Like many, though certainly not all, in the LGBT community, we knew what we were from an early age. But we didn’t acknowledge or announce it for years—both for fear of reprisals and confusion in our own minds about what it implied.
Lo these many, many many decades later, queer kids are coming out earlier and earlier. Many enjoy gay-friendly communities where they feel safe disclosing their identity. And some are lucky enough to have been raised in an environment where homophobia just wasn’t part of their experience.
But is there such as thing as too young to come out? Or is it the remnants of internalized homophobia to suggest such a thing.
In her Child Caring column in the Boston Globe, Barbara Meltz shared a question from a concerned mom in Virginia:
My 8-year-old daughter told me that she “just knows” that she is gay. I find this hard to believe. She told me about an incident where she and a (girl) friend got undressed in front of each other and “rolled around naked” on her bed. I asked for more details, explaining that she might feel better to get it off her chest. She cried a lot and while she did not give more information, she insisted that she could just feel it that she’s a lesbian.
I assured that it would not matter to me at all, but she may be a little young to know conclusively. What do you think? Could she know?
Meltz takes a tactful approach in her response:
There are plenty of adults who will tell you that they knew at a young age that they were homosexual, plenty who will say they did not know until later. I think your answer was fine: You’ll love her no matter what and she’s young to know for sure.
It is very common for young girls to have crushes on girls, to kiss each other (“for practice”), look at each other naked and touch each other, and not be lesbians. It’s part curiosity, part developmental, although it tends to happen at younger ages than in previous generations because girls today go through puberty earlier (better health care and nutrition) and because our pop culture puts sexuality front and center so it forces them to confront it at younger ages.
One thing that worries me in your email is that it sounds like she is unhappy—she cried—and feels badly about the possibility that she might be lesbian. Where is she getting that negativity from? The culture? Peers? Family?
Since homosexuality is now on the table, go with the topic when it’s appropriate: Why does she think it would be a bad thing to be a lesbian? If you’re watching a show with gay or lesbian couples, raise some questions: “Do you think their romantic feelings are the same as the feelings daddy and I have for each other?”
As I’ve said in this space before, Nancy Gruver is my go-to person for girls this age. The mother of daughters, she’s co-founder of daughters.com and New Moon Girls magazine, and author of How To Say It To Girls: Communicating with Your Growing Daughter. These are all wonderful resources for parents of preteen girls on all sorts of topics. Also check out The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Educational Network works to create safe schools; PFLAG, Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays.
Meltz raises some good points and is to be commended for including gay-positive resources for mother and child to explore. But what would you think if a child in your life came out at so young an age. Would you dismiss her claim out of hand as something she must’ve picked up on television?
And we’re wondering if we would act differently if it was a boy? Because, let’s be honest, the culture deems female sexuality to be more fluid and the taboos against crossing gender norms start earlier for boys that girls.
Debate away (respectfully) in the comments!