Mom wonders, 'Is my 9-year-old daughter gay?'

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  February 17, 2011 06:00 AM

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Hi Barbara,

I need some help. I have written to you in the past as well as read your blog everyday. I respect your advice so I am back again. I have a 9-year-old daughter who I suspect is gay due to some comments she has made and her response to pictures of men vs women. For example, she told me that when in Kindergarten, she thought another girl classmate was so pretty. I am comparing this to my other daughter who had a crush on a boy in kindergarten and my own crush on a boy in first grade. She has never indicated that she thinks any boy is cute but often mentions how pretty some girls or women are. She also had a friend over recently whom she could not stop hugging and saying how cute she is.

I guess my questions are: Is she too young to know if she is gay or not? I am not sure if I should initiate a conversation about it or wait until she is older? Would she be able to handle this at this age?

I am going to be honest: while I am not proud of this feeling, it makes me sad to think that she (and our family) may face difficult years during middle and high school. I will absolutely be supportive and there for her, I just don't wish this for her. I obviously realize that I cannot change things, and I know that in the real scheme of things, this is minor, but I have no direct experience with helping someone deal with this.

How do I proceed right now, if at all? I have not told my husband of my suspicion yet.

From: J, Reading

Dear J,

I so admire your love, concern, and honesty. I wish I could say that your assessment of what she potentially would face in middle and high school is misguided. But, despite huge gains in our culture, that just isn't so; gay, lesbian, and bi-sexual teens face a higher incidence of bullying than other teens and a higher incidence of health risks (like suicide and depression). I don't mean to scare you but, yeah, you are right to be gathering information sooner rather than later.

On the other hand, are you jumping to conclusions? She's 9, not 19, and it's not unusual for girls this age to have crushes on other girls and not be lesbian. Is she too young to know if she's gay? There's no formula for this: Many adults who are lesbian or gay will tell you that they knew at this age but just as many will say they didn't. Some will say they can look back now and see that they were, even if they didn't recognize it then. I hope we hear from some readers who can share their experiences.

Nancy Gruver is my go-to person for girls this age. The mother of daughters, she's co-founder of daughters.com and New Moon Girls magazine, and author of "How To Say It To Girls: Communicating with Your Growing Daughter." These are all wonderful resources for parents of preteen girls.

Here's her answer to your second question:

"You know your daughter best. If she's self-reflective and you know or think that she's wondering or worrying about her attraction to other girls, then it makes sense for you to open the topic with her so she knows you are willing to listen to her feelings and questions and that you'll always support her.

"If she's not very self-reflective, she may not have given any of this a thought yet at the age of 9 -- to her, it's just the way she is, and she doesn't question it. That's likely to change as she gets older and you want to help her be ready to handle the awareness that she's part of a group that is unfairly discriminated against.

"One easy way to open the topic of her feelings if she doesn't bring it up and you feel it's time, is to have conversations about gay and lesbian family and friends. You can ask if she thinks their romantic feelings are any different from the ones you and your husband have. And then just listen. She'll give you the cues or questions on where to take the conversation next."

Lastly, I'm wondering if you haven't shared any of this with your husband because you're worried about how he will react. I hope you are able to talk to him; having the support of each other -- no matter what issue you have with a child -- really does help. Here are two good resources: The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Educational Network works to create safe schools; PFLAG, Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays.

I answer a question from a reader every weekday. If you want help with some aspect of child-rearing, just write to me here.


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30 comments so far...
  1. Well, everyone's experience is different, and I would guess that you may be picking up on other signals that you did not put in your letter, J. But, in my experience what you're describing does not sound particularly "gay" -- if there is such a sound. Girls at age 9 get very emotional about their best friends, and they are not yet at the age where they think it's not cool to show it with big hugs and emotional gushing.

    I watched a young girl in my family grow up and eventually realize she was gay and, at least for her, the experience sounds much different from your daughter. She also did not talk about boys (which I don't think is unusual for 9 year old girls in general), but she didn't talk about girls either. I think (and yes I know I could be generalizing here) that even at age 9, lesbian girls are aware that their feelings are not the "norm" that they see on TV, and at about that age they start to hedge expressing their emotions towards other girls more than you would think. In other words, many girls start to self-censor, which may make them be less effusive to other girls rather than more.

    I think, if you haven't already, a few discussions about "all kinds of families" can let her know it is more than okay that she talk about her feelings openly with you. But I also think you should relax for a while as her orientation will be a lot more obvious to you and to her around the time she is 11.

    Posted by SandyEE February 17, 11 08:37 AM
  1. I have nothing to add to the advice of the experts on communicating with your daughter. But I can say that we do continue to make progress as a society on acceptance. Look at just the past 5 years: equal marriage rights, repeal of DADT, recognition of bullying and aggressive efforts to stop it. Do not despair for the challenges your daughter may face. Make her home and her family a source of strength and acceptance, and she will be well equipped to face whatever the world looks like when she becomes a teen.

    Posted by Q February 17, 11 09:15 AM
  1. I think it may be too early to tell for either of you. I know I had bisexual feelings when I was a preteen, but those faded. I've been attracted to men all my adult life.

    I know quite a few women who could go either way. And some of them have. At different points in their lives, they've been in relationships with both sexes. Since women tend wrap sex in emotional feelings, it's easier for them to be truly bisexual. Many research studies have also shown that women are attracted to pictures of erotic women, even though they would call themselves straight. So I'd say you probably shouldn't worry about this now.

    Posted by momof2 February 17, 11 09:19 AM
  1. Respectfully, I think you are reading WAY too much into this. I have nannied for families with girls that age and it is about 50/50 whether they are in the stage where they have crushes versus just being very, very into being a girl, where they are obsessed with comparing themselves to their friends, thinking their friends are pretty, trying to dress like/act like other girls, etc. The girl obsession has a lot to do with identity issues, and figuring out who they are as girls. It isn't really about sexuality.

