So What If Your 7 Year-Old Son Is Gay?

Joanna Schroeder praises HuffPo blogger Amelia for offering her son unconditional love throughout his very early ‘coming out’ process.

I cried happy tears as I read When Your 7 Year-Old Son Announces ‘I’m Gay’, yesterday as it was exploding in my news feed on Facebook. It was amazing to hear from Amelia, a mom and Huffington Post blogger, about how she came to offer her young son the unconditional love and acceptance he, and all children, need.

The world is so different from when I was growing up, when I witnessed my friends being called “the other F word” as young as third grade. I’m not saying things aren’t still horrible for gay kids, as the high number of heartbreaking suicides in the last few years have shown. But in the 1970s there wouldn’t have been the massive outpouring of outrage over such deaths. I imagine people would’ve said the bullied kids were “troubled” or “unstable” whereas now we’re finally, as a society, looking at the bullies themselves as the unstable ones. More change needs to be made for certain, probably huge leaps of change in many communities, but Amelia and her family are great examples of how the world is changing.

As a mom of two sons, I have always aimed to be this same type of mom. My husband, Ivan, and I tried to resist the temptation to throw them straight into the world of dirt and dinos. They were given tons of different types of toys: trucks and teddy bears and lots of gender-neutral blocks, puzzles and light-and-music toys.

We agreed that if our boys wanted to wear skirts or nail polish, we wouldn’t care. We’d embrace it. Ivan would play princesses with the boys, should they want that. It was, for me, a huge deal that everyone around us understood we weren’t going to say, “that’s only for girls,” or go out of our way to steer them to “boy stuff.”

But a fascinating thing happened with our boys: they shocked me by being boys. Not just middle-of-the road gendered boys, they are Boys with a capital “B.” There are guns and swords and “blasters” all over my house, in fact. We definitely didn’t teach them this. They watched Caillou and Max and Ruby—they never saw violence! They never played video games! Sometimes, when my pockets are full of rocks and tiny Lego guns and Nerf bullets, when my floor is tracked with mud, when I have to go give our bearded dragon a bath because it walked through its own poo in its cage, I marvel at the depth of “boy-ness” in my home. Today my sons played war with their best friends, the sons of my dear friend who is a very liberal social theorist. I watched her 7 year-old come up behind my 4 year-old and pretend to stab him in the head. My 4 year-old thought it was great fun!

I call this “boy” behavior simply because I’ve been around a ton of kids and I have never seen little girls act out war behavior. There are, most certainly, girls who love to play war, just as there are tons of boys who would rather play dress-up, and I would embrace all expressions of healthy play. I know there’s an element of limiting children’s expression by even calling this “boy” behavior, but I’m not sure how else to define it when discussing gender.

And it must be said that these are gentle boys in their day-to-day lives. I know it seems impossible that this type of war play is healthy, but these four boys are kind, sweet, loving, smart and generous. I watch them care for one another, play with little babies at the park, step in when other kids are being bullied, and hug each other. They never hit one another out of anger (okay—extremely rarely). I’m not a psychologist, so I can’t attest to what this play behavior really means, but their lives are healthy so it feels okay, though we both try not to cringe as we watch it.

I did have a proud moment as a gender-studies mama recently, though. Last week at the grocery we were faced with a dilemma that might have ruined a shopping trip for some mothers of sons. While buying the kids’ fluoride rinse, the worst happened: the only type of mouthwash left had Barbie plastered all over it. Both boys looked at Barbie and looked at me.

“You guys cool with the Barbie mouthwash?” I asked them, trying to sound upbeat. I could’ve handled My Little Pony mouthwash, even Hannah Montana mouthwash. But Barbie? I hate Barbie. They both looked back at Barbie mouthwash for a minute.

Izz, my oldest, picked up the bottle, put it in a cart and said, “What do I care? It’s just mouthwash.”

And I guess that’s what we’re aiming for. I mean, it’s just gender. They are who they are. Dolls are just dolls, trucks are just trucks. And even in pronouncements of sexuality, when it comes down to brass text, sexuality is about love. Whom our children love doesn’t really matter, as long as they are good to one another.

