Gay Kids Coming Out In Middle School

The times sure are a-changin’.  From a long interesting piece in the New York Times Magazine:

Still, the younger they are when they come out, the more that youth with same-sex attractions face an obstacle that would be unimaginable to their straight peers. When a 12-year-old boy matter-of-factly tells his parents — or a school counselor — that he likes girls, their reaction tends not to be one of disbelief, dismissal or rejection. “No one says to them: ‘Are you sure? You’re too young to know if you like girls. It’s probably just a phase,’ ” says Eileen Ross, the director of the Outlet Program, a support service for gay youth in Mountain View, Calif. “But that’s what we say too often to gay youth. We deny them their feelings and truth in a way we would never do with a heterosexual young person.”

I was guilty of my share of that, too, the first time I met Kera — then a 12-year-old seventh grader — and her 13-year-old best friend, Justin, last spring in a city in New England. Kera had small, delicate features. Justin had freckles and braces. They seemed like kids. Yet there they were at a bookstore coffee shop after school, talking nonchalantly — when they weren’t giggling uncontrollably about one of their many inside jokes, that is — about their sexual identities. Kera said she was bisexual. Justin said he was gay. The effect was initially surreal to me, and before long I heard myself blurt out, “But you’re so young!”

My reaction surprised me. After all, I’d known on some level that I was gay when I was their age. If I were growing up today, it’s possible that I would feel emboldened enough to confide in my parents, or at least a close friend, that I was gay. I’d also spent the morning of my visit reading a handful of studies about when gay and lesbian youth first report an awareness of same-sex attraction. Though most didn’t self-identify as gay or lesbian until they were 14, 15 or 16, the mean age at which they first became aware of that attraction was 10. Boys tended to be aware about a year earlier than girls. (Of course, not all kids with same-sex attractions go on to self-identify as gay.)

Those findings are consistent with what many adult gay men have been reporting for years: they may not have come out until adulthood, but they knew they were attracted to the same sex as early as elementary or middle school. Kera and Justin knew that, too, but they’re among the first generation of young gay adolescents to take on an identity that many parents and educators associate with adult lifestyle choices.

Kera says she was 10 when she realized she was interested in both sexes. “It was confusing for a while, because for some reason I thought that you had to be straight or gay, and that you couldn’t be both,” she told me at the coffee shop. “So I thought about it a lot, like I do about everything, and I went online and looked up bisexuality to read more about it. I realized that was me.”

She told her mom soon after (more on that later) and then came out to her close friends at school, including Justin, who she had suspected was gay. Last year, the entire school found out when she briefly dated a female classmate. “We didn’t think we had anything to be ashamed of, so we didn’t want to go around hiding,” she told me. “It was a whole big drama at school. Some guys made fun of us, others hit on us. Most middle-school guys are total, complete morons.”

The article mentions that a lot of kids wind up accidentally outing themselves these days through search histories on their computers which reveal to their parents their interests.  That reminded me of the following letter to Dan Savage:

I’m a 16-year-old gay boy. I grew up in an evangelical Christian home. Being the intelligent chap I am, I forgot to clear the history off the computer after looking at pornography one day last October. I got yelled at until I cried that night, and again the next morning, and every day for two weeks. I wasn’t allowed to use the computer for a year, and I was forced to attend church nightly. The electronics embargo has ended, so I can watch porn again at least, but I’ve been forced into the closet by my parents. They both ask me every night whether or not I have a girlfriend, whether or not there are any cute girls in my grade, stuff like that. My mom tears up every time I say that I don’t have a girlfriend. My dad sends me links to antigay articles that describe homosexuality as unnatural and an abomination. Once I made the mistake of sending an article back to him countering his points about homosexuality and he stormed into my room and broke both my cell phone and MP3 player in half.

What the hell should I do about my parents? Will I ever be able to come out? Or will I have to lie to my parents and wait for them to die?

Christian Parents Angrily Chastise

and Savage’s reply:

Your parents—your vicious, clueless parents—are abusing their authority and their power, CPAC, which can make it tempting to fantasize about their deaths. Hell, I’m tempted to come over and kill them myself. But your only option right now, I’m sorry to say, is to lie to them. Tell your asshole parents what their assholes ears want to asshole hear: “It was just a phase, Mom and Dad, I was just curious, I’m totally straight, Jesus is the only dude I’ll ever get on my knees for, blah blah blah.” Get yourself a fag hag, delete gay web-browsing histories, create and refrain from deleting straight web-browsing histories, and bide your freakin’ time.

In two short years you’ll be an adult, CPAC, and you’ll be able to come out to your mom and dad—and, even better, you’ll be able to tell them to suck it. Demand an apology for the emotional and spiritual violence they inflicted on you, CPAC, and if one isn’t forthcoming, refuse to see your parents or have anything to do with them until they apologize. They’re currently using all the leverage they have as parents to make sure you’re miserable—aka closeted—for the rest of your life. Once you’re an adult, CPAC, you’ll have to use the onlyleverage you have—your presence in their lives—to make them into the loving, respectful, supportive parents you deserve, deserved all along, and that it’s not too late for them to become.

It really shouldn’t be so startling to us that kids are willing to self-identify as gay during their adolescence.  In fact, the more it happens the healthier it will be for all of them and the more kids like the one who wrote to Dan Savage here will have hope of not suffocating to death in a closet.

“But,” maybe you ask nonetheless, “what if it’s just a phase for some kids? What if it’s possible some change their minds?”  Well, even if that’s possible, so what?  Even if some kids do continue to grow and realize they aren’t really gay just like some kids who presently identify early as straight and only figure out they’re gay later, what would is the big deal?  What’s wrong with a gay adolescence followed by a straight adulthood?  What’s the loss?  I doubt such scenarios would be very frequent at all but even if they happened, what so scars people to love a different way for a season?   With adolescents, just as with adults, we should be put far more energy in assuring they know how to love properly and how to know themselves properly than that they love the members of any particular gender or understand their sexuality in any particular of a number of healthy and honest ways.  Healthy relationships come down to loving compatible people.  The rest sorts itself out.

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.


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