    This parallels my own behavior at that age. I went through puberty rather early and thought boys were icky until I was about twelve. I was totally into my female friends and wanted to be just like them, be pretty like them, dress like them, etc. This is VERY typical of little girls and doesn't indicate anything about their sexuality. I am straight.

    Posted by merilisa February 17, 11 10:43 AM
  1. Just wanted to say that there is a gay-straight alliance club at Reading Memorial HS - so maybe it won't be so difficult if she is gay. Or no more difficult than the teen years are for everyone.
    As for you, don't stress it yet. Or try not to.

    Posted by Reading mom February 17, 11 10:46 AM
  1. I've yet to meet a gay adult who didn't know that they were gay by that point. Willing to admit it is a different thing altogether. What messages have you sent her about your receptiveness to gay people/families? Did you read books like "King and King" or express to her that you are open to her loving whomever she loves? If not, maybe you should lay some foundation work there. Teaching acceptance is NEVER a bad thing.

    Posted by C February 17, 11 11:32 AM
  1. Hello J-
    A couple of thoughts. One, I don't think girls noticing that other girls are pretty or even developing girl-crushes is an indicator that your daughter is gay. I've seen many young girls holding hands, hugging and enjoying their friendship in this manner. That said, my sister will tell you that she knew she way gay at the age of 10-she remembers wanting to be Ken when she and her friends played with Barbie dolls.

    While I'm not sure where your daughter is developmentally, if you do choose to talk to her about her sexuality be careful not to plant any negative thoughts in her head. She may end up confused and fearful of herself and become cautious about the way she interacts with her girl friends and this could lead to future social issues.
    The reason I chose to comment is because of the wariness you expressed in terms of the possible hardships your daughter may face if she is gay. The next 10 years will be a difficult time for your daughter, whatever her sexual preference. Adolescence is tough and many of us would pay never to have to repeat it. Difficulties will come up and you will talk to her, but during these moments try hard remove the idea from your head that these issues are related to her being gay. Although some might very well be, most will occur regardless. I'm straight as a toothpick but would take out a loan never to repeat grades 8-12. Sorry I had to add a little humor. Sort of.

    Posted by jess February 17, 11 11:53 AM
  1. I have a tween whose sexuality I wonder about. I haven't broached with him whether he thinks he is gay. What I have done is, when talking about the future with him or marriage or children, etc., simply always make sure to include all kinds of marriage. I've talked about how some men love men and some love women, some love either, etc. To make it as normal and non-taboo as possible. He hears from peers sometimes the reverse -- "gay" as an insult, etc. So I just have made every effort to communicate that in our house, in our family, people are who they are and love who they love, and that it's all normal. And this is done as just normal conversation, whenever the subject or couples or dating or anything like that comes up -- use both genders, and speak under the assumption that people could be either gay or straight.

    If he is gay, I hope it will help him feel comfortable about it, and will let him know there is no problem letting us know about it. And if he is not, I hope it will help him not to be part of the problem at his school and in society as he grows older.

    So, at this young age, I guess that's my only advice -- bring up the topic so that it isn't taboo, so that it doesn't have to be a Big Conversation. Make it normal.

    Posted by jjlen February 17, 11 12:32 PM
  1. I have a recommendation for the woman who wonders if her daughter is gay. My daughter just made a documentary called LEAD WITH LOVE about the impact this has on a family and how they can deal with it. It interviews boys and girls and their families and is sponsored by the NIH. She might get some insight into what it means. It sounds like she loves her baby girl and will always stand by her. You were right in telling her to talk to her daughter because it, indeed, could be just immaturity. It's best to keep an open dialogue so there are no surprises. This movie can help with that dialogue. Love and luck to her.

    Posted by Patzy M February 17, 11 02:26 PM
  1. C, teaching acceptance as long as you agree with it. Should mention that part

    Posted by win February 17, 11 02:54 PM
  1. As someone who can clearly remember those years of struggling with identity, I can say that I most definitely did not know I was gay when I was 9. I know I sometimes felt different. I know I didn't feel that need to chase boys, although sometimes I did anyway because that's what i was supposed to do to fit in. But it always felt forced. And while times have changed (although this was only 20 years ago) - your daughter, whether gay or straight or somewhere in between, probably has not figured this out yet, or even thought about it - unless she is very insightful for her age. She may not figure it out for a long time - and it may take some time after that to get the courage to tell anyone.

    As everyone else has said - be open and loving. Assure her that she can be whatever she wants to be and whoever she is and that she will be wonderful regardless. I wouldn't push the issue directly until she does, because if she hasn't thought of it, and she doesn't end up being gay or at all questioning- it may just cause her undue fear and anxiety over the "what-ifs" of peer relationships.

    Posted by Oreo February 17, 11 04:57 PM
  1. Personally I find this article disgusting. Your daughter is 9 for crying out loud - let her be who she wants to be. She should be able to explore everything - kids are interested in whatever they want to be regardless of stereotypes and societal norms. This is what is so amazing about children - they don't know how to be prejudiced. Be thankful she is interacting with people at all, she could be so shy and sheltered that she doesn't express any opinion or emotion.
    As for facing hardships, if she does in fact 'come out', when she's older - I agree that in recent years the tragedies and prejudice linked to sexuality and gender are growing and horrible, I don't mean to discredit any of that HOWEVER, having said that, LIFE IS HARD. Anything worth fighting for or doing will always come with hardship. You can't protect her from everything she may or may not potentially face in her lifetime and, honestly, by acting now (on something you're not even sure of because, let's face it - she's 9!) and putting a bias on the situation (that you have whether you realize it or not) YOU are creating the problem rather than diffusing what isn't even a problem....


    Posted by Danielle February 18, 11 01:35 PM
  1. Danielle, I applaud this woman for caring enough to ask. That is all she did and it is out of concern. A clueless or noncaring parent would have blown this off.

    We all watch our children and wonder what they will be like when they grow up. While I desperately want to slow down the process, I still wonder all the time. After all, we spend so much time trying to prepare them!

