By Mary Barber, MD, and Serena Yuan Volpp, MD

The other day, our friend Sheila and her daughter Maya were talking about growing up. Sheila told her daughter, "Honey, when you grow up, I promise you'll find a nice boy to marry who will love you." Maya, who is eight years old, replied, "But Mom, I could marry a girl." Sheila stood corrected. They live in Massachusetts.

Same-sex marriage has been legal in Massachusetts for five years now, and the law has begun to affect the way children and adolescents are able to envision their domestic futures. Of course, Maya is not old enough to understand what the concepts of heterosexuality and homosexuality really mean. Whether or not she herself grows up to be gay, she already has a wider view of the world’s possibilities than do many of the grown-ups around her.

So, when do kids become aware that they are gay or lesbian? Kids who grow up to be gay don't wake up one day at age 12 or 13 and say, “Hey, I’m gay!” Recognizing one’s own sexuality is a long and often challenging process. When kids grow up in a world that assumes everyone will grow up to be heterosexual, those kids who grow up to be gay, lesbian, or bisexual face extra developmental challenges. Kids taunt each other on the playground with the word "faggot" without fully understanding or thinking about what that word means. That affects a kid’s self esteem when -- sometimes years later -- he connects that word, and the pain of being teased, with sexual or romantic feelings he has for someone of the same sex.

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