Dear MKE SEX,
I’m a married mother of five daughters (all teenagers!). We live in a small town “up north” in Wisconsin. I was raised Catholic and am still very devoted to my faith. My parents, who are also very proud Catholics, live across the street. Most of my siblings still live here in the same town where we were raised. A month ago, my 15 year old came out as bisexual. I was really upset when she did it because she didn’t even come out to me. She came out on Facebook, and one of my sisters called to ask me about it. But if I’m honest, I was also just upset that she’s bisexual. It’s not what I pictured for her, and I’m so scared for her. I handled it really poorly. I did all of the wrong things. First, I yelled at her because I had to find out about it on social media, and then I yelled at her because I felt like she didn’t trust me. And then, when I calmed down, I did something worse. I said, “Oh honey, are you sure this isn’t just a phase?” Well, no wonder she didn’t trust me enough to come out to me directly. Basically, she’s barely spoken to me since that day and I can’t blame her. I’ve tried to apologize, but she’s not ready to hear it. I’m not mad anymore, and I don’t want my daughter to feel alone during these hard high school years. Is there anything I can do to start mending this?
Also, I’m so nervous about what my parents are going to do when they find out. (And since her aunts found out on Facebook, it’s only a matter of time.) Not my mom, as much. She’s pretty placid. She won’t like it, but I don’t think she’ll fight about it. But my dad is going to be so angry. I’ve been trying not to focus on it, but as the holidays get closer, I am feeling really anxious. We’re not spending Thanksgiving with them, but Christmas is just around the corner. When we’re all together in that room, I just know the secret will come out. And my father’s anger is a force to be reckoned with. Do you have any words of wisdom for me?
Your love for your daughter shines through this letter and that is so important. It’s great that you’re aware of where you fell short in those hours after she came out. You’re right—your response was an almost textbook example of what-not-to-do when learning sensitive information about someone. But it’s highly likely that you and your daughter can find your way back to each other given enough time. It’s important to stay open and ready when the moment presents itself. It’s just as important to not rush the timeline. Your daughter suffered a great hurt, and forcing a conversation she’s not ready to have won’t help. When she is ready, though, you’ll want to let her lead the discourse. Let her comfort dictate how long it lasts and deep it goes. It might not be one good heart-to-heart, either, but rather an ongoing conversation shared a few sentences at a time.
In the meantime, you can start getting ready for it by doing your own research about LGBTQ+ identities. The internet is full of great (and not so great) resources for you. I have two suggestions to get you started. Check out PFLAG, a wonderful support network for friends and family of LGBTQ+ folks. They have a lot of online resources and host support group type meetings all over the country. You can also go to Scarleteen, a sex ed website for teens. Type “bisexual” in the search bar at the type and scroll through the numerous entries. These will give you an up close look at young people in situations that are much like your daughter’s.
There are other things you can do to show your daughter that you support her. Since she’s 15, she’s probably looking forward to getting a driver’s license. A small key chain with the bisexual pride flag (given without a big fuss) might go a long way to indicate that you see her orientation as valid. Many small communities now have some kind of Pride celebration in the summer months. Ask her if she’s thinking of going—maybe even offer her a ride.
You also asked for guidance regarding your parents’ potential response to your daughter’s orientation. These are difficult situations in close-knit families, and I don’t envy you. Since you’ve taken the time to write for advice, I’m going to be really real with you. There’s going to come a time in the very near future (probably at Christmas) where you need to make a decision. Are you going to be your parents’ daughter? Or are you going to be your daughter’s mother?
If you’re most concerned about being a good daughter, or about keeping the peace at the holiday, you’ll probably work hard to keep your daughter’s bisexuality a secret and be ready to tamp down any emotional fires that occur if it gets out. And you may lose any opportunity you have to repair your relationship with your daughter. But if you’re ready to be your daughter’s mother, it may mean that there is a scene, possibly a very ugly scene. It means that you may have to stand up and defend your daughter and her orientation. It’s possible that if you choose this, there will be a point where you have to say something like, “This is my daughter and you may not talk to her that way.” Drawing a hard line like that with our parents is very difficult. We are programmed into our role as daughters over the course of our whole lives. Breaking out of that can feel impossible.
But here’s the thing: your daughter is still a child. And by coming out she’s revealed herself to be part of a marginalized minority. She is in need of a parent who sees her and values her just as she is, a parent who will stand up next to her and tell the whole world that she is loved and supported. You are getting the opportunity to be your daughter’s ally early in her journey as a queer person. Being a true ally is hard work. It’s not just bumper stickers and Facebook statuses. Ally is a tactical term that means, “I believe in your cause. I will go into battle by your side. And if you are not able to fight, I will fight for you.” If that is how you feel about this situation, then I think you’ll know what to do when the time comes.
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