Is 8 Years Old Too Young To Come Out Of The Closet?

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 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!

Photos: USACE Europe District, Suburban Paparazzi

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  • jason

    You shouldn’t be discussing sexuality issues with children at that age. It’s immoral.

  • Cam

    @jason: said…

    “You shouldn’t be discussing sexuality issues with children at that age. It’s immoral.”

    Yes, but Jason, nobody bats and eye when little girls pretend to be princesses marrying the prince or when little boys in first grade get crushes on their first teachers.

    This isn’t talking about sexual positions and condoms, this is about some little girl saying “But I want to marry the other princess” or a little boy getting a crush on his male teacher instead of his female one.

  • JK

    Nobody would bat an eyelid if she had expressed sexual or emotional attraction to a boy – that would be ‘natural’. If girls are young enough to know they like boys at that age they’re young enough to know they like girls – or not – at that age too. I knew I was gay when I was 7. I distinctly recall a conversation between my Dad and younger brother (at the time 5) where he was expressing his attraction to a woman on Baywatch and my Dad nodded along furiously. He knew he was straight at 5; I realised at the same time that I wasn’t at 7. Different strokes for different folks; the girl in this case raised it, so she was ready to talk about it and that’s what matters.

  • iDavid

    I knew at 5 but “coming out” was not a phrase then. And I think conversations parent/child at 8 may b very rare.

    I surely would not dismiss an 8 yr olds her/his claim, I would do exactly what the mom did, support, stay open and observe. And def keep the conversation open. To say it’s immoral to talk to children about sex sounds very goshe religious i.e. right wing, which we are all toxically overdosed on. An open dialogue is what brings people closer, not shoving it under the carpet.

  • hmmm

    I knew at 10 I was bisexual. I didn’t come out until I was a teen. The way society reacted to that sent me back into the closet for anouther 10 years.

    So many of us are saying we knew before puberty. Take a child serious when they say they are homosexual, chances are very good that the child is speaking their truth.

  • Mike UK

    I knew i liked boys rather than girls when I was around 10, trying not to get an erection in the showers after gym was a nightmare, had my first gay sexual encounter at 14 with my best friend at school and as they say the rest is history!

    I’m sure this particular little girl knows what she likes and after all it could be just a “phase” but never dismiss what a kid says. it’s nice that her mum feels that she is ok with the situation and able to talk to the girl.

  • Rowan

    @jason: Sorry Jason, I don’t think sexuality issues discussed at that age are “immoral” at all, they see numerous and various different expressions of it all the time. While an adult may have to “tone it down” so that the child can understand, children are surprisingly intelligent and observe quite a bit in their world. Don’t you think it would be far more desirable to actually discuss issues instead of labeling them as “dirty” and leaving the child to discover(most often very wrong information)the answers on their own?

  • Mike UK

    @Rowan: totally agree, when i was in junior school here in the UK in the early 70’s we had sex education from age 8 onwards, we watched specially made for schools sex ed programmes on TV, this was available to everyone with a tv but was known as schools programming, the programme used to be called Living and Growing, this covered everything from conception to birth and the differences between boys and girls, men and women! just a shame kids today don’t get to see it, they might learn something!

  • David White

    I am a 68-year-old gay man and I knew that I was attracted to my own sex at the same time that I found out that boys and girls had different body parts, and I think that was at age six. But I did not have the vocabulary or the understanding to know what that meant at the time. Even if I could have said “I’m gay,” it would not have been safe for me to do so. I think LGBT kids who are under age run the risk of being harmed by their parents if they come out too soon. But how can you get this message to an eight-year-old?

  • Shannon1981

    I’ve always known. I can’t really think of a time I wasn’t aware of other girls in that way, and that it wasn’t normal. No, 8 isn’t too young. If she wants to come out, let her come out. And for goodness’ sake, support her! That could make all the difference.

