The Sexist

In Which a 12-Year-Old Constructs A Fort In Her Closet, And Her Mom Assumes She Is A Lesbian

Today's Dear Abby is a keeper. The letter, from "CONCERNED IN HOUSTON":

DEAR ABBY: My 12-year-old daughter, "Jenna," is in the closet—literally. About a week ago, she moved into her closet. She put her dresser in there, threw some blankets on the floor and that's where she hangs out now. When asked why she doesn't hang out in her room, she says, "I just like it in the closet."Some of her girlfriends claim to be bisexual or gay. Is she telling me that she's "in the closet" or is she messing with my mind? Some of her friends are into cutting, and Jenna seems to be curious about it. I don't know what to make of any of this. Any advice?

I, too, am concerned.

I am concerned at the apparent expansiveness of this 12-year-old's closet. Perhaps she is attempting to tell her mother, "If I can lug my dresser in here and I've still got plenty of floor space, my closet is too large."

I am also concerned that Concerned thinks her kid's new hang-out spot could only possibly signify: (a) an overly literal gesture of lesbianism; or (b) a mind game meant to mess with mom. (Although from where I'm standing, both of these possibilities sound kind of awesome. Kudos for creativity, Jenna!). But perhaps she just likes it in the closet.

Abigail Van Buren, for one, is concerned that Jenna does like it in the closet—and her new hang-out spot could signify a predilection toward darkness:

DEAR CONCERNED: How close are you and your daughter? Are you the kind of mother she feels safe talking to about anything that might be troubling her?

Happy, outgoing girls don't usually take refuge in dark, confined spaces. She may be overwhelmed or depressed, or something may be going on in Jenna's life she needs help with but is afraid to tell you. Stay closer to your daughter for a while. If her change in behavior persists, keep probing until you find out what's going on.

Cutting can be an attempt to mask emotional pain, and if she starts, a licensed psychotherapist should be consulted.

While I am amused at the fact that Van Buren has discarded the "secret lesbianism" possibility without discussion, I have to disagree with her assessment here. I'm not a parenting expert, but I did spend a great deal of time hanging out in my closet when I was a kid. My literal closet. I'd also build forts in my room. And in the back yard. And in the dark, confined space under the stairs. It sounds like Jenna is a kid who wants a place to herself, and "probing" her about that perfectly normal behavior will only reinforce  the idea that ohmygodyouthinkeverythingIdoiswrongmomIjustLIKEITINTHECLOSETTTT! Is Jenna hanging out in closets and feeling out her sexual identity? Relax. Is she cutting? Time to get "concerned."

  • Jess

    Oh man, I hung out in the closet all the time as a kid and a teenager. (It was a pretty big closet, though not big enough for a damn dresser, and it had a light.) I also was a pretty gloomy kid, but pro tip: kids of all gloom levels feel a little better with maximal privacy buffers. Especially if they have moms who think an extra layer of closed doors = Seekrit Lesbine.

  • http://bikegroggery.blogspot.com groggette

    Hell, I would still hang out in my closet if my current one were bigger than 3'X2'.

  • Emeryn

    Good grief.

    I used to curl up on the floor of my closet when I was younger.... and I still do, and I'm 23, married, and content with my lot in life. It's a very quiet place, where I can be alone with my thoughts. Especially now- it's hard to find a quiet place to think when two adults live in a one bedroom apartment and have three pets. Is what I'm doing self-destructive, scary, lesbianish, 'dark', whatever? No. It means that I like to have a quiet spot so that I can think. Or write.

    When I was really young, I dragged my dresser in front of my closet, piled blankets and pillows on the floor, and hid in there with a Nerf gun. My brother did the same in his room. We would wage war on each other, diving behind our forts, acting out imaginary stories. Unhealthy? Of course not! Creativity is a GOOD thing in children.