    Anyway, I find your comment uncalled for.

    Posted by Frank February 18, 11 04:19 PM
  1. Danielle, why is the article disgusting? This mom loves her daughter, and will love her whether she is gay or straight, and is tuned into her daughter's emotional life to wonder about what her orientation is. She wants to know how to help her daughter. She admits that she is worried about having a gay daughter because of the unique pressures gay teens face. This mom is not creating a problem (there is a *higher risk of suicide* among gay teens, so go ahead and pretend this is just a "life is hard" thing, but in reality it's more than that. And while I'm at it, you think it's a *growing* problem? Are you completely unaware of the history of sexual orientation violence and discrimination?). This mom wants to know how to address this, if she should, so that her daughter can get whatever support she might need.

    I have NO idea what exactly you are projecting on to this scenario, but I think this mom sounds loving and supportive and honest.

    Posted by jjlen February 18, 11 07:03 PM
  1. Danielle, I find your comments "disgusting."

    Posted by SophmoreCamelCharlestown February 18, 11 10:08 PM
  1. J, relax. I'm a lesbian. My wife and I have been together for 15 years, married since it was legal in 2004. We have 3 kids. We own a house. We have good jobs, most of the time. We are exhausted working parents. We are involved in our community. We are just like any other married couple raising kids. You love your daughter, and you don't need to over-analyze her. Teach her and all your kids to be open and accepting of all of life's variety--show them different kinds of art, take them to eat different kinds of food, read books about different types of people (other cultures, gay/lesbian, etc.), reinforce that you believe families are groups of people who love one another, help them to see that families come in all kinds of forms, remind them that as they grow up, they may love men or women or both, let them know that you will always love them and be happy for them when they are happy. Lead by example. Model the acceptance of others that you want your children to give and receive. As others have said, it is quite common for girls of all ages to hang all over one another, pay way too much attention to how they and other girls look and act, and have girl crushes. As a society, the US pays way too much attention to how girls look and act, so it should come as no surprise when our daughters learn to do the same. I also second what another person said--some gay and lesbian people feel that difference at very young ages, others do not. I didn't know that about myself until I was in my twenties. My wife didn't know about herself until she was forty. And remember, while the US as a nation is far behind many other countries legally, gay/lesbian couples can get married in MA and several other states, gay/lesbian couples can get married in many other countries, gay/lesbian couples can have their own biological children as well as adopt children, and so forth. All kids face challenges as they grow up. Your daughter will not be the exception. While GLBT teens are often mistreated for their sexuality, each younger generation is substantially more open and accepting than the older generations that came before. It is increasingly common for teens to experiment bisexually, to grow up with their sexual identity (as opposed to coming out), etc. GLBT or straight, all your daughter needs from you is your love and acceptance, your honesty, your strength, and the perspective of an adult. Don't ride the emotional roller coaster of adolescence with her. Help her know that whatever happens, whatever she feels, this, too, shall pass. She'll be ok. So will you. As parents, we are here to help our children learn how to become their adult selves who are healthy (physically and psychologically), productive, loving, capable, etc. You are doing that. Enjoy the journey with your wonderful daughter!

    Posted by Michele February 19, 11 10:06 AM
  1. Why is she worried about it? Is mom a homophobe or anti-gay?

    I could see if she was asking questions about homosexuality or asking "If I think X or Y, does that make me gay?"

    My simple response: This mom can't evaluate this properly until her daughter is older (perhaps a teenager or a senior in HS), but allow the daughter to openly ask questions.

    Posted by Mike February 19, 11 12:39 PM
  1. It's easy for me to say, but I would say....stop worrying. Just let your daughter be who she is - now, and in the future. She may just be a very affectionate person or very emotional. Maybe she will prefer women over men romantically in the future. Yes, it might be tough during middle school and high school, but let that emerge on its own. I would just let her know that whatever she is, you always love and accept her. I think you should also try to indicate - at appropriate times - that you're accepting of gay people so she grows up knowing that this is not an issue for you and your family. Then, if she does turn out to be gay, she'll at least know her family is behind her. That I think is the biggest thing to so many gay people and gets them through a lot of bad things from the outside world.

    Stop worrying and just enjoy your daughter!

    Posted by mehitable February 19, 11 01:08 PM
  1. As a fourth grade teacher who spends many days with 9 year old girls, I can tell you that the behavior you describe (telling another girl she is cute or beautiful, hugging, holding hands, etc) is pretty typical. I find the girls in my classes are really involved with each other- chatty, hugging holding hands, forming clubs, mimicing each other, dressing alike, acting alike. They don't seem to notice the boys and they spend most of their time with each other, figuring each other out.

    I think your daughter's behavior sounds reasonable and isn't representative of sexuality.

    Posted by teacherinmass February 20, 11 12:02 PM
  1. You're worried about your 9 year olds sexuality because she hasn't expressed interest in boys? Personally, I think your 9 year olds behavior is more natural than a 5 year old having a crush on a boy. Were you encouraging this behavior from your 5 year old because you had the same feelings as a 1st grader? (and you remember this?) As a father of three daughters I don't think it is common for any 5 year old to be thinking about 'crushes', they are more likely to just want to play and have fun with their friends.

    I also find it creepy you are so in tune with your your daughter's sexuality at this age. Let her be.. encourage her to be herself and let it play itself out.

    Posted by RR Fields February 20, 11 04:43 PM
  1. Mom, you need other interests in your life. You are paying way too much attention to your daughter. The major risk to your kid's development is you. How can she face her future and her peers carrying the worry of how you'll react to every nuance of her actions. Che sara sara, the future's not ours to see. (or control).

    Posted by Mazzaschi February 21, 11 09:05 AM
  1. J, I would worry too, especially in recent light of the suicides. History has been hard on our GLB friends and as a mother, I see how you'd be concerned. And what a good mom you are to prepare ahead for this possible outcome. The more together you are about it, the more you can support and give your daughter what she needs as she navigates her sexuality. Positive communication and modeling acceptance would seem to be the key here.

