By Jessa Vartanian (the mom):
I was wholly unprepared for the words that fluttered out of my 12-year-old daughter’s mouth three years ago. It was 10 p.m., and we were lounging on her bed, just talking, because that’s always been the time of day she opens up.
“Mom, I’ve been thinking I might be bisexual.”
My arms and legs went tingly, and I stopped breathing for a moment. That one sentence was like a manhole cover opening up and the entire future I’d envisioned for her being sucked out of me by an E4 tornado.
“Really?” I asked, buying time, trying to remain calm, sound nonchalant. Bisexual?
She’s told me over and over I’m the one person she can tell everything to—and I’ve always felt blessed about that. I just wasn’t prepared for her to tell me that.
I felt sad, scared, anxious, and uncomfortable, all at the same time. I instantly fast-forwarded through it all: high school prom… sperm donors… she and a wife at my Thanksgiving table… her four kids (Kate, Sara, Lily, and Rose she’s decided) with no dad…
“Yeah, I don’t know,” she continued. “I can see myself dating a woman in college, maybe. I’m a person who likes to have options.”
Gay might have been easier to digest, to be honest, more clear-cut, like being straight. Bisexual, on the other hand, felt so gray, neither here nor there, more ambiguous for a soul like mine that thrives on clear countertops, color-coded calendars, and checkbooks balanced to the penny each month.
I started to rationalize, look for an explanation. The honest-to-god-truth is that until that exact moment, the possibility of her not being heterosexual had never entered my worrywart brain.
And it isn’t like I was born and raised in the Bible Belt. Far from it. I’m an open-minded woman who lived the first 42 years of her life in the San Francisco Bay Area. I’ve never blinked an eye at same-sex relationships. I firmly believe our sexuality is nature, not nurture.
But it’s completely different when it’s your own kid, I discovered.
So why did my daughter’s words fill me with silent panic? Because being in a same-sex relationship can be a harder life. Because I don’t want her to be a target of unkindness—or worse. Because I don’t want her to be limited, excluded, or discriminated against in any way.
She mentioned it again a few weeks later in the car: “Mom, sometimes when I picture the American dream, the picket fence and me and my kids and dogs, sometimes I picture it with a woman. It’s weird.”
I want to ask if she can picture it with a man too, but I don’t. I nod, smile, keep my eyes on the road, and reply, “Well, we’ll see what happens. Whoever ends up with you will be lucky, that’s for sure!” And I mean it.
“Thanks for being so supportive,” she says with a heartfelt smile. “Not everyone’s parents would be. I’m so lucky.”
If she really is bisexual, I tell myself in that pivotal moment, I hope that she lands on the male side when it comes to a life partner. It’s much easier to get pregnant (she wants four kids, remember?) and it would be nice for her kids to have a male role model if any of them happen to be boys.
I also start imagining my parents’ reaction to her news. Will they still love and accept her? Both my mom and my mother-in-law are serious Catholics. My daughter confides that she’s worried about that too.
One of the hardest things is that I can’t talk about this with anyone. To share this with even my closest girlfriends feels like an affront to my daughter’s privacy. So I carry it with me, sharing it only with my husband, who takes it in stride, genuinely not caring or worrying about it, in a way I both envy and am so grateful for.
One of my closest friends was married to a man for over a decade, had a couple of kids, then divorced, and started a relationship with a woman. Curious to understand how someone moves from being in an intimate relationship with a man to one with a woman, I asked Jade, who, at first, simply told me “You love who you love.” Which never satisfied me.
A few years later I broached the topic again, and she told me that back in the day, being in a same-sex relationship wasn’t an option. She called herself a “late-life” lesbian and pointed me to a TED talk about it, and one researcher’s study of whether sexuality is fluid or fixed.
Jade admitted that yes, it is a harder life. She and her girlfriend have to be careful where they travel. They were denied housing by a landlord who did not want to rent to them. I’ve never seen them hold hands, hug, or kiss in public. I don’t wish those things for my daughter.
I felt better a few months later when my daughter started talking about her future again and it was a “husband” she pictured by her side that day.
And when, a year after that, she asked a boy out on a date, and how excited and nervous she was when she went on that date and two more before breaking up with him because he didn’t make her laugh (good call, I told her, that’s an important one).
My daughter is almost 15 now and she is certain this is who she is. It’s not a phase, a scheme to get attention, or a “stepping-stone,” she assures us. And I believe her. She’s one of the most intelligent, self-aware people I know. And she’s always marched to the beat of her own drummer which isn’t easy when you’re a teenager. I admire her.
She feels she’s been holding a secret and she doesn’t want to hold it any longer. So last week she called up my mother-in-law, took a deep breath, and told her she was bisexual. I sat on the bed beside her and held her hand when she made that maiden call.
“It doesn’t matter one bit to me,” her grandmother told her. “I love you no matter what.” I squeezed her hand and smiled as her eyes filled with tears of relief.
A few days later she baked chocolate chip cookies, took them to school, and handed them out to her friends with a similar pronouncement that yielded hugs, smiles, and congratulations. (Thank you wonderful friends of my daughter!)
This weekend she’s asked me to take her to the DC Pride Festival to celebrate with others like her. (She’s not thrilled to be accompanied by a heterosexual, but she’s agreed to look past my faults.) I’ll be wearing the “Proud of My Daughter” rainbow t-shirt she ordered for me. Her shirt reads “Beautiful Badass Bisexual.”