  • chuck

    My life history is essentially identical to that of David White’s. At six years of age, my best friend (female) and I stripped down to see how different we were. I remember how nonchalant we were about our observations. By seven, I realized that I preferred boys (and still do) and my friend began to have a crush on the neighborhood jock. It wasn’t til I was 13 that it became obvious to me that I was gay. I now acknowledge that I was gay from my earliest memories…I just did not consciously admit it til then.

  • Bryan

    Everyone’s different but I think at 8, there’s still the possibility that she might be bi or even straight, I don’t think anything is ever concrete till at least puberty tbh.

  • B

    QUEERTY: “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.”

    I think there is such a thing as “too young for others to take coming out seriously” in that what a child says at 8 can be quite different than what the child would say at 12 or later.

    How many 8 year olds who said they wanted to be X when they grew up ended up wanting to be X when they were adults? Right now, I doubt if we have any data on the adult sexual orientations of children who came out at an age below 10, so there is no way of judging the accuracy of such statements, and anecdotal evidence isn’t useful – there’s only a small number of outcomes (straight or one of the “letters” in LGBT), so it is pretty easy for an 8 year old’s random statement to turn out to be right.

  • Shannon1981

    @B: The thing is, many of us knew, well before 8. In fact, my first conscious memory of anything like that is 4. A little blonde girl from my Sunday school class. Her family was the only white family at our church. I remember her hair, she had great hair. She used to let me touch it and she’d giggle a lot. But, once the Sunday school teacher deemed our friendship “unusual,” we got into trouble over it repeatedly and eventually they put a stop to it. Never saw her again. Point is, I knew what I liked then, and it hasn’t changed. I think there is a huge difference between development,etc and that experience at young ages and the gay experience at those ages.

  • Rob

    No it is not too young but like Shannon I also knew about my sexuality which is that of bisexual from a very young age. My mom had me pretty much figured out. I did try to come out at 14 first as gay and then later as bisexual at 16 but I was young and nobody believed me or took me serious at the time including adults (besides my mom), or my peers and friends at school where I came out.

  • KyleW

    I find it absolutely impossible to believe anyone here who claims to know what their sexuality was at 5 or 7 or 8 How can you know something that doesn’t even exist yet? It’s like a person who has never opened his eyes saying that he prefers the colour green.

    You may have been very emotionally attracted to other males at 5 or 7, but then almost ALL males feel that. It’s only as puberty kicks in that sexuality becomes an issue.

    It is conceivable that this girl has already started puberty, but it is just as likely that she has confused one of any number of other feelings, including the mere sensuality of her body, for sexuality. Then there’s the whole matter of gender identity, as a wholly separate issue.

    I think it’s very, very wrong to be suggesting any sort of gender issues on kids this young. All you should do is honestly answer questions, and be impartial and supportive.

    Most boys go through what used to be called a homosexual phase, but it doesn’t make them gay.

  • Triple S

    @Mike UK: It is a REAL shame that they don’t see it earlier. I don’t know about the UK, but here in Aus. these guys think they score HUGE when they manage to get some girl pregnant. It doesn’t even have to be their girlfriend. They then force themselves to know the girl so they can have a relationship with the child.
    Then they realise that school goes down the drain after that if they don’t just hand the child over to the family.
    Recently, there was this Facebook friend of a Facebook friend (I specify Facebook, because they’re not actually friends if you’re not friends outside in the real world), and he’s my age. He recently had a daughter with his TAFE age girlfriend, and everyone was congratulating and saying just how beautiful their ‘new family’ is. Now, I’m not saying that they should be condemning them, but spouting sentimental and misleading crap like that just makes kids around my age think that unprotected sex is all the rage and should be done as much as possible (not the unprotected part, just the sex part).
    I’m lucky; I’m not going to get a guy pregnant am I?

  • MikeE

    @KyleW: “gender issues”? is that how you perceive this?

    I knew in grade school, at least by 3rd grade if I recall, that I was attracted to men. That would put me at around 9 years old.

    I would watch a movie and relate to the female romantic lead as the male lead would kiss her, or hold her. i didn’t think of myself as a woman, or have any desire to become a woman. What I DID have was a strong attraction to male affection.