And isn’t that our job as parents? To love our kids—like Amelia from HuffPo—not just despite of what makes them unique, but also because of it?

 

Photo Courtesy of crimfants

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About Joanna Schroeder

Joanna Schroeder is the type of working mom who opens her car door and junk spills out all over the ground. She serves as Executive Editor of The Good Men Project and is a freelance writer whose work has appeared on sites like Redbook, Yahoo!, xoJane, MariaShriver.com, hlntv.com, and more. Joanna loves playing with her sons, skateboarding with her husband, and hanging out with friends. She just finished her first novel. Follow her shenanigans on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Great article! I disliked the word tomboy as I was growing up…it seemed so restricting and limited…if you were named a tomboy then you were expected to act and dress a certain way…to me, every day was a different possibility: I could be a real girly girl in a dress and stockings one day and a nasty kungfu fighter sparring with my brothers and cousins another day…or play stickball with girls and boys on my block and try not to break the neighbor’s window…

    Growing up in NYC, it always felt that all possibilities were possible…many of my classmates and friends at my junior high and high school later identified as gay….to me growing up, they were just my friends….I guess some of the signs were there early, but I think it was a gift being raised in the city and having a degree of personal freedom and access to people of alternative lifestyles…My boy is also a very rough and tumble kid, but I try to instill in him tolerance when he sees men kissing and cuddling when we walk along Fulton Street toward South Street Seaport….I guess that’s the most important lesson for your kids: respect and kindness to other people…

  2. Amelia said that children as young as 4 years old know that they are homosexuals. Can someone know that they are a homosexual at 4. Is a 4 or 5 year old brain well developed enough to grasp that concept? Just asking.

    To that end, many feel that there is substantial evidence that a person’s sexual leanings are genetically assigned, that heterosexual monogamy is not the natural course for many people.

    If that is true, there is an enormous body of evidence based on human behavior that a large percentage of people are gentically assigned as polyamorous not monogamous, but are societally forced (conditioned) into a life of monogamy. . . quite often failing, of course. It will be interesting to hear the pieces on polyamory next week.

  3. “Can someone know that they are a homosexual at 4.” From what I’ve observed, yes. A few of my friends came out in high school, and they all said that they knew when they were between 4 – 6 that they would want a same-sex partner when the time came. They just didn’t know what words to use to describe that. I think everyone I know is far enough out of high school that nobody “comes out” like that anymore, but I was talking with a lesbian friend I met about a year ago, and she said the same thing. She knew definitively that she liked women exclusively the second she saw her preschool teacher (whose name she remembered), but wasn’t able to describe that feeling as ‘homosexuality’ until she was in her teens. It’s the same as being straight, in that you just know what sex your partner will be without having to think much about it. I think the complications of coming out have more to do with the expected reactions of other people than with confusion on the part of the person coming out.

  4. Julie Gillis says:

    Great piece, Joanna.
    Yes, Eric I do think kids know early who they feel romantically attached to (in a young naive way) and then that affirms itself sexually in their teens.
    My guess is, and it’s a very scientifically uneducated guess, is that A) there are wide variations genetically in gender (Male on one pole, Female on another and lots of ranging in between from XXY to brain differences in terms of how one “feels” that gender), sexual orientation (Gay on on end, straight on the other, with a mono/poly continuum making it an X/Y axes and B) these things are then culturally mediated especially in how we tolerate the gender expression of “girls wearing pink” or in terms of how we allow relationships.

    Nature is complex and has a very long game plan. It makes perfect sense to me that humans would be as varying as possible to create longevity in the species.

    These things are all still mysteries and so in the short term we make up all kinds of stories about why they happen (girls do this because this! Men are like that because that! Straight is right because that over there!).

    • As a trans woman who knew for sure at 8, I agree. Variation is the name of the game.

      Strict binary structures are artificial made-up constructs that we decide exist. Nature is a lot less strict than that.

  5. “B) these things are then culturally mediated especially in how we tolerate the gender expression of “girls wearing pink” or in terms of how we allow relationships.”