    Posted by lolasmomma February 21, 11 09:07 AM
  1. A discussion? At 9? Are you nuts? My daughter, who is almost 13 and very mature for her age, often drops in comments about girls being pretty. Does that make her gay? Let it go, it's nothing, and even if it is, 9 is too young to discuss.

    Posted by ME February 21, 11 11:40 AM
  1. She sounds like a typical female to me. My friends and I still hug each other and comment that other women are cute. Doesn't mean anything sexual. Nine year old girls often still think boys are "icky" so the lack of interest in boys at that age is a non-issue to me.

    Also, don't compare her to your other daughter. They are not the same and will not mature at the same rate, have the same interests, etc. Though, her saying a girl is cute at 9 is really not different from a 5 year old saying a boy is cute.

    Posted by mk February 21, 11 07:10 PM
  1. I had crushes on other girls at that age, and it wasn't any indicator of my future sexuality, which is straight. Don't sexualize behavior that is not yet sexualized. She has strong feelings for her friends. She notices the attractiveness of girls or women - that doesn't particularly have anything to do with romantic feelings. I tend to notice women's attractiveness more than men's, and I'm rarely randomly attracted to men and unlikely to comment on their cuteness or hotness.

    It sounds like your daughter is different both from you and from her sister, and you're reaching for an interpretation that sounds like a stretch. Maybe she's gay, maybe she's not, but I do think you're perhaps reading a bit much into her behavior.

    Stay connected and aware, allow the conversations to happen as she needs them to, but I would not leap to conclusions based on what you've said here.

    Posted by MelissaJane February 22, 11 08:15 AM
  1. LW, are you kidding? She's 9 years old. While your other daughter may have had a "crush" on a boy in kindergarten, it probably was not truly a romantic/sexual crush which would indicate that she is straight. I remember having a "crush" on a boy when I was in kindergarten, and I vividly remember the feelings which went with it (even though I am 34 now). I did not want to kiss him, or hug him. I just had a little obsession with him. It's hard to articulate the emotions now because they are so foreign to anyone who has had romantic feelings. They were strong but entirely innocent. I thought he was cool and I wanted to be around him. I remember playing with my older brother and asking my brother to pretend that he was this other boy. I don't mean to say that I asked my brother to be involved in any "role-playing" but rather I just liked the idea of playing with this other little boy.

    At the same age, I had a crush on my mother's friend... she was so nice and pretty and I was always excited when she came over and always wanted her to ask what I was up to, so I could tell her. Neither of these were "romantic" crushes but they both involved strong emotions, a strong attachment.

    I now have a 9-year-old niece who has never expressed any sort of romantic interest in a boy. Why would she? She has not yet begun to go through puberty, and many children do not have romantic thoughts at this age. Quite frankly I think that those who do express "crushes" do so because they've been conditioned to... adults think it's cute if little Janie has a crush on little Billy, and they'll ask 5-year-olds if they have a girlfriend or boyfriend. Or, kids act out what they see on the Disney Channel, which shows lots of older kids (tweens and young teens) in relationship situations. They're usually playing a game rather than having genuine romantic feelings.

    While my 9-year-old niece has never expressed a crush on a boy, she has made all the same comments about other girls which your daughter has. She talks about girls at school, and girls on TV, and how pretty they are. I never think, "she must be gay if she is so fascinated with that little girl, or thinks she so pretty." She seems to be impressed by the prettiness, or wants to be the other little girl. At this age she is becoming very conscious of appearances and she values prettiness.

    I would not even open a dialogue about whether she's gay. There would be nothing wrong with her being gay, but I think that even raising the issue would confuse her more than anything else. Just let her develop on her own.

    could tell her.

    Posted by Liz February 22, 11 11:03 AM
  1. I don't know which is worse: a) assuming your 9 year old is "gay" because she comments on how pretty other girls are, or b) worrying about it one way or the other.

    You are her mother. You either love her the way she is, or you don't.

    p.s. let her be 9 years old before you bleep her up with your paranoia and homophobia of what future years may or may not hold.

    For the love of all things holy, this letter aggravates me to no end as the father of a girl about to turn 9. This person is missing out on so much by worrying about nonsense like this. Trivial nonsense. Fix yourself before you break your daughter.

    - Hoss has spoken

    Posted by Hoss February 22, 11 11:46 AM
  1. As a mother of two daughters ages 9 and 7, I know what it can feel like to be concerned about how their developing sexuality can effect their social well-being. Your honesty about that is admirable, considering all the hostility toward people who aren't just THRILLED with the idea of gayness in any facet.

    All I really want to say about your post is that I'm happy for your children to have such a supportive and accepting mother. If you want them to avoid hostility and segregation, do whatever you can to create a loving, accepting environment around them. Seek out friends who are equally accepting. If this early-age behavior sticks into adulthood, join your local PFLAG, raise awareness, stand up against hateful behavior.

    As a lesbian myself, I worry about my kids being ostracized because they are different. I hear about all the kids in their school who have been taught that it is wrong and tell my kids what they think also. I never tell my daughters to argue because everyone deserves equal respect (unless there is some kind of bullying going on). I simply tell them to tell their friends that they respect their teachings and opinions and won't try to change them, but to ask respectfully that they look past it and not continue to say negative things about their mother.

    Of course, if there is a confrontation of an ugly nature, the same rules apply as any other confrontation: Defend themselves physically if needed and conduct themselves maturely in spite of their emotions. Teachers and parents SHOULD be adjusted well enough to defend the bullied child, no matter what the reasons for the bullying, but as we all know, some aren't - which brings me back to what I said before. Do whatever you can to promote anti-bullying in your community and stay connected with people who believe as you do. At least then, even if bullied, your daughter will know that she has loving, understanding people to support her no matter what.