    And it had nothing to do with distant father figure or any other such bullsh**. I had a perfect father, affectionate, present, good to all of his children.

    But I KNEW in grade school that I was gay. I just didn’t know what it was called until high school.

    It had nothing to do with “Sex”.

    It had to do with “attraction”.

    And I know TONS of guys who have told me the exact same thing: that they knew from a very early age that they were attracted to men, even if they didn’t know that it was a “sexual” attraction.

    Remember that being gay isn’t ONLY about sex.

    It’s your entire affective makeup.

  • Mike UK

    @Triple S: unfortunately we have the highest teenage pregnancy rate in europe because sex education in schools now is close to non-existent! for some reason some teenage girls can’t wait to get on their backs and teenage boys can’t wait to get their end away with any female that crosses their path!

    as for getting a guy pregnant! never say never! ;)

  • B

    No. 14 · Shannon1981, “@B: The thing is, many of us knew, well before 8. In fact, my first conscious memory of anything like that is 4.” The problem with such anecdotal statements is that the relation between your “first conscious memory” and your sexual orientation may be simply a coincidence.” People of course, tend to self-report the coincidences, so you can’t trust it: you don’t know the probability that this “first conscious memory” is predictive of one’s sexual orientation without some statistical data based on random samples.

    To give you an example, there’s an email scam that someone tried where they would send people weekly predictions of what a stock price would do (up or down) at the end of the
    week. Then, they’d offer to give you a tip for the 11th week, for a price of (say) $100. Some people would pay that based on the track record, without knowing that they had really sent out all combinations, with different ones to different individuals. The scam worked because sending email was nearly free – if you wanted 1000 people to get the correct predictions, you needed to send 2,046,000 emails.

    Personal experience can be highly misleading.

  • Scott

    In the 1960s when I was about 5 and a very cute little boy I was at the county fair with my father. It was a slow day. At one of the kiddy rides I was the only one in line and there were two operators, a man and a woman. They way I remember them I’d estimate they were about 18 but they seemed very adult to me at the time. They started fighting over who would put me on the ride, “Come with me”, “No, come with me”. It was a good-natured fight between them and they made me choose. I wanted so much to go with the guy, he was so cute, but I went with the girl because I thought that was what I was supposed to do and I was afraid to go for what I wanted. My father was very proud of me for choosing the girl.

    Through my childhood I always fantasized about running away and living with my male friends or a fantasy adult. I didn’t know the word “gay” but I knew what I wanted. From 13 to 15 I was so horny any naked, or Sears catalog underwear body, would get me revved up. At 16 I decided it was time for a boyfriend and girls would just be friends. Unfortunately there wasn’t anyone available in my rural, podunk town. Every time I approached a guy I thought may be gay he ran the other direction.

    At 18 I came out in college and at 19 I was angry that I didn’t have the experiences in high school that others did because I didn’t have a boyfriend and I was so awkward around boys. I laugh now because several boys I asked out in college ran away from me like I was the plague just like in high school. It didn’t do much for my self esteem but years later they came out and I understood my gaydar wasn’t off, that there was nothing wrong with me, it was them.

    Today I’m in a monogamous relationship with a wonderful man and we just celebrated our 15th anniversary. All the things I worried about when I was young seem trivial as we try to figure out how we’re going to afford healthcare in 20 years as we retire.

  • iDavid


    At 7, me and two neighborhood kids the same age got full erections and masturbated each other to orgasm, tho no semen came out. But it was very enjoyable. I had my first exploratory touching experience when I was four w a boy the same age.

    Puberty for some is simply physiological and all else mental/sexually is already quite intact.

    Sounds like you were a late bloomer?

  • KyleW

    @iDavid: A late bloomer?! I think you must be joking right? Discovering masturbation, sex or sexuality at 7 is definitely not the norm.