    If sexual attraction and subsequent behavior is genetically predetermined, a very large percentage of humans are genetically polyamarous, and therefore are only monogamous due to societal pressure.

    • Sure, and?

      • I ended my very plain English sentence with a period.

      • Joanna Schroeder says:

        My feeling is that Eric is saying that along with being tolerant of the varying shades of sexuality and gender expression, we should be more tolerant of the varying shades of monogamy/polygamy or relationship preferences.

        No? Yes?

        • If sexual preferences are genetically predisposed, many people are clearly polyamorous from birth but socialized to repress it or face discrimination, condemnation, ridicule, and attempts at humiliaiton. If they happen to slip up and do what comes naturally, they are subject to the treatment that Tiger Woods got.

          • Julie Gillis says:

            Well, sure. And if he was naturally non monogamous our current culture wouldn’t really allow for it. His sponsors would reject him, women probably wouldn’t marry him (though that always worked out fine for Beatty), and if he was aiming for sort of an all American image (not sure, didn’t really follow him), then that would be at risk too.

            We deal with non monogamy in our current culture by allowing for (sort of) cheating. We don’t actively support polyamorous relationships/marriages etc.

            What seemed to happen with TW was that he married a trophy wife? And she was down with that I guess, but then his other behaviors were humiliating to her. Whole thing seemed like a hot mess.

            • It’s labeled “cheating”, when it’s really doing what comes naturally to some people, whereas the person is the one that gets cheated by being forced to fit into society’s mold. I hope it gets addressed properly, as something that is natural for some people, rather than just a choice or preferred lifestyle.

            • Julie Gillis says:

              I agree but also don’t mind people making choices to try new things. Anyway, I’d like us all to look at sex and relationships with a little more humor, happiness, and collaboration in general.

            • Here’s where I have a problem with what Tiger Woods was doing (and with what other people who cheat do)…and that is the lack of honesty about it. Yes I get that society puts pressure on all of us to be monogamous, but to me that still doesn’t excuse having an affair and not telling your partner about it. Polyamory and cheating are two very different things.

            • It is labeled cheating because it is going against the rules of an agreement he willingly made.

            • A choice he made because of societal prejudice and bigotry. He was not given a choice.

            • For example, if a boy says that he wants to 2 or 3 different girlfriends at the same time, society will tell him that that’s morally wrong, and that he should have only one at a time, or it’s cheating.

  6. Maybe I just read the whole thing differently from other people but to me, the whole thing was less about sexual orientation and gender and more about a great mother offering truly unconditional love and support for her son to be who he is and be happy about it from such a young age. Bravo to the mother for being so loving and congratulations to the son for being so lucky.

  7. qabradford says:

    How genius that we continue to confuse gender with sexuality. His liking girly things is not an indicator of his yet to manifest sexual behavior. He’s simply learning gender rules. Let him be unlabeled and just provide ample narrative-oriented explanation along the way. “is he [insert banal social misnomer here]?” is condemning whatever give a kid besides “human”. We make words, not the other way around.

    • But Amelia, the author of the original piece, states that her son actually stated he was gay. Not acting out female gender roles, but knew that he wanted to grow up and marry a boy, not a girl…

      • qabradford says:

        But being “gay” means a lot more than just “marrying a boy”. If that was the only definition, it would make all soon to betrothed females and wives “gay” and naturally “lesbians” for the inverse situation. I’ve taught language. Children learn pragmatics before meaning. He’s simply repeating conventions he’s overheard in his environment. Its kind of harsh to hold someone so young “accountable” for their language wen they are obviously still in the stage of learning it.

        • Joanna Schroeder says:

          Did you read Amelia’s article?

          She doesn’t even say that he’s gay. HE said he’s gay. She responded to that in a loving, accepting way. She even said (I’m paraphrasing), “we don’t know if he’ll grow up to be gay, but that’s how he identifies now.”

          Would you like her to say to him, “Oh honey, you don’t know that you’re gay! You’re only 7, you don’t even understand what you’re saying!”?

