Coming Out

This is a sad story:

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My first reaction, which I shared on Facebook and Twitter, was this:

Nine-year-old boys come out? Since when? Something is off here.

I admit, the old man inside me wanted to yell at the clouds and say kids that young can’t possibly know they’re gay, but something told me not to, and upon reflection I’m glad I didn’t. A lot of people thought that’s what I meant anyway, like the friend who sent this comment:

Little girls dream about weddings and boyfriends long before nine. My first boyfriend (who I called on my plastic phone) was the Lone Ranger.

She’s right, of course. When I was seven or eight I fell in love with a girl. A real girl, though I never met her. She was in a photo in a book my mother had. Over the course of a year I wore the book out, opening it to her photo again and again. I must have known, even then, that when I grew up I’d be married to a girl, and was hoping she’d turn out to be like the one in the photo.

Gay kids? Why wouldn’t they know at a similar age? Know in a broad sense, I mean, not the piggy-dirties of sex but a general sense of their own sexuality … although with the universal availability of porn, truly a new thing, who knows?

But to publicly come out as gay? Who comes out at nine?

I don’t know how well this will translate, but I was raised a Southern Baptist. Sunday school and services every week, youth group meetings Wednesday after school. During every service the preacher would call on children and older sinners to accept Jesus into their hearts, walk down the aisle, and be baptized in front of the congregation, praise the Lord! Kids my age, many of them my friends, would get up from the pews, misty-eyed and full of godliness, and deliver themselves to the preacher. But not me. Peer pressure and conformity is a huge thing when you’re a kid, but I refused to walk down the aisle.

Why did I resist? At eight, I could not have explained. Later, at 11 or 12, I began to figure it out: I wasn’t buying what the church was selling and didn’t want any part of it. I came to realize I didn’t believe in heaven or hell, or even god. I was 14, and still going to Southern Baptist youth group meetings, when I learned the word for what I was: atheist. And what did I do with that knowledge? I kept it to myself.

I didn’t “come out” until I was 16 or 17, and then only to my parents and closest friends. I knew what society thought of atheists. I grew up hearing about their evil ways in church, remember? It’s easier today, with more and more people identifying as non-religious, even if they don’t like to use strong words like “atheist.” But it was a big deal in my day, and one was careful whom one told.

Western society is more accepting of homosexuality today than before, but there’s a long long way to go, and the process of realizing, accepting, and coming out as gay must be a hundred times harder than anything I experienced growing up.

Still, this article, titled “Coming Out of the Closet: When Do You Know and When Do You Go?” suggests some commonality, at least when it comes to deciding when to go public. Backed up by surveys, the article basically says that while gay kids, like straight kids, begin to realize their sexual orientation at a very young age, they typically don’t say so until high school, between the ages of 15-18. The previous generation, gay people now in their 40s, waited to come out until they were in college. Many gay men and women over 60 waited till their 30s.

It boggles me that a nine-year-old would decide to come out as gay. What a momentous step for a child to take! Yes, I accept what I read, that he realized he was gay. Yes, I believe he was beginning to accept it, as indicated by the fact he told his mom (he was blessed to have a mom who told him she loved him no matter what) … but to take the jump to coming out at school? How did he not know others would not be as accepting as his mom? That shouldn’t be news to anyone, not even a nine-year-old. In fact, if anyone knows how quickly and viciously children will turn on and attack someone who’s different, it’s another child.

So many unanswered questions. I’ve been checking the news for followup reports that might offer more information, but so far there’s nothing much beyond what’s been initially reported. I hope it doesn’t emerge that some adult encouraged this young boy to go public. I shouldn’t even ask, but how many nine-year-olds commit suicide, no matter how bad things get?

Such thoughts lead to fruitless speculation. I know nothing, and should shut up.

Tell you what, though, my comment on Facebook and Twitter sure did generate responses. I think a lot of people are following this story, asking the same kinds of questions I am.

© 2018, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.

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2 comments to Coming Out

  • MTM

    Talk about bullying children who are different, there was a show today on bullying of kids with allergies. Really? Certainly not true in my day – we were sympathetic. I can’t figure out why kids are so intolerant and narrow-minded. It cannot all be blamed on the parents.

  • I’m pretty cynical about kids. Lord of the Flies ain’t in it.

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