The just-released Pew Survey reveals that kids as young as ten sense they are GLBT. For greater anonymity, the survey was done online to attract a wider range of participants who were asked when they first knew they were gay and when they first told a close friend or relative. (Of course, closeted gays are reluctant to participate in a survey, thus eliminating a greater population).
On the average, male respondents said they suspected by the age of ten, knew at age 15, and told a friend or relative at age 18. Female respondents, however, sensed it at age 13, knew at 18, and told someone at 21.
Ritch Savin-Williams, Ph.D., Cornell University professor, and author of Mom, Dad, I’m Gay: How Families Negotiate Coming Out,” attributes this age gap to the social cues boys and girls receive: It takes longer for a lesbian to realize she has a “crush” on a friend because she is taught that it is socially acceptable to hold hands, exchange friendship bracelets, and have intimate conversations. Boys, on the other hand, are instructed not to have physical contact with other boys. So, the lack of physical contact helps them realize their attraction to other boys goes against society’s expectations of them.
Children claim to know because of an earlier biochemical benchmark: the adrenal gland’s release of hormones or “adrenarche.” According to Savin-Williams, this typically occurs around third grade, before puberty.
Whom Do The GLBT Kids Tell?
Six out of ten GLBT Americans had told one or both of their parents. The others had told friends or other relatives. Surprisingly enough, 13 percent had still not told any one. A few respondents didn’t know they were gay until they were in their 60’s.
Savin-Williams found that a gay teen will usually tell a mother first. Most parents, the survey found, particularly mothers, already suspected. The father was usually told later, either by the child or the mother, by request. Grandparents or extended family members were often the last to be told. Gay teens usually tell a female friend first.
Reaction of Parents
Sons and daughter received the same reaction from parents. The average reaction is characterized as “slightly negative.” It can range from celebration to violence and eviction. “Most don’t throw the kid out of the house,” says Savin-Williams. “I think we haven’t given parents who are really decent and reasonable enough credit.”
Mothers are typically more emotional in their reaction. They worry about what this discovery means for their child’s future, as they worry about their child’s safety and how society will treat their child.