8-year-old "knows" she's gay

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  February 3, 2012 06:00 AM

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My 8-year-old daughter told me that she "just knows" that she is gay. I find this hard to believe. She told me about an incident where she and a (girl) friend got undressed in front of each other and "rolled around naked" on her bed. I asked for more details, explaining that she might feel better to get it off her chest. She cried a lot and while she did not give more information, she insisted that she could just feel it that she's a lesbian.

I assured that it would not matter to me at all, but she may be a little young to know conclusively. What do you think? Could she know?

From: Catherine, Richmond, VA

Dear Catherine,

There are plenty of adults who will tell you that they knew at a young age that they were homosexual, plenty who will say they did not know until later. I think your answer was fine: You'll love her no matter what, AND, she's young to know for sure.

It is very common for young girls to have crushes on girls, to kiss each other ("for practice"), look at each other naked and touch each other, and not be lesbians. It's part curiosity, part developmental, although it tends to happen at younger ages than in previous generations because girls today go through puberty earlier (better health care & nutrition) and because our pop culture puts sexuality front and center so it forces them to confront it at younger ages.

One thing that worries me in your email is that it sounds like she is unhappy -- she cried -- and feels badly about the possibility that she might be lesbian. Where is she getting that negativity from? The culture? Peers? Family? Since homosexuality is now on the table, go with the topic when it's appropriate. Why does she think it would be a bad thing to be a lesbian? If you're watching a show with gay or lesbian couples, raise some questions: "Do you think their romantic feelings are the same as the feelings daddy and I have for each other?"

As I've said in this space before, 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 on all sorts of topics. Also check out The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Educational Network works to create safe schools; PFLAG, Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays.

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9 comments so far...
  1. Although 8 is young, I wouldn't say it's too young. My cousin, my best friend in the whole world is gay. He's always said he knew since kindergarden. Like the way your daughter says it "he just knew".

    I agree with the advice, talk about why she's sad or cried and emphasize that you'll love her the same either way. She's still your daughter and nothing will change that love.

    Posted by mominboston February 3, 12 12:30 PM
  1. She's too young to really know. Some people might know at the age, but many of them will be wrong.

    If she takes on an identity at such a young age, it will create a mental inertia toward considering her true sexual orientation during puberty.

    Tell her she'll be going through a lot of changes, most of which will surprise her, and that she has to keep an open mind.

    I never thought I'd like girls. Boy was I surprised a few years later.

    Posted by Mark February 3, 12 08:26 PM
  1. truthfully, i think culture is shaping the minds of our children.the world is changing,re-labelling things that were once tagged wrong as good.my advice to parents is to stick with your belifs and impart them lovingly,persistently to your children.apparently crying means she does not feel right about it.no teaching or external ideas can influence that.mom what do you believe?

    Posted by tosin February 4, 12 05:39 AM
  1. tosin - did it occur to you that mom is imparting her beliefs and values, and that her beliefs and values are that homosexuality is fine and normal, but that her daughter is just a bit young to know what her orientation is? As that's what the LW said, I'm inclined to go with it. And it's more than a little crazy to think that crying and feeling bad about oneself can't be the result of teaching and external ideas. Bullied kids might want to educate you on that concept.

    Mark - I disagree that there is such a thing as "mental inertia" that would prevent a person from considering her sexual orientation. It has never struck me as the sort of thing that was avoidable. People can try not to be who they are, but it isn't sustainable. And besides, there is plenty of pressure in the world to be hetero, so it's hard to imagine a person who *is* hetero resisting the internal and external pressure, just because when she was younger she thought otherwise. My feeling is this: would you insist to your daughter that she keep an open mind and not rush if she announced she liked boys at that age? If not, then it's not appropriate to do if she announces she is gay. All you need to do is express your love & support.

    Posted by jjlen February 4, 12 12:30 PM
  1. I liked girls when I was four years old. I didn't know that meant I was a lesbian until I was 16, because I never knew there was a word for it; all I knew was that I was strange. To some degree I agree with Mark; have her keep an open mind, because I certainly can't speak for the experiences of others whose first impressions of their sexualities may not have been accurate. But the fact that she knows what a lesbian is is extremely heartening, and I hope you'll support and love your daughter no matter who she is, and give her the support she needs if she's feeling pressure to hide.

    Posted by Andy King February 4, 12 07:57 PM
  1. Ridiculous. What 8 year old girl doesn't find boys disgusting anyway?

    Posted by ME February 5, 12 09:48 AM
  1. Exploration is not a decision; it’s a normal developmental experience. It doesn’t mean she’s gay or straight it means she’s normal. All children are inquisitive about themselves and others. It’s NORMAL heterosexual behavior to be curious and explore with same gender partners. Many people mistakenly interpret some attraction to a same gender individual to mean I ‘must’ be gay. Let’s all relax. It means she’s a curios normal girl. If she says when she grows up she wants to be a doctor a waitress or veterinarian are we going to hold her to that because she said it when she was eight? Just keep listening and loving her.

