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Telling kids that they’re not old enough to come out makes you the problem

Telling kids that they’re not old enough to come out makes you the problem

Jamel Myles

A nine-year-old child took his own life.

The sentence is so abhorrent that my conscience is screaming. The tragedy is laid out in every syllable. It’s a nine word goddamn humanitarian disaster. But it doesn’t tell the whole story. That’s not what happened to poor Jamel Myles, the nine-year-old who came out as gay at his Denver school. Within four days, the bullying from other children at school led to Jamel to take his own life. The tragedy is actually in the details.

A gay nine-year-old kid took his own life because he was bullied by homophobic children.

His mom tells the story of his coming out to her local news station, Fox 31: ‘‘He was like, “Mom I’m gay.” And I thought he was playing, so I looked back because I was driving, and he was all curled up, so scared. And I said, I still love you.’’

Acceptance. Support. The grasping hope of queer kids is that their parents will still love them. Some people wait till they’re adults, their adolescent years twisted in pain. Some people never get it. Jamel got it at age nine. Yet it’s this act of pure maternal love that’s damned this mother in the eyes of the predominately heterosexual, cisgender social media court.

Placing the blame

Every time this story is posted, it’s flooded with the same comments. ‘How did he know he was gay at nine?’ ‘His mother put ideas in his head’ ‘This is society putting their destructive ideas on the child’.

Put aside the obvious right wing talking points. Put aside the fact these bullying kids have learned this homophobia from somewhere. These comments reveal the fissure in public empathy. In times like this, it feels like it’s impossible for the public to empathize with LGBTI people.

I can count on my hand the number of people who didn’t know they were different from everyone else at that age. It’s not about sex, it’s a feeling of… queerness. Of difference. When I was younger, these feelings of difference were there but I had no tools to deal with them. At the age of seven, a boy put his hand over mine and this feeling of enormity – that it’s happening and that it shouldn’t and yet it appeals to me – was overwhelming. It wasn’t sexual; I was seven. But I knew something was different.

This poor, sweet child was able to contextualize it. He was ready to tell the person he loves most in the world that he knew he was different, and he got the affirmation every queer kid wants. But society wasn’t ready. Society, for all its talk of liberal agenda, failed Jamel Myles.

Every kid deserves to come out

From lesbians through to trans kids, so many of us knew that there’s something different way before puberty. Yet our parents didn’t. A lot of our parents reacted badly. A lot said it was a phase, even when we came out as adults. These are the same people who will call a boy baby staring at a girl ‘a lady’s man’. Who will indulge their kids throughout their childhood about their opposite sex boyfriends and girlfriends. These same people have the audacity to think that this child has no idea about his sexuality.

So to the people placing the blame at this mother’s feet: you are part of the society that failed this young boy. What did you want her to do, reject him? Tell him it’s just a phase? Destroy his sense of self before it’s even fully developed to ‘protect him’ from the homophobia? Or are you only okay with gay people when they’re adults? When they’re not your kids? When they’re not near your kids?

He knew. He should be allowed to come out, in whatever way that came. He could even change his mind later. LGBTI kids deserve to come out. They deserve to grow up. But I suppose it’s easier to beat them into the closet than admit that you are the problem.

Follow Tom on Twitter @TomCapon