    Posted by Montana September 25, 11 12:06 AM
  1. I read somewhere that the first people who notice a beautiful woman walking into a room are the other women, not men. Women compare themselves to each other, admire each other, envy each other. We look to other women to help us define our public persona. I don't think there is anything about your daughter's behavior that indicates she is gay. She is learning about her femininity and how to express it. I don't see anything wrong with casually talking to her about different kinds of love/marriage, etc., but I'd be careful not to steer her towards being gay or straight. Be open-minded, and let her be who she is. If you tell her YOU think she's gay, it will either end up being supportive if she is, or will make her feel like she's got something to prove if she's not. If she turns out not to be gay, it could also make her feel like she is not "feminine" enough, or desirable. So tread lightly.

    Posted by am January 5, 12 11:26 AM
  1. I read this article with great interest as I have a 6 year old daughter who behaves the same.

    I have a lot of gay friends and they all tell me that they always knew they were gay from an incredibly early age.

    My daughter tells me all the time how cute or pretty girls are - but she also tells me that seeing male & females kiss is disgusting and makes her feel sick. When I ask if a boy kissing a boy makes her feel sick or a girl kissing a girl, she says no.

    One day she asked me if girls can marry girls and I said that's called being gay and yes they can in some countries. She had a worried look on her face and said to me, I think I'm gay. I said do you understand that means you want to marry a girl and not a boy and she said yes.

    Ive not told her I think she is gay and said to her, well its up to her what she wants to do as a grown up. But she mentions it to me whenever she sees boys and girls dating or kissing on tv or in films/cartoons - she absolutely hates it and it makes her feel sick.

    So whether they are 6 or 9 or 19, I honestly believe you are born this way and you always know. Time will tell whether this is true for my daughter or not.

    Posted by LondonUKMum November 1, 12 12:55 PM
 
30 comments so far...
  1. Well, everyone's experience is different, and I would guess that you may be picking up on other signals that you did not put in your letter, J. But, in my experience what you're describing does not sound particularly "gay" -- if there is such a sound. Girls at age 9 get very emotional about their best friends, and they are not yet at the age where they think it's not cool to show it with big hugs and emotional gushing.

    I watched a young girl in my family grow up and eventually realize she was gay and, at least for her, the experience sounds much different from your daughter. She also did not talk about boys (which I don't think is unusual for 9 year old girls in general), but she didn't talk about girls either. I think (and yes I know I could be generalizing here) that even at age 9, lesbian girls are aware that their feelings are not the "norm" that they see on TV, and at about that age they start to hedge expressing their emotions towards other girls more than you would think. In other words, many girls start to self-censor, which may make them be less effusive to other girls rather than more.

    I think, if you haven't already, a few discussions about "all kinds of families" can let her know it is more than okay that she talk about her feelings openly with you. But I also think you should relax for a while as her orientation will be a lot more obvious to you and to her around the time she is 11.

    Posted by SandyEE February 17, 11 08:37 AM
  1. I have nothing to add to the advice of the experts on communicating with your daughter. But I can say that we do continue to make progress as a society on acceptance. Look at just the past 5 years: equal marriage rights, repeal of DADT, recognition of bullying and aggressive efforts to stop it. Do not despair for the challenges your daughter may face. Make her home and her family a source of strength and acceptance, and she will be well equipped to face whatever the world looks like when she becomes a teen.

    Posted by Q February 17, 11 09:15 AM
  1. I think it may be too early to tell for either of you. I know I had bisexual feelings when I was a preteen, but those faded. I've been attracted to men all my adult life.

    I know quite a few women who could go either way. And some of them have. At different points in their lives, they've been in relationships with both sexes. Since women tend wrap sex in emotional feelings, it's easier for them to be truly bisexual. Many research studies have also shown that women are attracted to pictures of erotic women, even though they would call themselves straight. So I'd say you probably shouldn't worry about this now.

    Posted by momof2 February 17, 11 09:19 AM
  1. Respectfully, I think you are reading WAY too much into this. I have nannied for families with girls that age and it is about 50/50 whether they are in the stage where they have crushes versus just being very, very into being a girl, where they are obsessed with comparing themselves to their friends, thinking their friends are pretty, trying to dress like/act like other girls, etc. The girl obsession has a lot to do with identity issues, and figuring out who they are as girls. It isn't really about sexuality.

    This parallels my own behavior at that age. I went through puberty rather early and thought boys were icky until I was about twelve. I was totally into my female friends and wanted to be just like them, be pretty like them, dress like them, etc. This is VERY typical of little girls and doesn't indicate anything about their sexuality. I am straight.

    Posted by merilisa February 17, 11 10:43 AM
  1. Just wanted to say that there is a gay-straight alliance club at Reading Memorial HS - so maybe it won't be so difficult if she is gay. Or no more difficult than the teen years are for everyone.
    As for you, don't stress it yet. Or try not to.

    Posted by Reading mom February 17, 11 10:46 AM
  1. I've yet to meet a gay adult who didn't know that they were gay by that point. Willing to admit it is a different thing altogether. What messages have you sent her about your receptiveness to gay people/families? Did you read books like "King and King" or express to her that you are open to her loving whomever she loves? If not, maybe you should lay some foundation work there. Teaching acceptance is NEVER a bad thing.

    Posted by C February 17, 11 11:32 AM
  1. Hello J-
    A couple of thoughts. One, I don't think girls noticing that other girls are pretty or even developing girl-crushes is an indicator that your daughter is gay. I've seen many young girls holding hands, hugging and enjoying their friendship in this manner. That said, my sister will tell you that she knew she way gay at the age of 10-she remembers wanting to be Ken when she and her friends played with Barbie dolls.

    While I'm not sure where your daughter is developmentally, if you do choose to talk to her about her sexuality be careful not to plant any negative thoughts in her head. She may end up confused and fearful of herself and become cautious about the way she interacts with her girl friends and this could lead to future social issues.
    The reason I chose to comment is because of the wariness you expressed in terms of the possible hardships your daughter may face if she is gay. The next 10 years will be a difficult time for your daughter, whatever her sexual preference. Adolescence is tough and many of us would pay never to have to repeat it. Difficulties will come up and you will talk to her, but during these moments try hard remove the idea from your head that these issues are related to her being gay. Although some might very well be, most will occur regardless. I'm straight as a toothpick but would take out a loan never to repeat grades 8-12. Sorry I had to add a little humor. Sort of.