          When my son told me he wanted to marry a little girl named Harmonie, then a little girl named Stella, then a girl named Keira, I didn’t say, “Oh Izz, you don’t know if you’re even straight! You might marry Jake!”

          Nope, I said, “That’s cool, Buddy. Keira (or Harmonie or Stella) is really fun, isn’t she?”

  8. wellokaythen says:

    I would think that letting your children express themselves in such an open way would ultimately make them more secure in themselves over the long run. There’s so much insanity in the world driven by people obsessed with conforming to specific gender roles, it must be refreshing to grow up without that same level of pressure. I’d guess they would also be better at solving problems and relating to people who are different from them, because they have wider experience to draw from. In some cases, the “girl” way to approach something could be better, and in some cases the “boy” way to do it would be better. (Please notice the quote marks.)

    My impression is that a lot of modern-day parents have similar experiences. Many parents today try very hard to avoid imposing gendered play choices on their children and try not to give them stereotyped role models to draw from, but out of nowhere the daughter loves pink dresses and tiaras and the son likes war and trucks. They think “where did THAT come from?”

    Doubly good news about choosing the Barbie mouthwash. He doesn’t mind the color of the bottle, and he doesn’t come to think dental hygiene is just something girls do.

  9. wellokaythen says:

    P.S. I think the key to their war play, even the stab in the skull, is that they are both enjoying it. It’s not just an outlet for energy or aggression or competition, but there’s probably also a lot of negotiation and teamwork going on. There are often quite sophisticated legalistic negotiations involved, such as who is on base, who’s invisible, who has a force field, what kind of ammunition defeats which force field, how long cease-fires operate, etc. In order for me to enjoy shooting my brother, he has to be able to enjoy the firefight as well, or it won’t be fun for me either. There’s bullying war play and cooperative war play, and sounds like your kids are doing cooperative war play.

    • This is wonderfully insightful…

      Thank you!

    • Joanna Schroeder says:

      Hey, I’ve been thinking about this wellokaythen, and I’d love it if you’d write this for us, for the magazine portion of the GMP.

      Shoot me an email (Lisa and I have been trying to email you!) at joanna @ goodmenproject.com

  10. Joanna, I cried happy tears as well.
    My initial reaction, tears, was accompanied by instant visions of genuine warmth and images of happiness and peace that I truly have never see in-person. For Amelia (and most likely her husband) to embrace her son’s natural being, takes me to terrain with a “happy and peace” that I’ve never met in person.

    Same-sex attraction with a little guy need never be reacted to in any way greater or less than that of the Lego Guns, Teddy Bears, dance music and skinned knees.

    I am awe-struck Joanna. This boy will live a massively beautiful childhood; not only because his orientation will be embraced, but all of this speaks volumes to the character and nature of Amelia. What else in this boy’s life will be full of this magical support? Well…you, Joanna, clearly “get it,” and your boys are in the very same place!

    I have little regard for society, thanks to its orientation. And yes, society does have an orientation, and it tends to readily dish-out cruelty, hate, judgment, alienation and a myriad of other negatives. Some little guys live in a house (not a home) wherein social ways rule the day. And that is not a good environment for anyone.

    Some, here and GMP and the USA will default to an “awe, inat nice” reaction, yet discount this boy’s masculinity. Guess what? Being gay at any age is as masculine as any New England Patriot. “Not a real boy…more of a girl,” is the furthest from the truth as one can get. Amelia’s little guy IS a boy and WILL grown into a man regardless of society’s heart.

    I envy the boys born to enlightened parents and caregivers. I truly do. I’m not gay, I just never experienced that love.

    Yer doing well Amelia and Joanna! Please give them a hug for me.

  11. God help us! Rob had another thought about this one:

    _________________

    Won’t it be a day to celebrate when an article on this topic is as innocuous and notable as discussions about paint drying!

    The drama, trauma and horrors of the past must never re-emerge to hinder a life, a soul or a parent’s license to love her child!

    Again…Well done Joanna!

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  1. […] this, after all, we are among those 21st Century urbanite parents who have always been committed to accepting our kids’ gender expression and sexuality as it comes. But as I’ve written before, we somehow ended up with boys who like […]

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