An acquaintance recently came out to his mother as a bisexual man. According to him, she all but disowned him. She didn’t really, but that’s how he felt.
I thought back to my own coming out experience sixteen years ago. I know going into it I feared the worst--that my family would cut me off. I was prepared to be financially cut off, and even a bit socially ostracized. What I didn’t think I could handle was to be emotionally shut out, disowned, abandoned.
I called my aunt, someone I (and everyone in my family) knew to be a lesbian, to ask her advice on coming out. When I asked how my family, and particularly my mother, responded when she came out, she surprised me by asking, “What do you mean ‘came out?’” I suppose I got to “out” the family to her.
That call gave me some confidence. I knew that my family loved her and supported her even when she thought wrongly that she was hiding herself.
I called my Mom. I explained that I had dated women and I had dated men. I wasn’t comfortable claiming the bisexual label at that point. I waited for a response, but there wasn’t much of one. I wasn’t expecting what I heard:
“Oh, your dad and I have been talking about this for years.” Really? I suppose there were all sorts of possible indicators, but my own process of discovery had only taken months, not years. Not only was I queer, but I was oblivious to my own queerness.
“I’ve always thought that you just liked *people* regardless of whether they were men or women.” Okay. My mom was not only more tuned into me than I was, but she understood the essence of bisexuality, that it wasn’t about liking men because they were men and women because they were women—it wasn’t about the dichotomy, the binary, the sex.
Fast forward to a few months later. Life was in disarray because I was 19 years old. I’d gone to a military recruiter, taken the ASVAB and essentially signed up to join. I called my dad, a retired veteran, with the good news. Aside from telling me I’d need to get in shape so that basic training didn’t kill me, he warned me, ominously, “If they ask, you will need to lie.” Being a naïve 19 year old, the thought that my mom might continue having discussions about me with my dad hadn’t entered my mind. “If they ask me what?” “You know.” “Ohhhh, you talked with mom?”
I didn’t join the military, in large part because of a surprise visit my dad made shortly after the phone call with a wonderful heart to heart conversation, and in larger part because I knew I didn’t want to join anything on the pretense of a lie.In retrospect, I see that my parents couldn’t have responded any other way. That’s got to make me luckier than a lot of people out there. My parents acted with love, tolerance, acceptance and sound guidance, the way they always have.