    Posted by jess February 17, 11 11:53 AM
  1. I have a tween whose sexuality I wonder about. I haven't broached with him whether he thinks he is gay. What I have done is, when talking about the future with him or marriage or children, etc., simply always make sure to include all kinds of marriage. I've talked about how some men love men and some love women, some love either, etc. To make it as normal and non-taboo as possible. He hears from peers sometimes the reverse -- "gay" as an insult, etc. So I just have made every effort to communicate that in our house, in our family, people are who they are and love who they love, and that it's all normal. And this is done as just normal conversation, whenever the subject or couples or dating or anything like that comes up -- use both genders, and speak under the assumption that people could be either gay or straight.

    If he is gay, I hope it will help him feel comfortable about it, and will let him know there is no problem letting us know about it. And if he is not, I hope it will help him not to be part of the problem at his school and in society as he grows older.

    So, at this young age, I guess that's my only advice -- bring up the topic so that it isn't taboo, so that it doesn't have to be a Big Conversation. Make it normal.

    Posted by jjlen February 17, 11 12:32 PM
  1. I have a recommendation for the woman who wonders if her daughter is gay. My daughter just made a documentary called LEAD WITH LOVE about the impact this has on a family and how they can deal with it. It interviews boys and girls and their families and is sponsored by the NIH. She might get some insight into what it means. It sounds like she loves her baby girl and will always stand by her. You were right in telling her to talk to her daughter because it, indeed, could be just immaturity. It's best to keep an open dialogue so there are no surprises. This movie can help with that dialogue. Love and luck to her.

    Posted by Patzy M February 17, 11 02:26 PM
  1. C, teaching acceptance as long as you agree with it. Should mention that part

    Posted by win February 17, 11 02:54 PM
  1. As someone who can clearly remember those years of struggling with identity, I can say that I most definitely did not know I was gay when I was 9. I know I sometimes felt different. I know I didn't feel that need to chase boys, although sometimes I did anyway because that's what i was supposed to do to fit in. But it always felt forced. And while times have changed (although this was only 20 years ago) - your daughter, whether gay or straight or somewhere in between, probably has not figured this out yet, or even thought about it - unless she is very insightful for her age. She may not figure it out for a long time - and it may take some time after that to get the courage to tell anyone.

    As everyone else has said - be open and loving. Assure her that she can be whatever she wants to be and whoever she is and that she will be wonderful regardless. I wouldn't push the issue directly until she does, because if she hasn't thought of it, and she doesn't end up being gay or at all questioning- it may just cause her undue fear and anxiety over the "what-ifs" of peer relationships.

    Posted by Oreo February 17, 11 04:57 PM
  1. Personally I find this article disgusting. Your daughter is 9 for crying out loud - let her be who she wants to be. She should be able to explore everything - kids are interested in whatever they want to be regardless of stereotypes and societal norms. This is what is so amazing about children - they don't know how to be prejudiced. Be thankful she is interacting with people at all, she could be so shy and sheltered that she doesn't express any opinion or emotion.
    As for facing hardships, if she does in fact 'come out', when she's older - I agree that in recent years the tragedies and prejudice linked to sexuality and gender are growing and horrible, I don't mean to discredit any of that HOWEVER, having said that, LIFE IS HARD. Anything worth fighting for or doing will always come with hardship. You can't protect her from everything she may or may not potentially face in her lifetime and, honestly, by acting now (on something you're not even sure of because, let's face it - she's 9!) and putting a bias on the situation (that you have whether you realize it or not) YOU are creating the problem rather than diffusing what isn't even a problem....


    Posted by Danielle February 18, 11 01:35 PM
  1. Danielle, I applaud this woman for caring enough to ask. That is all she did and it is out of concern. A clueless or noncaring parent would have blown this off.

    We all watch our children and wonder what they will be like when they grow up. While I desperately want to slow down the process, I still wonder all the time. After all, we spend so much time trying to prepare them!

    Anyway, I find your comment uncalled for.

    Posted by Frank February 18, 11 04:19 PM
  1. Danielle, why is the article disgusting? This mom loves her daughter, and will love her whether she is gay or straight, and is tuned into her daughter's emotional life to wonder about what her orientation is. She wants to know how to help her daughter. She admits that she is worried about having a gay daughter because of the unique pressures gay teens face. This mom is not creating a problem (there is a *higher risk of suicide* among gay teens, so go ahead and pretend this is just a "life is hard" thing, but in reality it's more than that. And while I'm at it, you think it's a *growing* problem? Are you completely unaware of the history of sexual orientation violence and discrimination?). This mom wants to know how to address this, if she should, so that her daughter can get whatever support she might need.

    I have NO idea what exactly you are projecting on to this scenario, but I think this mom sounds loving and supportive and honest.

    Posted by jjlen February 18, 11 07:03 PM
  1. Danielle, I find your comments "disgusting."

