“My 8-year-old son is self-identifying as gay. He has grown up in a household where sexuality is openly discussed and his aunt is gay. Is this too young to understand? I asked him if he understood what gay meant and he said, “Um, Mom, I want to marry a boy when I grown up.” My husband and I have a difference of opinion on how to proceed. Please help.”

Question Submitted Anonymously
Answered by Julie Tarney

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Julie Says:
First off, I want to congratulate you and your husband for creating a gay-positive environment in your home. When every parent can say their child is growing up in a home where sexuality is openly discussed, we will have moved that much closer to a society that fully accepts and respects the spectrum that exists in how we love and who we love. I’m hopeful you both realize how loved and safe your son must feel to share what he knows about himself with you.
As a society we tend to assume that all kids are straight, but that is just not true. In addition to teaching your son about sexuality and the variety that exists in romantic attractions, I applaud you for giving him the language to express his sensibility of love and affection. His simple explanation of wanting to marry a boy when he grows up reflects an understanding of what the possibilities are for love, and how natural it is to be gay.
Your son’s answer about what it means to be gay also makes me wonder if maybe he has a crush on another boy. And that, too, would be perfectly natural! Experts say kids usually develop their first childhood crush at age 5 or 6. Kindergarten teachers will tell you that playground weddings at recess are not uncommon, and I can even remember my son fashioning a wedding dress out of toilet paper even before he was 3. If your son is crushing, he obviously isn’t feeling any pressure to crush on a girl or think there’s something wrong with him for wanting to marry a boy someday.
Even adults who think a first crush is cute and innocent, not an indicator of the child’s sexuality, typically still default to the idea that a child is going to fall in love with and marry someone not of the same gender. That tends to be true even when there’s someone in the family who’s gay, like his aunt.
It sounds to me like you and/or your husband assumed your eight year old was straight, and now that he’s told you otherwise, with a good grasp of what it means to be gay, you are surprised and don’t understand how he could know that at his age. I don’t think you’re alone in that belief, but I’m here to tell you that he is not too young to know who he is.
Most people think that gay people come out as teenagers (or later), and that they couldn’t possibly know about sexuality before puberty. But with heightened visibility of LGBTQ people and a progressive shift in social attitudes—your own family, for example—children are feeling safe to come out at younger ages. My son was eight years old when he told his dad and me in 1998 that he was “different from other boys.” He didn’t have the education or language that your son has to be so articulate, nor did he have LGBTQ-themed children’s books or the vast number of openly LGBTQIA celebrities in music, sports, or television that exist today.
You asked for advice on how to proceed, and that’s normal! This is presumably uncharted territory for you and your husband. Some parents worry about their child being happy or having a difficult life because they’re gay. So if you’re among them, here are a few Do’s and Don’ts I have for you on how to proceed as the parents of a happily out, gay 8-year-old.
DO: Believe him. Trust your son to know himself, regardless of his age. How he thinks about his sexuality today might change, or it might not. My son first came out to his dad and me as bisexual. Later, he told us he was gay—and later still as nonbinary. Validate and accept him for where he is today.
DO: Love him unconditionally, whether he’s gay, bisexual, or straight. Tell him you love him and always will, just for being the amazing kid he is.
DO: Follow your son’s lead and be open to further discussion. Let him know he can always talk to you about anything and that you’re there to answer any questions he might have about love or relationships as best you can.
DON’T: Focus on your expectations. His coming out has nothing to do with you or what you imagined his life would be like.
DO: Be patient. Personal growth is a lifetime journey of discovering who we are, and our orientation is just one small part of that.
DO: Talk to his aunt. You might be surprised to learn there was a time gap between when she realized she was gay and when she first told someone. Talking to other gay people, too, can help put the coming out age in perspective for you.
DO: Mention his orientation to his teachers (with your son’s permission, of course). Let them know you expect him to be fully supported at school.
DO: Take some time for yourself to get comfortable with the idea that your son identifies as gay. If you have more questions along the way, I strongly recommend you pick up a copy of This Is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids. The book’s question-and-answer format makes it easy to find just what you’re looking for.
DON’T: Worry so much. Save that for when he wants to get his driver’s license!
DO: Find a parent support group. If you or your husband are having difficulty adjusting to the idea that your second grader is gay, seek out your local PFLAG chapter. You’ll quickly learn that you’re not alone.
DO: Educate yourself. Understand the issues that LGBTQIA kids face in school. Become involved in the movement for equality, even if that means simply becoming a voice for your child’s rights as an individual. Familiarize yourself with LGBTQ history: kids and adults alike should know that queer people stretch back across every generation of human existence, and that there’s nothing wrong or abnormal about being gay. Finally, learn the language of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. It’s an ever-expanding glossary, and there’s a good chance your son may already know more terms than you or your husband do.
DO: Hug your son often. Tell him you love him. Repeat.

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Julie Tarney is an advocate for LGBTQIA youth, speaker and author. Her award-winning memoir, My Son Wears Heels: One Mom’s Journey from Clueless to Kickass (University of Wisconsin Press 2016) and blog of the same name are about her experiences raising a gender nonconforming child in the Midwest in the 1990s and what she learned from him along the way about gender identity, gender expression and self-acceptance. Julie is a board member for the It Gets Better Project, blogs for HuffPost Queer Voices and is an active member of PFLAG NYC’s Safe Schools program. Her book won Bronze in the 2016 INDIES Book of the Year Awards. A longtime resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Julie now lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she can often be found cheering in the audience at her creative director and sometimes-drag-artist son Harry’s performances.

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6 thoughts on “Is an 8-Year-Old Too Young to Know He’s Gay?

  1. Great parenting and great advice. You can always steal what we tell our kids: “You can be straight or gay or pansexual, you can be snot or a girl or both or neither, you can get married or stay single your whole life, and we will live and support you 100 percent no matter what … the only condition is that at some point you have to provide us with at least one grandchild!

  2. I am going thru a very similar situation with my six year old. He has been caught kissing boys in his after school program (we have established is not okay to kiss boys OR girls besides mommy and daddy, for germ and personal space issues). He has also been asking questions about being gay. We have always told him we will love him no matter what, and that he is an amazing, smart, funny, affectionate kid. He told me yesterday he thinks he wants to be gay because he wants to marry his best friend and all his best friends are boys. I don’t think he really understands the idea of “attraction” yet, he just knows he loves his friends so much and says he likes boys but not girls. I don’t want to push the whole sexual orientation talk or lead him in one direction or another, so right now I am just being a supportive mom and telling him as long as he doesn’t kiss anyone (girl or boy), he can feel however he wants and I think it makes him the amazing kid that he is. It does stress me out though, not going to lie. Of course I will love him and be proud of him no matter what sexual orientation he is, but I am afraid by discussing it with him, i am inadvertently making him feel like he has to choose right now. Parenting is so hard!

  3. We have the same issue here! My daughter is 9 and has announced that she is gay. Her reason for this is that she thinks boys are disgusting and she loves her girlfriends. She and her best friend have their whole gay lives planned out. I am not ready to call this a real coming out. She is only 9 for goodness sake and doesn’t yet understand the concept of attraction. I say “Who knows? Time will tell.”

    1. These days, kids as young as 9 are already being taught about attraction in school. My personal opinion is to let her figure herself out. Many issues with older role models these days, is that they will accept that a child has a crush of the opposite gender. But still find it alien for homosexuality to be a part of today’s society in general. So just treat it like you would if she liked a boy. And if you don’t think she understands the concept of different sexualities, talk to her more about the subject.
      Yours Faithfully, Tiger

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