I’ll admit that despite having had a few years to wrap my head around all this, I still feel a little weird when she says the word bisexual. Occasionally I’ll Google it, but I do my best not to. One thing that popped up was that 84% of bisexuals end up in long-term relationships with people of the opposite sex. And there are a lot of famous people (e.g., Drew Barrymore, Fergie, Angelina Jolie) who apparently consider themselves bi. That’s kind of cool.
What I’ve come to is this: Only time will tell how it all shakes out. I’m honored that the daughter I treasure feels safe enough to share her true self with me. While I’m a bit sad that I can’t guide her down this particular path as its one I haven’t traveled, I must be doing something right because she keeps reiterating how lucky she is to have a family who is so accepting.
And here’s my guiding light: When I lie down next to her at bedtime and pull her close in my arms, the confusing, complicated fog of it all dissipates and it all becomes crystal clear: I want my daughter to be loved by another human being as fiercely as my husband and I have loved her since day one.
It’s really that simple.
By Avy Aubin (the daughter)
My first memory of questioning my sexuality was when I was 11. I remember thinking that I might want to kiss a girl when I got to college. I remember having just learned about experimenting and thought it was something most people tried.
When I turned 12, I started to learn more about sexualities. I learned about lesbians and more importantly—about bisexuals. The moment I read the word, something felt right to me.
No. I was straight. I’d always been straight.
I remember sitting alone on my bed, begging myself to be straight. I found myself making bargains with myself.
Ignore girls, kiss three boys, and I’ll revisit the issue when I’m older. Or. Get a boyfriend, then I won’t even want a girlfriend anymore.
But the truth was, I’m just as attracted to girls as I am to boys. I found myself pushing down crushes and hating that little part of myself that made me different. Hating that I hadn’t been born “normal.”
Eventually I realized how utterly ridiculous I was acting. I was nowhere near sure how to identify, but I knew I wasn’t straight. And this definitely wasn’t a phase.
Phases weren’t this all-consuming.
Then one night I was sitting on my bed venting to my mother. Seventh grade was a rough year for me, and I had a lot of stress in my life. Then I blurted the words that changed everything.
“Mom, I think I might be bisexual.”
I had never been worried about coming out to my parents. They had always been very liberal and accepting in every way.
But by the look on my mother’s face you’d think I’d told her I’d had unprotected sex with a 50-year-old Republican serial killer, had gotten pregnant, and now I wanted her to meet the father. My heart sank through the floorboards.
“Really?” she said in the way you might respond to a child who said they’d found a dead rat and wanted to keep it as a pet.
I don’t quite remember how the rest of the conversation went but it was nothing like I’d imagined. Why did she care which gender I dated?
Days passed before I reluctantly brought it up again. I remember saying something about maybe marrying a woman someday. But the worst part was that I felt weird thinking about it.
The woman I trusted, whom I told everything to, was making me feel uncomfortable about my own sexuality.
She tried to say something supportive and I could see that she was trying to accept it. Trying to do better than last time.
She said she was fine with it but I could tell it was a strain. I thanked her for being supportive, but in reality, I was just trying to get myself to believe she supported me.
Despite all this, she was the only one I could talk to about any of this. My small group of “friends” did nothing but chat and make jokes I didn’t understand because I hadn’t been invited to hang out over the weekend.
So I continued talking to my mom about my newfound bisexuality. I continued trying to ignore the look on her face when I mentioned dating a girl.
I just kept thinking that if I talk about this enough, she’d realize this isn’t a phase and accept it. And in a way, that’s what happened.
She started trying harder and becoming more and more accepting. But it still wasn’t enough for me. I wanted her to be happy for me.
Eventually I came out to a few close friends. It went fine with my best friend since kindergarten, she was nothing but accepting.
But when I told my other best friend, her reaction was similar to my mother’s. Her face dropped for a second and then she pretended to be supportive.
A week later, she asked me if I had a crush on her. It was like she was asking if I’d murdered her puppy. She was absolutely dreading the answer.
I assured her I wasn’t crushing on her at all. In reality, the idea of dating her—my very straight, geeky, know-it-all of a best friend—had never even crossed my mind.
Then a year later I started high school. It was a new school and I didn’t know any of the other students. And to make matters worse my mother encouraged me not to come out. She didn’t want me to get bullied.
When I met my new classmates, I quickly found a big group of friends who I loved spending time with. The group even included a lesbian and a trans guy. Still I was terrified to come out as Bi.
What if they didn’t take it seriously? What if they told me it was just a phase, as so many had before? What if they started acting weird or thought I had crushes on them?
So I sucked it up all year. I briefly dated a boy from my tennis class before breaking it off because he never made me laugh (also he wouldn’t even hold my hand, much less kiss me).
Eventually at the end of the year I got up my courage, made cookies (so if people asked me why I’d brought cookies, I’d be forced to tell them), and told my friends I liked girls.
It went better than I could ever have expected. I got hugs, high-fives, and one friend who thought I said, “I’m going to Dubai” instead of “I’m coming out as Bi.”
That summer I went to my first ever Pride festival. It was incredible, so many people just like me. Maybe I wasn’t alone after all.
My mother even came with me and was so accepting and supportive (except when I wanted to go on the mechanical bull because she thought I’d get hurt). Overall it was a great day.
Today, I couldn’t be more comfortable in my identity. I’ve dated and had my first kiss with a girl. I’ve come out to my religious grandparents, all of whom were supportive. And my mother is doing everything she can to support me.
Overall, I’m glad I was born bisexual. It wasn’t what my parents planned for me, but my life is my own to plan. So yes, I swing both ways, and I wouldn’t change that for anything or anyone.
And in the end, it was all about accepting myself, rather than waiting for others to accept me.