    Eliezer Schwadron

    Posted by Eliezer Schwadron February 6, 12 02:13 PM
  1. ME--I didn't. I'm female and had crushes on boys since first grade. So I think you can know whether you're attracted to someone or not. But I don't know that you can know that those feelings are exclusive. I also found myself wondering what it would be like to kiss one of my girlfriends.

    Being open-minded will serve you well throughout your life, in all areas.

    Posted by momof2 February 6, 12 09:23 PM
  1. Don't take it seriously. I kissed with a girl, pretended to make a sex when I was young. But now I'm sure I'm not lesbian. We are curious when we were little.

    Posted by Zoya December 13, 12 12:05 AM
 
9 comments so far...
  1. Although 8 is young, I wouldn't say it's too young. My cousin, my best friend in the whole world is gay. He's always said he knew since kindergarden. Like the way your daughter says it "he just knew".

    I agree with the advice, talk about why she's sad or cried and emphasize that you'll love her the same either way. She's still your daughter and nothing will change that love.

    Posted by mominboston February 3, 12 12:30 PM
  1. She's too young to really know. Some people might know at the age, but many of them will be wrong.

    If she takes on an identity at such a young age, it will create a mental inertia toward considering her true sexual orientation during puberty.

    Tell her she'll be going through a lot of changes, most of which will surprise her, and that she has to keep an open mind.

    I never thought I'd like girls. Boy was I surprised a few years later.

    Posted by Mark February 3, 12 08:26 PM
  1. truthfully, i think culture is shaping the minds of our children.the world is changing,re-labelling things that were once tagged wrong as good.my advice to parents is to stick with your belifs and impart them lovingly,persistently to your children.apparently crying means she does not feel right about it.no teaching or external ideas can influence that.mom what do you believe?

    Posted by tosin February 4, 12 05:39 AM
  1. tosin - did it occur to you that mom is imparting her beliefs and values, and that her beliefs and values are that homosexuality is fine and normal, but that her daughter is just a bit young to know what her orientation is? As that's what the LW said, I'm inclined to go with it. And it's more than a little crazy to think that crying and feeling bad about oneself can't be the result of teaching and external ideas. Bullied kids might want to educate you on that concept.

    Mark - I disagree that there is such a thing as "mental inertia" that would prevent a person from considering her sexual orientation. It has never struck me as the sort of thing that was avoidable. People can try not to be who they are, but it isn't sustainable. And besides, there is plenty of pressure in the world to be hetero, so it's hard to imagine a person who *is* hetero resisting the internal and external pressure, just because when she was younger she thought otherwise. My feeling is this: would you insist to your daughter that she keep an open mind and not rush if she announced she liked boys at that age? If not, then it's not appropriate to do if she announces she is gay. All you need to do is express your love & support.

    Posted by jjlen February 4, 12 12:30 PM
  1. I liked girls when I was four years old. I didn't know that meant I was a lesbian until I was 16, because I never knew there was a word for it; all I knew was that I was strange. To some degree I agree with Mark; have her keep an open mind, because I certainly can't speak for the experiences of others whose first impressions of their sexualities may not have been accurate. But the fact that she knows what a lesbian is is extremely heartening, and I hope you'll support and love your daughter no matter who she is, and give her the support she needs if she's feeling pressure to hide.

    Posted by Andy King February 4, 12 07:57 PM
  1. Ridiculous. What 8 year old girl doesn't find boys disgusting anyway?

    Posted by ME February 5, 12 09:48 AM
  1. Exploration is not a decision; it’s a normal developmental experience. It doesn’t mean she’s gay or straight it means she’s normal. All children are inquisitive about themselves and others. It’s NORMAL heterosexual behavior to be curious and explore with same gender partners. Many people mistakenly interpret some attraction to a same gender individual to mean I ‘must’ be gay. Let’s all relax. It means she’s a curios normal girl. If she says when she grows up she wants to be a doctor a waitress or veterinarian are we going to hold her to that because she said it when she was eight? Just keep listening and loving her.

    Eliezer Schwadron

    Posted by Eliezer Schwadron February 6, 12 02:13 PM
  1. ME--I didn't. I'm female and had crushes on boys since first grade. So I think you can know whether you're attracted to someone or not. But I don't know that you can know that those feelings are exclusive. I also found myself wondering what it would be like to kiss one of my girlfriends.

    Being open-minded will serve you well throughout your life, in all areas.

    Posted by momof2 February 6, 12 09:23 PM
  1. Don't take it seriously. I kissed with a girl, pretended to make a sex when I was young. But now I'm sure I'm not lesbian. We are curious when we were little.

    Posted by Zoya December 13, 12 12:05 AM
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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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