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.
Gosh…most of the people who has told me the stories all tell me it’s around middle school.I didn’t realize it until much later.
@Wangium – I think a lot of factors influence that. My experience is that in a lot of Asian families, there is even less emphasis on dating and relationships than in American families, so sometimes the thoughts don’t start forming until later. Just a theory, though. Doesn’t seem to apply to Thailand! LOL
I’ve always known I was different even at a very young age. Gosh – your smile in your Gr. 3 pic is practically identical to your profile pic too.
Thanks to Jerry Falwell, gay has been in my vocabulary since preschool. I remember that I asked my dad what it meant after hearing a story about gay Teletubby hysteria on NPR. He told me.
@ElusiveWords – The only thing that has changed is the hair…
I agree that young people nowadays are more able to recognize their preferences at younger ages now than before, and as you said, mostly because of the greater visibility and hopefully acceptance of people. Imagine what it was like during the generation before us, where it was really unspoken. I know a few who have “come out” in their 50s, after being married to the opposite sex for 20+ years. What a shock to their partners.
my first crush was in 4th grade. i didn’t know i was gay, i just thought that i really really wanted to be his friend. haha
I had to wait until High School to figure things out. I had a big crush on the brother of one of my best friends.
By the time my cousin was 10, I knew he was different as did my parents. They once mentioned it (they didn’t know I was listening), saying it was no wonder he liked playing with girls – 3 sisters and the youngest with no father… I don’t think that had anything to do with his being gay.
Very interesting! Looking forward to reading a sequel.
I’m looking forward to reading more. I think that most middle schoolers are more self-aware than adults give them credit for.
I knew pretty young, but like you, I didn’t really ‘get’ what was going on.
@Wangium – I want to ask your story, but maybe that’s best left until the day we meet.
@moptoplop – Proof that Jerry wasn’t all bad… =D@swcheng15 – Thanks for your comment, Sabrina. I, too, know people who have come out after years of marriage. I even know some who are still married and still in the closet. It is painful to see how much “collateral damage” that causes. This seems especially common among immigrant families where acceptance of homosexuality is even less than in more “Americanized” families.@wutuwaitn4 – Exactly how I explained it to myself! I used those same words.@TheLatinObserver – As I write in chapter 2 – now posted, rush to the store and get it! – that’s the point where the awareness really started to gel.@choyshinglin – I’m glad you are finding it interesting reading.@TheCheshireGrins – That’s true on so many levels. A few months ago I listened to an interesting discussion on NPR about giving younger people the right to vote. Some of the young guests had some interesting things to say in defense of that idea.@secade – While each coming out story is unique, there are so many familiar themes, aren’t there?
You are brave to tell your story. I think it can help other young men trying to define their sexual preferences. Judi
Is there a reason that we can’t comment on part two?
@wutuwaitn4 – Haha, some ‘straight’ guys would call that a ‘man’ crush.
@moptoplop – I fixed that. Sorry.
@jassmine – Thanks, Judi. Young women, too, I imagine.
Thanks for posting this; it’s illuminating. At 23, I’ve noticed what appears to be a positive shift in the acceptance of homosexuals by this next generation younger than mine. I also heard some of that same NPR broadcast about young voters that you mentioned in a comment. It’s heartening.
Interesting post. I think a lot of us have tried to pinpoint our first memory of being gay but you’re right we probably didn’t have the vocabulary and the gay influences the youth of today have. And CUTE pic!! Thanks for sharing your experiences!
@brooklyn2028 – You’re welcome.
hm….I know that I love being held by Big Brothers rather than big sisters since…..the age of 4….
@ElusiveWords – LOL!!!You age well Chris ;)Well it’s usually around middle school that straight people start liking opposite sex, not too surprising that gay people do the same too right? 🙂
@epiginoskete – You’re welcome. There’s no doubt that societal views in the US and Canada are slowly changing.@agmhkg – Interesting way to phrase it.@yang1815 – No, it isn’t so surprising on the face of it. It is more surprising just because it used to be something that people didn’t really become visible about until their 20s or later.
@christao408 – Right. I meant the feelings came during middle school isn’t surprising.
I never had anything against gay people, and I am supportive of their equality, but i did always feel that being straight was the more natural way.I work with intermediate school kids [age 12-14] and there are a few that are openly gay. It is definitely something new to this generation I think. And it is accepted, too, which is good.
Only we would use the term, “coarse.” I love it. That photo is adorable. You can certainly tell that you and Jen are siblings!
@MAXIMO – Well, if by “natural” you mean “in the majority”, then you are right. But if you mean the scientific definition – “that which exists in nature” – then homosexual behavior is just natural as heterosexual. It describes a range of sexuality that exists in nature. In either case, let’s not head off down that rabbit trail. I’m glad that you are supportive of those who identify as gay or lesbian.
@albertmoore – That choice of words would have been clue number one, right?
On my way to read part 2.
Only those of us who know enough to use such a wonderfully cutting word.
Come to think of it, I guess I had a crush on my bro’s friend when I was that age…For certain, it was until I found the guys in my dad’s porn collection more interesting than the gals that I really think something is not quite common about me than the rest of my mates. =P
@ZenPaper – I recall something similar with a neighborhood friend’s father’s Playboy collection.
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