    Posted by SophmoreCamelCharlestown February 18, 11 10:08 PM
  1. J, relax. I'm a lesbian. My wife and I have been together for 15 years, married since it was legal in 2004. We have 3 kids. We own a house. We have good jobs, most of the time. We are exhausted working parents. We are involved in our community. We are just like any other married couple raising kids. You love your daughter, and you don't need to over-analyze her. Teach her and all your kids to be open and accepting of all of life's variety--show them different kinds of art, take them to eat different kinds of food, read books about different types of people (other cultures, gay/lesbian, etc.), reinforce that you believe families are groups of people who love one another, help them to see that families come in all kinds of forms, remind them that as they grow up, they may love men or women or both, let them know that you will always love them and be happy for them when they are happy. Lead by example. Model the acceptance of others that you want your children to give and receive. As others have said, it is quite common for girls of all ages to hang all over one another, pay way too much attention to how they and other girls look and act, and have girl crushes. As a society, the US pays way too much attention to how girls look and act, so it should come as no surprise when our daughters learn to do the same. I also second what another person said--some gay and lesbian people feel that difference at very young ages, others do not. I didn't know that about myself until I was in my twenties. My wife didn't know about herself until she was forty. And remember, while the US as a nation is far behind many other countries legally, gay/lesbian couples can get married in MA and several other states, gay/lesbian couples can get married in many other countries, gay/lesbian couples can have their own biological children as well as adopt children, and so forth. All kids face challenges as they grow up. Your daughter will not be the exception. While GLBT teens are often mistreated for their sexuality, each younger generation is substantially more open and accepting than the older generations that came before. It is increasingly common for teens to experiment bisexually, to grow up with their sexual identity (as opposed to coming out), etc. GLBT or straight, all your daughter needs from you is your love and acceptance, your honesty, your strength, and the perspective of an adult. Don't ride the emotional roller coaster of adolescence with her. Help her know that whatever happens, whatever she feels, this, too, shall pass. She'll be ok. So will you. As parents, we are here to help our children learn how to become their adult selves who are healthy (physically and psychologically), productive, loving, capable, etc. You are doing that. Enjoy the journey with your wonderful daughter!

    Posted by Michele February 19, 11 10:06 AM
  1. Why is she worried about it? Is mom a homophobe or anti-gay?

    I could see if she was asking questions about homosexuality or asking "If I think X or Y, does that make me gay?"

    My simple response: This mom can't evaluate this properly until her daughter is older (perhaps a teenager or a senior in HS), but allow the daughter to openly ask questions.

    Posted by Mike February 19, 11 12:39 PM
  1. It's easy for me to say, but I would say....stop worrying. Just let your daughter be who she is - now, and in the future. She may just be a very affectionate person or very emotional. Maybe she will prefer women over men romantically in the future. Yes, it might be tough during middle school and high school, but let that emerge on its own. I would just let her know that whatever she is, you always love and accept her. I think you should also try to indicate - at appropriate times - that you're accepting of gay people so she grows up knowing that this is not an issue for you and your family. Then, if she does turn out to be gay, she'll at least know her family is behind her. That I think is the biggest thing to so many gay people and gets them through a lot of bad things from the outside world.

    Stop worrying and just enjoy your daughter!

    Posted by mehitable February 19, 11 01:08 PM
  1. As a fourth grade teacher who spends many days with 9 year old girls, I can tell you that the behavior you describe (telling another girl she is cute or beautiful, hugging, holding hands, etc) is pretty typical. I find the girls in my classes are really involved with each other- chatty, hugging holding hands, forming clubs, mimicing each other, dressing alike, acting alike. They don't seem to notice the boys and they spend most of their time with each other, figuring each other out.

    I think your daughter's behavior sounds reasonable and isn't representative of sexuality.

    Posted by teacherinmass February 20, 11 12:02 PM
  1. You're worried about your 9 year olds sexuality because she hasn't expressed interest in boys? Personally, I think your 9 year olds behavior is more natural than a 5 year old having a crush on a boy. Were you encouraging this behavior from your 5 year old because you had the same feelings as a 1st grader? (and you remember this?) As a father of three daughters I don't think it is common for any 5 year old to be thinking about 'crushes', they are more likely to just want to play and have fun with their friends.

    I also find it creepy you are so in tune with your your daughter's sexuality at this age. Let her be.. encourage her to be herself and let it play itself out.

    Posted by RR Fields February 20, 11 04:43 PM
  1. Mom, you need other interests in your life. You are paying way too much attention to your daughter. The major risk to your kid's development is you. How can she face her future and her peers carrying the worry of how you'll react to every nuance of her actions. Che sara sara, the future's not ours to see. (or control).

    Posted by Mazzaschi February 21, 11 09:05 AM
  1. J, I would worry too, especially in recent light of the suicides. History has been hard on our GLB friends and as a mother, I see how you'd be concerned. And what a good mom you are to prepare ahead for this possible outcome. The more together you are about it, the more you can support and give your daughter what she needs as she navigates her sexuality. Positive communication and modeling acceptance would seem to be the key here.

    Posted by lolasmomma February 21, 11 09:07 AM
  1. A discussion? At 9? Are you nuts? My daughter, who is almost 13 and very mature for her age, often drops in comments about girls being pretty. Does that make her gay? Let it go, it's nothing, and even if it is, 9 is too young to discuss.

    Posted by ME February 21, 11 11:40 AM
  1. She sounds like a typical female to me. My friends and I still hug each other and comment that other women are cute. Doesn't mean anything sexual. Nine year old girls often still think boys are "icky" so the lack of interest in boys at that age is a non-issue to me.

    Also, don't compare her to your other daughter. They are not the same and will not mature at the same rate, have the same interests, etc. Though, her saying a girl is cute at 9 is really not different from a 5 year old saying a boy is cute.

    Posted by mk February 21, 11 07:10 PM
  1. I had crushes on other girls at that age, and it wasn't any indicator of my future sexuality, which is straight. Don't sexualize behavior that is not yet sexualized. She has strong feelings for her friends. She notices the attractiveness of girls or women - that doesn't particularly have anything to do with romantic feelings. I tend to notice women's attractiveness more than men's, and I'm rarely randomly attracted to men and unlikely to comment on their cuteness or hotness.

    It sounds like your daughter is different both from you and from her sister, and you're reaching for an interpretation that sounds like a stretch. Maybe she's gay, maybe she's not, but I do think you're perhaps reading a bit much into her behavior.

    Stay connected and aware, allow the conversations to happen as she needs them to, but I would not leap to conclusions based on what you've said here.

