they made their reveal.

Honor them and celebrate them first – then when appropriate ask polite questions.

And DON’T go tell someone else. Each person has a right to come out to who they want, when they want.

Please try to smile when you say something. Looking horrified really undermines the sentiment.

At the very least this is all just good manners.


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