  • LeftSidePositive

    I was (and am) a very happy, outgoing (and, I might add, **very** feminine) girl, and I moved a sleeping bag in my closet for a few weeks when I was 9 or so. It was cozy. I also "furnished" (with pillows) quite a comfy nook under the stairs, and built epic pillow forts in the living room. "Throw pillows" are just that--great ammo for your little sister's rival fort!!

  • Shinobi

    This mother has clearly forgotten what it was like to be a child and to live in your parents space and to want to have a space that really felt yours.

  • Melissa

    Oh. My. Word.
    The part that bothers me the most is the comment that some of her friends are "into" cutting, and she seems "curious." As if cutting isn't related to mental illness, no, it's just a great big fad! All the cool kids are doin' it! 'Cause it's FUN and EDGY!
    I can't even...I have no words.

  • former staffer

    my apartment is the size of a closet...does that count?

  • Emily H.

    "Too large"? Oh my God, I would kill to have that much closet space. Can't believe it's being wasted on a 12-year-old girl.

  • Yvonne

    My grandparents had a closet under the stairs and at the back was a door that led to a smaller space. I loved that little room. It was just this side of Narnia. I never cut myself, but if I wasn't careful I'd bonk my head on the low ceiling. And once the lightbulb went out and it was pitch black. My BFF and I screamed and screamed and ran out like we were being chased by the Devil himself. Ah, good times.

  • http://www.kateharding.net Sweet Machine

    I think I must have done the whole coming out thing wrong, since I was not literally in a closet at the time.

  • Mitsy

    What concerns me is why does a 12-year-old have friends that identify as bisexual or homosexual? That's horrifying.

  • k

    Hey Mitsy, I don't quite get why it's so "horrifying" that nowadays gay teenagers don't have to endure 10 or more years of crushing silence and shame before they finally muster up the courage to come out of the closet and face a hostile, bigoted environment. Coming out in middle school is becoming more and more common: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/27/magazine/27out-t.html?pagewanted=all And in my book that's a good thing.

    Anyway, the mom in the letter sounds like the worst helicopter parent ever, and I can't believe Abby is encouraging her worries: "OMG, my daughter enjoys solitude?! She must be horribly depressed and suicidal!" Jeez.

  • Melissa

    Yeah. Middle school is definitely not too early to be aware of your preferences. I had my first crush on a boy when I was in 6th grade, and from what I can remember, that was pretty late. I think most people start being attracted to other people in elementary school, and so 12 is plenty old enough to have noticed the gender(s) of those people.

  • Emeryn

    I'm honestly at a loss for how a 12 year old identifying as non-heterosexual is horrifying.

    In large part because I take offense to that.

    I knew I was bisexual at a younger age than that. Does that make my past horrifying? No.

    It's a good thing if people can "come out" of the closet younger- it means that the people they associate with are a lot more open-minded.

  • http://richarddear.blogspot.com/ Hannah

    I think Mama should take economic advantage of the extra space and get a lodger for the bedroom.

  • Anu

    She's probably just built one kick ass closet fort. I hope "Concerned" relaxes and allows her daughter to further explore her creativity. BTW, Amanda, I just stumbled across your blog. I heart you!!!!!

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  • je di

    I know I'm a little late to comment but I'm new to your blog. I always find it disturbing when people write to advice columns about parenting or any other major life decision. I think the mother has reason to be concerned; not that her daughter is a very literal lesbian but I know that when I was a kid I hid in the closet and bathroom alot because it felt safer. I wish Abbey would of asked about any other changes in her life; eg. grades, divorce, level of energy, anger, etc. Also the "her friends are into cutting" comment could be translated to "I noticed her cutting but I am blaming it on her friends because that is easier to do as a parent." From the previous comments it's obvious that many girls like the extra privacy of the closet but with the cutting comment and the mother's attitude I'd say it could be less benign. I know I told the people around me what was happening to me with my actions years before I told them with my words. I wish someone had noticed. -j

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