Coming Out in Middle School

While this article is on the long side, I think it was really well researched.  You can tell that Denizet-Lewis really did his homework and took his time interviewing these students and their parents.  You don’t even have to read the whole article (I promise I did!) to be absolutely amazed at the progressive nature of these cases, and furthermore, how widespread the movement of coming out at an early age seems to be.

With that said, I don’t think “movement” would be the best word to use, actually…because it’s not like these kids are banding together to advance some sort of agenda…it is simply that they feel remarkably comfortable coming out in today’s society.  As the article touched on briefly, I think that technology and the internet play a pivotal role in the overall public awareness and presence of homosexuality.  In one of the interviews in the article, a principal stated that since 2002, he has seen a dramatic increase in gay-friendliness in his middle school students.  More or less, I think that this progression largely coincides with the explosion of internet usage in the last 7 years.  This doesn’t, however, go to say by any means that discrimination and bullying have by any means dissipated.

I remember vividly my first social encounter with homosexuality, and appropriately, I was in middle school.  It was the hot gossip around school that a boy in my grade had written on the side of the 6th grade wing: “Ashley is a dyke.”  After (to my sheltered embarrassment) inquiring about the exact meaning of the word “dyke” to a friend, we wandered over to the “scene of the crime”, as it were, and saw the offender himself scrubbing away at the writing in attempt to remove it.  The administration ordered detention for the boy, and that was it – water under the bridge.

My best friend from high school is gay, and he was literally the ONLY out person in my school.  We lived in a very conservative small town…the kind where everyone knows everything about everyone else – even if it’s none of their business.  When he came out, it was like one big simultaneous “gasp!” went around the school and his life was made a living hell by gossip and ridicule for the better part of that semester.  At one point during my junior year, some senior guys organized what they called “Anti-Gay Day” and passed out fliers with derogatory words like “faggot” written on them.  Much to my own surprise, the administration did next to nothing in response to this offense.  They took the boys’ stacks of fliers away, made NO effort to remove those already dispersed, and the guys got away with a verbal warning.  This was HARDLY the type of reaction that promotes a gay-friendly environment.

After graduating, there have been quite a few students from my school, myself included, who have come out as gay or bisexual.  Part of this could be simply the process of self-discovery and that didn’t fully happen until after high school…BUT…I firmly believe that being in such a conservative and generally unaccepting environment had a lot to do with why many people, again myself included, refrained from coming out of the closet until after graduation.  Needless to say, I think it’s a great thing that these middle school students, especially in stereotypically conservative areas in the South and Midwest, are able to feel comfortable enough in their own skin to tell other people about their sexuality with confidence rather than fear.

A lot of people who come out at a young age, as seen in this piece, are more prone to be questioned about the permanency of their decision and meet with the “it’s just a phase” rationalization.  I think that because homosexuality and same-sex attraction are becoming more socially acceptable, people are more likely to publicly admit those tendencies, whereas in the past they would have just kept it bottled up inside.  As with the feminist movement, the pursuit for homosexual tolerance is far from over, but we’ve come such a considerable way already – I’m not complaining.