TIt was my son who heard it for the first time. He’d been watching TV a little cartoon girl was hiding from a little cartoon boy she had a crush on. He asked me, “Mom, when you were a teenager, were you boy-crazy?”
He was 6 years old, too young to understand romantic urges, or crushes, or the way that these feelings turn your body into a magnet that’s constantly switching poles: attract, repel, attract, repel. A dozen different answers flew through my brain, but the one that emerged from my lips was the simple truth: “Actually, when I was a teenager, I liked boys and girls.”
“Oh,” he said.
My son went back to watching his show, but I was struck by the enormity of what I’d just done. Could I have just revealed my bisexuality at the age of 36, my first-grade self?
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It could have been my Catholic upbringing which prevented me from telling the truth about sexuality. Or perhaps it was just the “straight-by default” assumption we put on kids that made me eager to grow into the space that had been cleared for me. It could have been my Midwestern instincts to settle into the path of least resistance that made me round myself down to heterosexual: “Ope! Don’t be bothered by my complex sexuality. I’ll just sit over here with the straight people! Please don’t worry about me!” Whatever the cause, I kept quiet, even as I started to notice that my crushes were aimed at girls almost as often as boys.
My journey was not unique. I am aware of many bisexuals who have been involved with people of different sexes. Our choice of romantic partner can often make us feel invisible. We worry we aren’t queer enough to call ourselves queer. When we are able to pass for straight, it is a worry that we might take up space in marginalized communities. And we ask ourselves, over and over again, if I’m in a long-term relationship with an opposite-sex partner, does the fact that I’m bisexual even really matter?
But when I answered my son’s question, I didn’t have to worry about any of that. No judgments, arguments, nor justifications were required. See, the thing about kids is that they don’t arrive with the shame built in. You must first teach them how to shame themselves. If they don’t, the world is a series neutral facts that all carry the same weight. For example, I have two siblings; I was born Ohio; I enjoy boys and girls.
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I think about that day every time I read a story about a governor signing a “don’t say gay” bill into law, or a state legislature seeking to prohibit Pride flags in schools, or a library banning children’s books with LGBTQ+ characters. Silence around an issue sends a message to children that the thing is unacceptable, should not be discussed, and that they need to ignore it. And that if they feel any of it inside themselves, they shouldn’t speak about it. Ever.
There are important societal reasons we shouldn’t shy away from these conversations, shouldn’t perpetuate the stigma, but in that moment I just didn’t want to lie to my son. So I didn’t. He heard me tell the truth. My closest relationship with my kids is my most precious thing. I want my children to understand who I really am.
My son’s nonchalant response to my coming out was one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received. His openness to me was unfiltered and he didn’t make any preconceptions about my identity. He heard me out and allowed me to openly discuss my sexuality. Some people don’t have the right to speak out, but others can benefit from our presence to allow other people to.
It is my hope that my honest nature will be a blessing to my son. He is yet to reveal his identity. However, I believe he will be able to trust me in his truth no matter what.
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