    Posted by MelissaJane February 22, 11 08:15 AM
  1. LW, are you kidding? She's 9 years old. While your other daughter may have had a "crush" on a boy in kindergarten, it probably was not truly a romantic/sexual crush which would indicate that she is straight. I remember having a "crush" on a boy when I was in kindergarten, and I vividly remember the feelings which went with it (even though I am 34 now). I did not want to kiss him, or hug him. I just had a little obsession with him. It's hard to articulate the emotions now because they are so foreign to anyone who has had romantic feelings. They were strong but entirely innocent. I thought he was cool and I wanted to be around him. I remember playing with my older brother and asking my brother to pretend that he was this other boy. I don't mean to say that I asked my brother to be involved in any "role-playing" but rather I just liked the idea of playing with this other little boy.

    At the same age, I had a crush on my mother's friend... she was so nice and pretty and I was always excited when she came over and always wanted her to ask what I was up to, so I could tell her. Neither of these were "romantic" crushes but they both involved strong emotions, a strong attachment.

    I now have a 9-year-old niece who has never expressed any sort of romantic interest in a boy. Why would she? She has not yet begun to go through puberty, and many children do not have romantic thoughts at this age. Quite frankly I think that those who do express "crushes" do so because they've been conditioned to... adults think it's cute if little Janie has a crush on little Billy, and they'll ask 5-year-olds if they have a girlfriend or boyfriend. Or, kids act out what they see on the Disney Channel, which shows lots of older kids (tweens and young teens) in relationship situations. They're usually playing a game rather than having genuine romantic feelings.

    While my 9-year-old niece has never expressed a crush on a boy, she has made all the same comments about other girls which your daughter has. She talks about girls at school, and girls on TV, and how pretty they are. I never think, "she must be gay if she is so fascinated with that little girl, or thinks she so pretty." She seems to be impressed by the prettiness, or wants to be the other little girl. At this age she is becoming very conscious of appearances and she values prettiness.

    I would not even open a dialogue about whether she's gay. There would be nothing wrong with her being gay, but I think that even raising the issue would confuse her more than anything else. Just let her develop on her own.

    could tell her.

    Posted by Liz February 22, 11 11:03 AM
  1. I don't know which is worse: a) assuming your 9 year old is "gay" because she comments on how pretty other girls are, or b) worrying about it one way or the other.

    You are her mother. You either love her the way she is, or you don't.

    p.s. let her be 9 years old before you bleep her up with your paranoia and homophobia of what future years may or may not hold.

    For the love of all things holy, this letter aggravates me to no end as the father of a girl about to turn 9. This person is missing out on so much by worrying about nonsense like this. Trivial nonsense. Fix yourself before you break your daughter.

    - Hoss has spoken

    Posted by Hoss February 22, 11 11:46 AM
  1. As a mother of two daughters ages 9 and 7, I know what it can feel like to be concerned about how their developing sexuality can effect their social well-being. Your honesty about that is admirable, considering all the hostility toward people who aren't just THRILLED with the idea of gayness in any facet.

    All I really want to say about your post is that I'm happy for your children to have such a supportive and accepting mother. If you want them to avoid hostility and segregation, do whatever you can to create a loving, accepting environment around them. Seek out friends who are equally accepting. If this early-age behavior sticks into adulthood, join your local PFLAG, raise awareness, stand up against hateful behavior.

    As a lesbian myself, I worry about my kids being ostracized because they are different. I hear about all the kids in their school who have been taught that it is wrong and tell my kids what they think also. I never tell my daughters to argue because everyone deserves equal respect (unless there is some kind of bullying going on). I simply tell them to tell their friends that they respect their teachings and opinions and won't try to change them, but to ask respectfully that they look past it and not continue to say negative things about their mother.

    Of course, if there is a confrontation of an ugly nature, the same rules apply as any other confrontation: Defend themselves physically if needed and conduct themselves maturely in spite of their emotions. Teachers and parents SHOULD be adjusted well enough to defend the bullied child, no matter what the reasons for the bullying, but as we all know, some aren't - which brings me back to what I said before. Do whatever you can to promote anti-bullying in your community and stay connected with people who believe as you do. At least then, even if bullied, your daughter will know that she has loving, understanding people to support her no matter what.

    Posted by Montana September 25, 11 12:06 AM
  1. I read somewhere that the first people who notice a beautiful woman walking into a room are the other women, not men. Women compare themselves to each other, admire each other, envy each other. We look to other women to help us define our public persona. I don't think there is anything about your daughter's behavior that indicates she is gay. She is learning about her femininity and how to express it. I don't see anything wrong with casually talking to her about different kinds of love/marriage, etc., but I'd be careful not to steer her towards being gay or straight. Be open-minded, and let her be who she is. If you tell her YOU think she's gay, it will either end up being supportive if she is, or will make her feel like she's got something to prove if she's not. If she turns out not to be gay, it could also make her feel like she is not "feminine" enough, or desirable. So tread lightly.

    Posted by am January 5, 12 11:26 AM
  1. I read this article with great interest as I have a 6 year old daughter who behaves the same.

    I have a lot of gay friends and they all tell me that they always knew they were gay from an incredibly early age.

    My daughter tells me all the time how cute or pretty girls are - but she also tells me that seeing male & females kiss is disgusting and makes her feel sick. When I ask if a boy kissing a boy makes her feel sick or a girl kissing a girl, she says no.

    One day she asked me if girls can marry girls and I said that's called being gay and yes they can in some countries. She had a worried look on her face and said to me, I think I'm gay. I said do you understand that means you want to marry a girl and not a boy and she said yes.

    Ive not told her I think she is gay and said to her, well its up to her what she wants to do as a grown up. But she mentions it to me whenever she sees boys and girls dating or kissing on tv or in films/cartoons - she absolutely hates it and it makes her feel sick.

    So whether they are 6 or 9 or 19, I honestly believe you are born this way and you always know. Time will tell whether this is true for my daughter or not.

    Posted by LondonUKMum November 1, 12 12:55 PM
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Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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