Coming out in seventh grade? I can scarcely imagine coming out in my early teens, but it seems that more and more young people in America are recognizing and vocalizing their sexual identity at an ever-earlier age. The NY Times Sunday Magazine did an in-depth story on this interesting phenomenon in late September.
The author of the article, who is also gay, had a hard time believing that people as young as 12 and 13 could possibly be self-aware enough to recognize their attraction to people of the same sex. But, as he pointed out, he was engaging in a double standard. When 12 and 13 year-olds express their interest in members of the opposite sex, we don’t think anything about this is odd. Why then would we think that someone that young couldn’t recognize their attraction to someone of the same sex?
Certainly, at that age I was starting to recognize those attractions in myself, even though I lacked the language to describe them. Young people these days have a much more positive image of gays and lesbians thanks to increased visibility in the media and the powerful influence of the internet and social networking sites.
If you asked me at what age I first knew I was gay, that would be difficult to answer, because for the longest time I lacked the vocabulary to fully comprehend what “gay” was.
I recall that in the third grade, about 8 years old (school picture to the left), I mentioned to my mother how I preferred playing with the girls during recess rather than the boys, as the boys were very coarse. But at the same time, I have many memories of spending recesses playing softball and basketball, building bridges and tunnels in the dirt, and engaging in other “boyish” activities.
But at that age, I was aware of being different. My mother used to describe me as “six going on sixty” and that may have accounted for some of that difference. But I clearly remember having a crush on the captain of my team in the lunchtime softball league. He was a year older – in fourth grade – and was tall with brown hair and eyes. He had a winning personality, a handsome face and I admired him.
Fast forward to seventh grade, where there was another classmate, a popular boy who was also handsome and well liked for getting along with everyone. There was nothing he did or said, nor any way that he dressed, that wasn’t of interest to me. Once, another friend (who later turned out to be gay, too) accused me of being in love with the popular guy, a charge I swiftly denied. This whole time, though, I couldn’t have defined this attraction as “being gay”. I didn’t know what that was.
By the middle of high school, I was becoming distinctly aware of my attraction to other young men. Sometimes it was vaguely defined and other times it was quite clear. Along the way, I dated a few girls, passing notes in class, holding hands in the movies, and feeling the excitement of puppy love. Despite this, there was still hollowness, a sense that those feelings weren’t quite the right fit. For all my efforts to date girls, the images to which I drifted off to sleep were of boys my age.