Gay Children: Myths and Facts

There are myths and facts about gay children that we must know before we yield to homophobic ideas. This is for parents who struggle to understand and accept, and to children who cry out to be understood and accepted.

Russell loves pink, baking cookies, and Ariel of “The Little Mermaid.” He talks in a gentle high-pitched voice and has a frail build. He always plays with Maya, his favorite doll. His best friend is Bea whose hair he loves to comb and his worst enemy is Josh, the class bully whom he pinches when fed up with his bullying. “Could he be gay?” teachers ask. Russell’s mom asked me the same question. No one knows for sure. Psychology doesn’t provide all the answers to this ticklish issue. But as a teacher of young children, I had to observe, record my observations, ask my child development mentors and colleagues, talk to gay friends and surf the net. Before parents yield to homophobic ideas, let us rethink our notions of homosexuality in children.

Myth 1: An effeminate boy or a boyish girl will turn out gay.

Fact: This does not happen all of the time. An effeminate boy or boyish girl may grow up heterosexual, be in a committed heterosexual relationship and have children. Similarly, a boy of brusque stature or a ladylike girl may grow up homosexual, be in a same-sex relationship and have children. A common mistake parents and teachers make is stereotyping children in relation to their gender. Pink is for girls, blue is for boys; dolls are for girls, toy guns and robots are for boys; baking is for girls, gardening is for boys. Whatever the gender, children need to develop into well-rounded individuals with well-balanced feminine and masculine sides.

Myth 2: Since being gay originates from environmental factors, one can choose not to be gay.

Fact: It has not been established if homosexuality is caused by environmental or biological factors. One way of understanding human behavior is considering both biological and environmental factors coming into play in a child’s development particularly in the critical early years. Human development is very complex to enable us to pinpoint where the effects of biological factors end and where environmental factors begin. From personal accounts of gays, they knew they were different from their kindergarten years but could not yet identify if they were straight, lesbian, gay or bisexual until they grew older. A genetic predisposition to homosexuality, by its definition, can result in being gay or in not being gay. Children’s gender identity confusion is either eased or aggravated primarily by the quality of their physical and social environment. Whichever way they turn out as adults (straight or gay) constitutes a sexual identity that has been synthesized through time and will be hard, if not impossible, to change. Those who take a hard stance that homosexuality is a choice usually fail to fill in the missing link of how a gay’s life is lived between childhood and adulthood. Everyone tends to see the adult and not the child.

Myth 3: Gay children will grow up unhappy adults.

Fact: Parents fear their child will be a lonely social outcast or get AIDS in no time. But there are many gays living happy and successful lives in their chosen professions and status. Being straight is not always a guarantee for happiness. Of course, life for gays would be a lot easier in families and societies that are more accepting of gays and gay relationships. UNAIDS has also carried the torch for the gay community which has been at the forefront of the global fight against AIDS, now seen not just as an issue of disease but an issue of justice, dignity and human rights for gays.

Myth 4: Parents have no clue that their child is gay

Fact: Between the mother and father, a mother often has some idea of the truth since she is more emotionally attuned to her child. She is also more likely to come to terms with the truth faster than the father though the confirmation may come as a very emotional moment bordering on shock and disdain. When the moment of truth arrives, the following tools will come in handy-love, patience, understanding, open-mindedness and faith-to understand things that may seem beyond understanding.

Myth 5: It is wise to tell parents right away about being gay.

Fact: Most children take years coming to terms with their own sexuality. It is a very difficult process and some may never really come to terms with themselves. But when they come out, they have seriously thought it through and do it not to reject or spite their parents but to be honest to themselves and their loved ones. The right time to do it is very important. If parents are conservative and will most likely turn violent when they find out such as kicking children out of the home, it is best for the child to keep quiet for a while. A 25-year old colleague of mine had to be confined for psychiatric treatment after confessing to his father, a police officer, that he was gay. His father pointed a gun at him while ordering him to pack his bags and leave the house. Parents also need time and support to come to terms with this reality. But in the end, their unconditional love for their children wins out and the truth sets everyone free.

In a world that does not fully understand homosexuality, there is no room for prejudice most especially where children are concerned. For parents and children still at sea, it is good to remember the words of Oscar Wilde: “Ordinary riches can be stolen, real riches cannot. In your soul are infinitely precious things that cannot be taken from you.”