A Letter for Parents from a Parent
If you are reading this you are most likely trying to be a good parent in an extremely confusing situation and are probably getting lots of conflicting information. You are doing the right thing and can get through this.
I am not an “expert.” I am a father of five and a private music and martial arts teacher who deals with many kids. I grew up in a family with several bisexual individuals and I’ve dealt with these issues directly and indirectly all of my life.
Take a deep breath. Read slowly. You may need to read a little bit at a time and walk away to think. You may be reading this because you suspect, or have discovered, that your child is bisexual, or because your child or someone else has told you so. (Do not assume anything about your loved one based on someone else.) If your child has spoken to you, be understanding and provide a safe, accepting atmosphere. If your child has not, create an atmosphere in which he or she can do so when ready.
By bisexuality, I simply mean the physical and/or emotional attraction to both males and females. Most people who identify as bisexual consider it an independent sexual orientation, not a subset of other more widely-recognized categories. Don’t think of bisexuality as a little bit gay (homosexual) and a little bit straight (heterosexual) but as its own orientation with its own characteristics. People often ask why anyone would choose to be gay or bi (shorthand for bisexual). Most people do not feel that their sexual orientation is a choice; you probably don’t. Our best course of action is to respect the identity of our family and friends, assuming nothing.
I have no clue how many people experience bisexuality or identify as bisexuals. From what I’ve read experts don’t know either; estimates range from only a few to a whole lot of people. The fact is that scientists define bisexuality in many ways. Until they can agree on a definition, these studies are just good ways to spend grant money.
Some bi people are out and open about their sexuality, but many are in the closet (hiding their sexuality), mainly for fear of familial, spiritual and social rejection. Imagine how hard that must be. A bi person—especially a young one—often feels alone, but as a parent, you can help your child find safe ways to discover that he or she is not.
Some bi folks have an almost balanced attraction to the genders, while others prefer one gender and are only occasionally attracted to the other, or have a shifting preference. Some people shift their sexual identity and may have long periods where they identify as straight, bi, or gay. Other people drop labels altogether.
What you have done as a parent has not made your child bisexual, but what you do as a parent can contribute to how comfortable and healthy your child is. There isn’t a cure since it isn’t a disorder, but some people will assure you that it can be cured or is just a phase. That phase thing is confusing, because some people have felt some bisexual tendencies and then gone on to assume a completely homo- or heterosexual identity. This doesn’t mean that everyone who experiences bisexual feelings will. It only means some people experience bisexual feelings that they may or may never act on and identify as gay or straight. Other people live a perfectly happy life identifying as bisexual with feelings that they may or may never act on. Many bisexual men and women have happy monogamous relationships, while some bi people prefer more alternative relationship styles. There are no rules in this area, so I can’t tell you what to expect.
You may have some phases of your own. People finding out that their child is bisexual have been known to experience anger, disbelief, denial, grief – and pretty much every other unpleasant emotion – and some pleasant ones. I can’t tell you what you are feeling, will feel, or should feel. If at any time you or your child are uncomfortable with what you feel, talk to a friend or a professional. There are also support groups.
It may help a lot to talk to your child, who will know more about their feelings than all of the websites, books, and experts out there. You could even help each other through your mutual concerns. If you don’t know how your child feels, tell them so and ask. You may want to consider sharing with your child any bisexual feelings or experiences that you may have had.
As far as letting others—even another parent—know, your child should decide who will know and when, even if it puts you in an awkward situation. Ultimately each person must decide how out he or she wants to be and as loved ones we should respect that. Some people are out in a very “we’re here, we’re queer” way (queer has been adopted by many people with non-mainstream sexual or gender identities) and wear the t-shirt, while others are less expressive.
Sexuality differences also make for social safety issues. Like it or not, kids experiment, so you might consider ensuring that your child has a safe place to bring a date even if you have to stretch your own comfort level. Nobody wants a late night call from an angry parent who just found your child making out with theirs. Trust me: It is far worse when the children are the same sex and this was the first inkling that the other parent had. When straight kids are caught making out in the back seat of a car or in an empty gym, cops, teachers and security guards handle it with one approach; but when those kids are of the same sex, hurtful things are often said or done—sometimes even dangerous things. An ounce of prevention can save a lot of embarrassment and harm.
The scariest thing for me is the suicide rate among gay and bisexual young people. I watched one of my children die at birth and I will do anything to never see that happen again. If that means that I have to get over any of my own issues I will, and I have. Suicide is preventable. Be there for your kid even if you are confused. Don’t be silent because you are afraid that you might say the wrong thing. Bisexuals, especially young bisexual men from the age of fifteen to twenty-five years of age, take their own lives at an alarming rate. Don’t let it happen in your family.
As you look around, you may notice that bisexuality is not very visible in our culture. Given how many experience bisexuality or bisexual feelings at some time, you would expect more. But as a culture, we tend to think in terms of a hetero- and homosexual duality; bisexuality just doesn’t come up and isn’t considered in legal, educational, social and health areas. Some groups have also had specific political agendas to exclude bisexuals and have made an effort to institutionalize biphobia (fear of bisexuals) within our culture. This context has a lot to do with a person’s choice to be out about their bisexuality or to stay in the closet, which makes it rude and even harmful to “out” someone (inappropriately inform others about someone else’s sexual identity).
Another common misconception about bisexuals or any LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi, and transgender) individuals is the issue of promiscuity. Just because your child has a non-straight sexuality or gender identity does not make him or her any more promiscuous than straight kids. And yes, your son or daughter may know his or her sexual orientation and still be a virgin. Your child’s sexual orientation doesn’t matter: You need to talk to him or her about safer sex. If you haven’t, you should be researching that and talking to your child.
You may also be wondering about gender roles and gender identity. Simply put, “Is my son going to start acting like a girl?” “Is my daughter going to start acting like a boy? What should I do?” Do nothing yet, because you may be confused. Gender identity is how a person identifies their own gender and leads to what gender role they fill through behavior. Most bi people maintain their birth gender identity and the accompanying social gender role. People who are shifting their gender identity away from their birth gender and behaving according to the social roles of the non-birth gender are transgender; this is not linked to homo- or bisexuality. A transperson may be bi, gay or straight. But as a good parent, you may want to explain this detail to your child, because he or she might think there is a certain way they’re supposed to act, such as queeny (stereotypical Hollywood character idea of effeminate gay), butch (stereotypical masculine dyke image) or even androgynous (displaying gender role elements from both masculine and feminine social images—the classic rock star stereotype). Your child is allowed to be as feminine or masculine as he or she feels. And those feelings may change with time.
Bisexuality as an identity was identified by name in the 1800s, though we know that it has been around since Sappho and Alexander the Great. In the last few decades it has strengthened socially. There was an unfortunate time when there was tension between bisexuals and the gay and lesbian community. You will run across remnants, but those wounds continue to heal. In recent years, there has been a lot of growth toward community. There are now organizations, such as PFLAG, to help bisexuals and their families.
By reading this you are doing what every parent of every GLBT child should be doing: learning and trying. As long as you are willing to keep learning and trying, you will ultimately get it right. You will make mistakes, but you can fix them. Love your child, not your bisexual child. Love your child who is a person who feels and loves and hates and hurts and dreams and wonders, and who happens to be bisexual.
Robert L. Barton