    I absolutely flat out dispute that a same sex experience with a boy at the age of 7 was related at least initially, to sexual desire for another boy in the sense that homosexuality is usually described. I can easily accept that it was sexual, as that is a purely mechanical process. I can even accept that you desired a specific friend to be the physical agent of your sexual pleasure, but if you try to tell me that that was when you discovered you were gay, I think (respectfully) that you are deluding yourself. In fact, I would suggest that is was precisely that early sexualisation in the company of another male that could have lead to your gender preference now if you believe as I do, that nurture rather as well as nature can determine a person’s sexual preference.

  • Cam

    @KyleW: said…

    “I absolutely flat out dispute that a same sex experience with a boy at the age of 7 was related at least initially, to sexual desire for another boy in the sense that homosexuality is usually described. I can easily accept that it was sexual, as that is a purely mechanical process.”

    Please let us know your credentials. You have multiple people here stating their their own experiences are different from your beliefs and keep telling them that their own memories are incorrect.

    Since you seem to believe you have a solid enough foundation in physical and sexual development to dispute people’s own recollections of their own lives, please let us know what your PHD is on, or which bio/chem publications you have submitted articles to. Otherwise your opinions are your own.

  • B

    No. 24 · Cam (replying to KyelW) wrote, “Please let us know your credentials. You have multiple people here stating their their own experiences are different from your beliefs and keep telling them that their own memories are incorrect.”

    It’s not that their own memories are incorrect, but that you can’t draw any conclusions from those statements. Let’s see. You are reading a gay web site. A few people claim they felt a same-sex attraction at a very early age. The catch is that people who might have felt a same-sex attraction at 7 and only opposite-sex attractions from an age of 13 onward are most likely not reading this article, much less commenting on it. So, you are trying to draw conclusions from a highly biased sample. Plus, people who had no recollection of a same-sex attraction at an early age are not commenting.

    In fact, lots of boys have gone through a stage where they didn’t want to be around girls. And most of those boys grew up to be straight.

    Now, if you want to make a serious claim that people really know their sexual orientation at a very early age, provide some data based on representative sample with a large enough sample to show that they are doing better than one would do by merely guessing.

  • Shannon1981

    @B: Anyone who posts here knows I am not into religious/mystical/whatever.

    But sometimes you just know things. I was not only aware of the way in which I liked that little girl, but I became aware by the age of 6 that the way I was viewing other little girls and our friendships was…different. Believe me, I’ve known I was gay since before anyone every told me what the word meant. You cannot equate stock prices with someone’s life experiences. Some people do know that young.

  • Danny

    Sounds like KyleW is a homophobic tyrant who cannot handle the stark reality that he has been violating the human rights of children – gay children. Let’s face it; it is pretty sick that adults keep violating the human rights of gay kids, even driving them to suicide by persecuting them for being whom they are. There is nothing noble or religiously moral about attacking gay children or preventing them from enjoying their full human rights as they grow up. Most adults realize that religions get major things wrong – like slavery (all religions such as Christianity, Judaism and Islam supported slavery for thousands of years) and killing disobedient children (all those religions supported killing children who failed to obey for thousands of years). These days thoughtful adults realize that religion is far from truthful or divine. How gay people are treated is just one more major thing religion got wrong in a long list of things, not least of which the treatment of women. So everyone should protect gay kids from discrimination so they can be themselves and grow up safe and strong.

  • Danny

    B is flawed in logic and reason. The original declaration on this thread is that many LGB people know their orientation at an early age. B’s reference to non-LGB people is immaterial and does not impact the truth of the original declaration.

    It is probable that B is simply KyleW under another name trying to support his own irrational prejudice.

  • KyleW

    @Cam: Millions – billions of christians will tell you that they have been literally spoken to by god or Jesus, seen the hand of God in action, and that they can speak in foreign languages when moved by the spirit. Physical, tangible experiences to them. But they’re wrong.

    People are very poor at critical thinking, great at lying to themselves; and psychologically, they are extremely poor at assessing their own mental state – especially when they were 7.

    You don’t need credentials to know that any more than I need to be a doctor to look at someone with a bone sticking out of their leg to suggest that they probably have a broken leg.. That information is freely available to anybody who cares to look it up.

