“I hope you know I’m gay"
According to a recent report by Irish LGBTQI+ youth service BeLonGTo, the average age that someone realises they're gay is 12.
Coming out often happens later again of course, particularly for gay women or people who are trans, and usually happens in stages with the person opening up about their orientation or gender identity to a widening circle as time goes by.
But sometimes, a child as young as seven is ready to come out.
Writer Katie Weber recently told Today's Parent how her family responded when her son did just that.
The news came on a day that, until then, was like any other: "My husband, my son and I were sitting around the dining room table and, like usual, I was trying my hardest to draw out some juicy details about their day", Katie said.
“How was your day?
But normal chitchat soon kicked up a gear: "That was the moment our seven-year-old son came out. He took a bite of chicken and announced, in his matter-of-fact way, “I hope you know I’m gay."
And just like that, Katie realised she had a gay son.
Her mind immediately jumped to how best to react to make this as easy as possible for him, as she recalls: ”I fervently wished there was someone with more experience—or, better yet, a degree in child psychology—who I could consult before responding. But no such luck: There wasn’t a single expert hiding under the table."
In the absence of an in-house parenting guru, she took the bull by the horns. Katie said, "I looked at my husband, took a deep breath and mustered a, 'We love you no matter what, and your feelings might change as you get older and that’s OK, too.'
"I think I also threw in something about how he could talk to us about absolutely anything and should let us know if he had questions, or was worried, uncomfortable or curious."
Her son's response? A shrug of the shoulders and an “OK.”
That night, as she readied her kid for bed, "thousand thoughts buzzed through my brain while just as many emotions crashed over me: Could he really know at this age?"
But she put him to bed and that, for a long time, was that.
Until he turned nine that is, when the topic arose again. "As I was washing the dishes, Luca silently appeared beside me. I asked what was up, but he just stood there in his cute little monster truck pyjamas. It wasn’t until I put down the dishcloth and looked him in the eye that he started to talk.
"In a flood of words, he told me he wanted to tell his friends that he was gay—it felt like he was keeping a secret from them, and when he thought about it too much, it made him feel sick."
These words are incredibly hard to hear for any parent, and Katie hurt for her baby as any of us would: "My heart ached, and I wished I could rewind to the time when kisses and cuddles fixed absolutely everything."
It seemed that the time had come for him to show the world who he was, and Katie was determined to support him however she could, as she explains: "After some soul-searching and many late-night talks with my husband, we decided to first tell the parents of his closest friends so they could be ready to answer any questions. It seemed like a small way to protect him, the least we could do."
Soon, Luca began to tell his friend the news. The responses ranged from, “So?” to “Who are you gay with?”
Kids are truly the best people on earth.
From that point on, everything changed for Luca, as his mum explained: "It was like someone had kicked the party into high gear: He was suddenly dancing and singing—all the time. My quiet boy started living life in full-colour, topped with a glitter-bomb of happiness.
"It was like I was suddenly raising a sparkly rainbow unicorn. He was more confident and outgoing, and you couldn’t shut him up. His teachers noticed it, and his marks improved significantly in grade five.
"There’s been no looking back since."
A masterclass in acceptance and encouragement, you'd love if every LGBTQI+ child's coming out story was this positive.
So, how should you react when your gay child comes to you?
According to Child Psychologist David Carey, these are the important things to remember:
1. There is no need to rush into conversation
"You may be shocked but it’s important to remain calm and collected. Your child will immediately feel your anxiety and become distressed. This distress may cause them to fear talking openly to you again or to believe you don’t love them. Taking time to let it sink in and remain calm is the best protective factor against the feeling of being unloved."
2. You may need to talk to someone
"What you need is a good listener with a loving outlook on life and people. If you don’t have someone like that in your life, it’s best to find a professional such as your GP, a counsellor or psychologist to chat with you about your concerns. Be sure to ask the professional about their attitudes towards gay people... even professionals can have strong biases."
3. Educate yourself
"Be sure you get the right information. Ridding yourself of any misconceptions is important. Remember your child can be the best source of information and may be the best person to teach you about their world."
4. Keep the lines of communication open at all times
"Remember the power of the hug."
5. Ask your child if they need any particular support or assistance from you
"Be willing to assist them and support them as necessary. By doing this, they will come to you in times of need in the future."
6. Realise your child trusted you
"...So much they could tell you the deepest truth they hold about themselves. This means you have been a good parent and done everything right. You should feel proud of yourself and proud of your child and their courage to be open about their sexuality."
7. Provide advice if needed but be prepared not to advise if it is not needed
"Most of all, continue to love and cherish them."