A just-released landmark survey of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered adults asked about three milestones: When they first thought they were gay [Ed Note: lesbian, bisexual &/or trans*], when they first knew they were gay [Ed Note: lesbian, bisexual &/or trans*] and when they first told a close friend or relative.
- Male respondents, on average, said they suspected by the age of 10, knew at 15 and told someone at 18.
- Females hit each milestone later: They sensed it at age 13, knew at 18 and told someone at 21.
For parents, that presents a challenge — they may spend the second half of childhood unknowingly taking care of a son or daughter who is in the closet. The message they unwittingly send during those years may impact when — or even if — they are ultimately told.
As societal attitudes change, that "coming out" age is dropping.
Sons expect a more negative reaction than daughters, but, in fact, they receive the same reaction. The average reaction is characterized as "slightly negative," but it’s better than what those still in the closet dread. It can range from celebration to violence and eviction.
"I think we haven’t given parents who are really decent and reasonable enough credit," Savin-Williams said. "Most don’t throw the kid out of the house.”
For some parents, acceptance comes with a large dose of fear, as they worry how society will treat their child — particularly their sons.
The Pew survey was done online and allowed for anonymity in hopes of attracting a wider range of participants. Researchers in this area typically have trouble locating closeted gays, who will hardly step forward to take part in any study in which they would have to reveal their sexual orientation, said Ritch Savin-Williams, a Cornell University psychologist who studies gay youth.
That leaves most surveys inherently incomplete. "There’s this other whole huge group, and what do we know about them?" he said.
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