Coming Out of the Closet: When Do You Know and When Do You Go?

It seems to reinforce the idea that the age at which people start to understand their sexual orientation really can happen at any time. Basically, anytime is a normal time.
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Last week one of my readers responded to my post about the age at which people come out: "Raina, it really doesn't matter the age at which a person 'knows' they are LGBTQ. What does matter is that they have the freedom to be who they are regardless of gender, gender identification or sexual orientation."

He's absolutely right; it doesn't matter. My point was merely to assign some data to what so many people seem to imagine is some undefinable process. A journalist and a researcher, I just love my facts -- which might be one of the reasons I also find them very annoying.

Facts, you see, are like missing socks: You can look all day for them and find only one. But then, when you've given up, you suddenly find what you've been missing. Thank God we only have two feet. (From this standpoint, I have to imagine being an octopus sucks.)

So it was last week when I went digging for actual data showing at what age people start to feel same-sex attraction. In the end I found a University of Chicago study which showed about half of college students became aware of their preferences in high school, while another quarter said it happened in college. Many of the rest seemed to know even earlier.

Naturally, as soon as I put my latest thoughts out there for public consumption I found something I missed: "The context for sexual identity milestones (was) likely to be... 8-9 years of age." A fact found in the "Archives of Sexual Behavior," I found myself wondering: Why didn't we read this in high school instead of Passage to India?

More, however, it seems to reinforce the idea that the age at which people start to understand their sexual orientation really can happen at any time. Basically, anytime is a normal time.

This article also showed information about something else, however. The gap between when people know they're LGBTQ and the age at which they actually come out.

You may be asking: "Where did it say that? That information isn't anywhere in there." And you are correct. It's because those facts were hidden in those three dots: "...", the ones between the words "to be" and "8-9 years." They're called an ellipsis -- WARNING! WARNING! An English teacher is about to appear! -- and these three dots say to you, the reader, that I the writer left something out.

Ellipsis are used when quoting something for a variety of reasons. In Hollywood and politics they are often used to disguise the fact that in the middle of a thought, someone said something incredibly stupid. Celebrities, for instance, may want to leave out that they were arrested while intoxicated with someone who was not their spouse. Political types may want to leave out that they were arrested while intoxicated with someone who was not their political party.

In informational pieces, like this one, ellipsis are used to remove information that may not be relevant to the point at hand. Which is why you did not see the following information in my previous citation: "The gap from first same-sex attractions (8-9 years of age) to first disclosure (around 18 years) averaged 10 years for both sexes."

Why did I use the ellipsis? Because identifying one's own same-sex attraction and feeling confident enough to explain it to the world are two very different things. They are also, like most things in the LGBTQ world, not black and white.

I found the study's conclusions about the 10-year journey from self-discovery to disclosure to be accurate and non-accurate at the same time. For older people such as myself, a decade seems about right. Having literally just come out to my best high school friend last week, I can tell you it's taken me a long time to figure this all out.

Increasingly, however, schools and other institutions that deal with youth are finding LGBTQ people coming out earlier and earlier. According to, "In 1991, the average coming-out age was 25. But as of 2010... it is 16 years old -- a dramatic shift." In a similar study in the United Kingdom they found "People aged 18 and under are coming out at 15 on average."

Further -- and making old gals like me feel better -- "lesbian, gay and bisexual people aged 60 and over came out at 37 on average." Clearly, there is a generational shift occurring here, resulting from society's increasing acceptance of LGBTQ people.

And this is where that 10-year gap I cited earlier doesn't really follow, anymore -- and it's understandable. For the study was conducted in 2000, a literal generation ago when it comes to LGBTQ issues.

For the study to still hold true, it would mean that kids coming out at 15 had started getting feelings of same-sex attraction at the age of five. Is that possible? I suppose; if an LGBTQ friend were to tell me that was true for them I wouldn't argue.

But a lot hasn't changed, and as many surveys still show, "Most adult GLB's knew they were gay, lesbian or bisexual at the age of 9 or 10."

What's clearly happening then, is that today's youth feel safer coming out at an earlier age -- and it's not just me saying that.

"The tendency of LGBs to come out earlier in life derives from social and cultural progress... The increasing respect and recognition of the rights of sexual minorities have provided the encouragement to 'come out' at an earlier age." (And no, I didn't leave any of the good stuff in the ellipsis.)

So, returning to the original question: "At what age do LGBTQ people choose to come out?" Middle school, high school, college, adulthood: All of them are true. But so is this: Younger and younger -- because they feel safe. And even for old girls like me, that's pretty great news.

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