Dear Bitter Butch,
My delightful, amazing, young teen daughter is bi. Her friends know and her immediate family knows, but she hasn’t discussed her sexuality with the extended family.
She doesn’t want to talk to them about it, but she’s a pretty open person, so they are likely to know sooner or later (probably sooner, thanks to social media). Can she let it become obvious over time, or is it like pregnancy and you have to tell people close to you or they’ll be insulted to have been left out? I feel like having a big talk is basically asking for approval, and I would prefer she weren’t in that position. But I’m sure some people will feel they need to tell her their judgment anyhow.
If there’s one path that’s likely to be easier for her over another, I’d love to know. She’s too young to have to deal with adult family member’s fear and prejudice, but I don’t know how anyone’s going to react, so I don’t know how to protect her.
Is it necessary in 2015 to sit people down and tell them their grandchild/niece/cousin isn’t straight?
Dear Worried Mom,
Let’s dispense with one thing immediately: no. It is not necessary in 2015 to sit people down and tell them their grandchild/niece/cousin isn’t straight. Furthermore, it is not your job to give a flying fuck about whether or not some random relative is offended that they weren’t some of the first ‘in the know’ about your daughter’s bisexuality. If someone in your family feels they have the right to know deeply personal and central information about your daughter’s identity, perhaps they should have put more effort into having a closer relationship with her. Screw anyone who gets all huffy when they find out and tries to make it about them. It isn’t. A good line to use with someone who decides to take umbrage at finding out some time other than the time they thought they should have is: “This is not about you.” And no more discussion, excuses, or explanations.
That was the easy part.
Well, this is easy, too: being queer is not like being pregnant. There is no timeline during which people need to help prepare for the coming of the queerness. There is no shower. And it only becomes other people’s business when and if the queer person decides to make it their business. Another thing that makes it different from pregnancy: being bi is really no big deal. Because it’s just a part of her like having blond hair or brown, freckles or not, there is no need for a Big Grand Announcement. She just is who she is. The proper response to discovering that your grandchild/niece/cousin isn’t straight is: oooh! I wonder if she’d like to meet my friend Susan’s daughter? Or even: huh. Didn’t know that. That’s it.
But as you and I both know, too many damn people do not understand the proper response. And yes — it is true that your daughter, as a queer person, is going to experience more prejudice than she would as a straight person. And I know that you want to protect her. I get it. I really get it.
But our job as parents is more than protecting. Our job as parents is also empowering. It’s standing back and trusting our kids to know themselves enough that they can handle themselves. It’s fighting for a world in which queer kids don’t have to be afraid, without trying to shield your own kid from the world she deserves to live in and participate in fully.
It sounds like you already know this. You haven’t told her to hide who she’s dating or if she belongs to the GSA at her school (she does, right? She needs to belong to the GSA). You haven’t asked her to closet herself with relatives like so many well-meaning parents do. As a matter of fact, you seem a little uncomfortable with her keeping this to herself for the time being. You want her to be proud of who she is. I applaud this.
But she needs to pick when and how she reveals herself to others, in her own time and at her own pace.
And when she does, you can pull out all the stops on the protecting. You can tell any bigoted relative that if they have a problem with your daughter, they have a problem with you. You can join PFLAG (have you? I think you should. I think it would really help to talk to other parents of queer kids.)
You can march into the school if she has trouble with peers or asshole administrators and you can fight for her. You can speak up every damn time you see someone say something biphobic or homophobic with the full force of your Mamma-Bearness.
But until that’s needed, you can trust your kid. And you can tell her how much you love her and support her and how glad you are that you were one of the ones she felt safe speaking to about her sexuality. You’ve proved your trustworthiness to her. Now let her show you that you can trust in her ability to ride this out.
You say she is too young to deal with the family’s prejudices. She seems to agree with you right now, which is why she hasn’t spoken up. But when she is old enough, you can stand right next to her and show your extended family that if they want to pick on someone, it’s going to be someone their own size.
BITTER BUTCH aka Haddayr Copley-Woods is a queer, a cripple, a nerd, a mom to two kids with neurological differences, and has a truckload of opinions on everything including sex and relationships, parenting, disability issues, family relationships, work dynamics, gender/sexuality issues, and etiquette. You can reach her with all your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org