Can an 11-year-old be gay?
DEAR MARIANN: This past week, our 11-year-old son told us some children at school had called him “gay.” He is hurt that his classmates are calling him this, but we are not even sure he knows the implications of this term. Our son seems so young and innocent to us. How do we handle this with him and with the school, without blowing it out of proportion?
MARIANN’S RESPONSE: The scenario you describe is heartbreaking to me as a counselor and without doubt causing you unspeakable strife as his concerned and loving parents. The situation mentioned could also be classified as bullying, which I have addressed in previous column entries, specifically Sept. 14, 2012. Even though you may still consider your 11-year-old an adolescent, the emotional scars of this situation, if they remain unaddressed, could be indelible for a lifetime, leading to self-destructive behavior or even worse consequences such as suicide, which is not an impossibility for someone so young. Peer acceptance is critical to his age which leads to a healthy self-esteem and a more confident adult. Being shunned or bullied during adolescence is a memory that could permanently impact his future if action does not occur to alleviate these potential consequences. Have you spoken with his teacher or principal? Would your son’s transfer to another classroom or an entirely different school be an option? Is there something he is doing or lacking in a specific skill that is triggering his being labeled as “gay” by peers?
Even though dreaded gym classes occurred for me many decades ago, I still remember my personal ostracism of being “last-picked” because I was not as coordinated or confident as the majority of my female classmates. Also, I was quickly losing a battle with deforming scoliosis which affected my balance, coordination and over-all athletic abilities, making me quite opposite of the popular cheerleaders who were inevitably “picked first” when being selected for a team.
Could your son be one of these “late bloomers” for athletics and might benefit from some individualized coaching to improve his coordination and physical skills?
Our local and newly-built YMCA on Houk Road has a gamut of classes for someone his age that could take the pressure off from having to “perform” in front of his peers at school and give him increased confidence not just in athletics but for life. Eliciting some “outside help” might lessen the pressure in gym class and by showing mastery of some new athletic talents could be what your son needs to be accepted into a group that once shunned him.
And finally, even though I get the sense you think he is too young to understand the term “gay,” this might be the appropriate time to discuss this subject and other “birds and bees” topics since he will soon be a teenager. Is he more comfortable with other boys his age playing sports or would he rather be with girl classmates participating in their gender-specific activities? Letting him talk about what he enjoys doing and with whom he best relates without your parental judgment is essential.
If he mentions “wanting to be a girl” this issue goes much deeper than just potentially being “gay” or athletically uncoordinated.
A child with gender identity issues faces many challenges since they feel more comfortable dressing and relating to children of their opposite sex. Finding a qualified counselor who has training in this area is essential. Contacting the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network or “GLSEN” might be a starting point. Also the Family Acceptance Project or the Trevor Project are two other good resources if your son confides that he truly has gender identity issues versus just feeling bullied.
Mariann Main is a Licensed Counselor and a Delaware native. Her column appears weekly on Saturdays. To submit a question and have Mariann answer it anonymously, visit delgazette.com/life-questions-with-local-answers or send mail to the Delaware Gazette office, 40 N. Sandusky St., suite 203, Delaware, OH 43015.