Queer in the Crib

Gay adults like to say they were born that way. So where are the gay children? Everywhere? Fabulous, baby.

There are even gay babies. In March, Radar Magazine ran an article headlined "Is Your Baby Gay?" about the possibility that doctors could create a hormone patch for pregnant women that could turn potentially queer fetuses straight. And last summer, the Ali Forney Center, a shelter for LGBT youth in New York, launched an ad campaign featuring parents holding naked babies. "Would you stop loving her if you know she's a lesbian?" the caption asks. "Would you stop loving him if you know he's gay?" For now, Arnold says, he's avoiding labels altogether in order to let Joseph become whoever he's meant to become. "There's every variable he could turn out to be," he says. "We want to keep exposing him to all his options."

While a straight dad like Arnold can keep the options open, the LGBT community can only keep its distance. Kids are a tough subject for gay adults. When you're a minority tarred with pedophilia and sexual depravity, you learn to stay away from children. And gays have: Almost 40 years after Stonewall, same-sex-leaning children are completely absent from the gay discussion.

If you walk into the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center on 13th Street, you can have your pick of programs for LGBT adults, LGBT teens, and LGBT families. But don't bother asking for services for gay children under the age of 10. "No, there really isn't anything like that here," the attendant told me when I showed up at the Center's front desk. "But did you see that 20/20 episode about the trans kids?"

photo: David Yellen


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New York's LGBT Community Center isn't alone—all organizations specifically aimed at gay youth cut off at the pre-teen crowd. Society—queer and straight—acts as if gays emerge from the ether, fully formed, as teenagers. Yet we also lean on science to say that, at least in many cases, people are born gay. If that's true, then there must be gay children. And the anecdotal evidence bears this out. Ask a gay man or a lesbian when he or she first knew that they were gay, and you'll get story after story about first hints of being different at the age of five and six.

"I can think back to when I was very young, and say, 'Oh my gosh, this was such a gay thing that I did,' says Allan Acevedo, an 18-year-old in San Diego who just received a 2007 Point Foundation scholarship for LGBT students. In kindergarten, he and his best friend, a little girl, would play with Barbies at her house after school.

"I can go back and remember that I had a crush on my fourth-grade teacher," he says. "I liked girls to be my friends, and I liked boys to be attracted to. I think, if you ask most gay people, they can think back to when they were really, really young and realize that they were gay."

There are almost no scientific sources of information about gay kids, other than a few anthologies of the memories of gay adults and one study, published by a psychiatrist named Richard Green in the late 1980s, which tracked a small group of "sissy boys" from childhood to adulthood. Even in this small sample, though, stories of feeling gay in childhood are everywhere.

"Since kindergarten I have had crushes on guys," says a gay man in an anthology of the experiences of LGBT youth called The Shared Heart: Portraits and Stories Celebrating Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Young People. "In fourth grade I secretly fell in love with my best friend. My love lasted eight years."

"From as far as I can remember, I've always been gay," says another man in the anthology. "Even before the age of five I said I wanted to be a girl." "One thing I do remember from kindergarten or first grade was that everyone, the kids on the block, saying who they were going to marry," reported one subject to Richard Green. "And I said, 'I'm going to marry Gary,' who was the next-door neighbor. And people said, 'You can't do that!' But it was a feeling of I did want to marry Gary, I did want to. I'd like to bond with him. I'd like to be with him."

All of these stories suggest that any given playground or classroom, even one filled with very young kids, includes a few people who will one day call themselves gay. Our inability to perceive their difference may be more a matter of selective blindness than of there being nothing to see. "These adolescents don't just materialize out of nowhere," says Will Fellows, the author of two books about the lives of gay men. "They have childhoods."

Even with the recent push for gay marriage, we still tend to define gayness in terms of having sex—a framework that necessarily excludes kids. But pay attention to the childhood memories of gay adults and you'll hear plenty of talk about wanting to keep house with a playmate of the same gender, or to marry a same-gender friend—just as straight adults remember wanting to marry a playmate of the opposite gender. Gay or straight, these kids aren't trying to sex each other up. They're just imagining future families, or describing their current friendships.

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