    There’s plenty of science that talks about the phases that boys go through as they grow up. One of them is the penis fixation stage, another is a period of homosexual interest that many (not all) boys go through. If those periods coincide, then it is easy to see how a person could mislabel that as the initial indications of their future sexuality.

    I suppose an important issue to clarify here, is what we mean by homosexuality.
    Merely because one enjoys the company of another male, or even indulges in sexual practices with another male is not homosexuality. It’s simply a matter of availability dictated by the people one associates with. The very fact that these people are associating with boys at 7 or 9 hints at a more normal development to me.

    Look at a paraphilia, such as a shoe fetish. A boy’s matron wears big clumpy shoes, and she is the one responsible for spanking him. He gets erections whilst being spanked, and goes on to develop a lifelong shoe fetish. That person is not a shoemosexual. They merely developed a shoe fetish because of things that happened during a period of early sexual awareness.

    I can’t help but suspect that these people who claim to know that they were gay at 5 or 7, are misinterpreting their experiences. Or, as I just suggested, is it even possible that their early sexual experiences had a part in shaping their subsequent sexuality?

    The primary point I’m making, is that children of that age would seem to lack the reproductive development to experience the combination of physical and sexual desire that comes with the onset of puberty for most people. Yes they might enjoy the physical experience – yes they might like the other person, but that is not the same thing.

  • KyleW

    @Danny: Danny, I don’t need to make up fictitious characters to support my argument – I’m perfectly capable of speaking up for myself thank you. But how typical of an insecure mind that you would suggest that people who disagree with you must be in league, or alter-egos of the same person.

    I don’t know where you get off slinging the kind of insults you just did, considering this was a perfectly civil discussion, but frankly your leap of logic is so preposterous, and your insults so childish and irrational that I’m not even going to waste my time defending them.

    However, it staggers me that you can lecture B on flaws in logic, when you made the wild jumps that were necessary in your response to me. Seriously. This is not the pot calling the kettle black. This is charcoal calling chalk black!

    Nevertheless, B’s argument is perfectly valid in the context of the original post. A self selected group of homosexuals in a gay group is hardly conclusive evidence, any more than the belief of any 7 year old child. Frankly, the comprehension of a 5-10 year old on issues of sexuality, even when looked back in one’s own memory, is hardly a reliable. It’s like trusting a 7 year old’s judgement on a choice of cars or the workings of an engine. Merely because they have an opinion, or even personal experiences does not make them right. There’s a reason why 7 year old do not run their own lives – it’s because they lack the reasoning, the judgement, the self awareness, the experience to process and rationally deal with the world.

  • Balthazar

    I cannot tell for sure, however I’m inclined to think the earlier the child gets to know it is fully accepted and loved as whatever it will become or is, the better for temporary and future mental health, including self-confidence.

  • Geri

    8 years old is far too young for anyone to be having sex, so it’s far too young to be labeling anyone’s sexuality.

  • Fitz


    8 years old is far too young for anyone to be having sex, so it’s far too young to be labeling anyone’s sexuality.

    I’m gay even when I am not getting laid.
    8 y/o isn’t too young for a kid to have a pretty-good idea
    of what’s up with him or her. Most of us did, as you can see.
    We just had society telling us to fake it and be miserable for
    a while.

    For anyone who actually HAS kids in their life, keep in mind that
    sex for boy is VERY VERY “on their mind” at that age, and then it
    just suddenly goes-away for many years. (what the doctors call Latent)

  • Geri

    @Fitz: Well I don’t think I had a clue I was bi when I was 8. But I do remember when I was a kid wondering why some people in my family kept saying my cousin was “a very strange girl” because they never knew if she’d be turning up with a girl or a boy friend when we next saw her. I just thought she was really nice – and very pretty :)


    Children are more astute, intuitive, and aware then most people realize. ALWAYS give a child the benefit of the doubt until otherwise.

  • Abigail

    @Cam: Uhhh she said they were naked rolling on the bed….at eight…….yeah kinda creepy no matter what her sexual orientation might be.

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