As the social climate around homosexuality changes, many gay youth are coming out as early as middle school.
This change has caught parents and educators completely off-guard and most have had to adapt quickly to deal with these teens' decisions to be out early on in the school years.
In the NYT article "Coming Out in Middle School," writer Benoit Denizet-Lewis takes a look at the changing atmosphere with parents and in schools when it comes to "coming out" and being openly gay at school.
A 13-year old, middle school student named Austin of Sand Springs, Oklahoma says, “When I first realized I was gay, I just assumed I would hide it and be miserable for the rest of my life. But then I said, ‘O.K., wait, I don’t want to hide this and be miserable my whole life.'"
Austin came out to his close friends, who are supportive, and his mom found out through the close-knit grapevine.
As social norms about being openly gay change, it seems kids like Austin are coming out at a younger age than in generations before. This is not really that surprising since this is the age when most kids begin to tune into physical attraction, which is also "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." It is also consistent with the heterosexual experience.
Of course, for the parents of middle-school-aged kids coming out, this earlier declaration of one's sexual preference may seem "too soon." But really, at what age did you know who you were attracted to? I remember having crushes on boys as early as fourth grade, maybe even younger in second grade.
It's normal to have these feelings, to know your truth in this way at a fairly young age — long before you ever dream of having any sort of sexual encounter. Let's face it. The earliest stages of sexual attraction are not about sex. At all.
So kids are coming out and coming out earlier, which not only causes a shake-up on the home front, but it also brings on worries about their safety. While the world is changing, it is still a very tough place to grow up gay.
The NYT article reports how, in response to hate crimes and bullying against gay youth, 120 middle schools across the country have formed gay-straight alliance (G.S.A.) groups, where gay and lesbian students — and their straight peers — work to end bullying and to make their campuses safer for gay youth.
"In a 2007 survey of 626 gay, bisexual and transgender middle-schoolers from across the country by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (Glsen), 81 percent reported being regularly harassed on campus because of their sexual orientation. Another 39 percent reported physical assaults. Of the students who told teachers or administrators about the bullying, only 29 percent said it resulted in effective intervention."
This means many schools are having to address this issue whether they want to or not. However, these G.S.A groups are doing more than promoting safety and reducing bullying on campus. They're quite possibly making a place where it's okay, even safe, to be openly gay and for a kids to be themselves, to self-identify, have a voice, and acknowledge their truth and experience. This also helps build tolerance school-wide.
So maybe, just maybe, a slowly evolving change in the social atmosphere and groups like this are making it an inkling easier to grow up gay in America.
And here's the good news about that kind of change. Dan Woog, an openly gay varsity boys’ soccer coach at Staples High School in Westport, Connecticut, who helped found a G.S.A. at his school in 1993 says, “Many parents just don’t assume anymore that their kids will have a sad, difficult life just because they’re gay.” And Ritch Savin-Williams, a professor of developmental psychology at Cornell University, writes in his book The New Gay Teenager, recently told Denizet-Lewis that being young and gay is no longer an automatic prescription for a traumatic childhood.
And maybe this shift in thinking can make coming of age for some youth just a little easier. And geez, praise be to anything that can make the middle school years easier for any kid, no matter how...
What do you think about gay youth coming out as early as middle school?