Parenting Is Complicated: When My Child Came Out, Three Times

by: Stealth Mom

A little more than a year ago, my daughter, a 20-something college student came to me and said she was bisexual.  Some time after that, she came out as a lesbian, and some time after that, she came out as genderqueer.

Complicated? You betcha’, but much of life is complicated, so the best most of us can do is hang on for the ride and find as many smiles as we can.

In less than 10 sentences, I’ve presented more than a year’s worth of mental adjustments, and I may have made it seem like it was all very easy, but in truth, the “hang on for the ride” sentiment has been hard won.  There have been tears along the way, ups, downs, and for my husband – well, let’s just say he’s not quite hanging on for the ride just yet.

It’s because of my husband that there will be precious few identifying details in this essay about my daughter, or about anyone in my family. I can give you some details, but some I’ll reserve for the sake of privacy, because in terms of being the parent of a genderqueer child, I guess you could say I’m stealth.  I’m choosing to be anonymous here out of respect for my husband, who finds my daughter’s sexuality a bit difficult to absorb.

I’m getting ahead of things here though.  Maybe it’s best to start at the point where my daughter came out to me as bisexual.  Let me preface by saying that I’m really liberal – a card carrying member of the ACLU, in fact.  I have straight friends, gay friends, old friends, and young friends.  I vote liberal, support liberal causes – liberal, liberal, liberal.  Despite my liberal leanings, when my daughter came out as a bisexual, I did a very bad thing.  I doubted her.

Just when she felt brave enough to tell me something so personal, I doubted her thinking.  Bad move.  Terrible move.  HUMAN move.  I told her I loved her and said I accepted her regardless of her sexuality but those words did not stand out to her nearly as much as my doubt.  And that doubt?  It hurt her feelings terribly.  I still regret not choosing my response more carefully.  Expressing unconditional love was natural and good and sincere.  The doubt was, I think, also natural, but it was anything but good, and if I could have a “do over” I would do so in a nanosecond.

Life gives precious few second chances, though, so that initial conversation and subsequent conversations where my daughter expressed her anger and disappointment in me are ones that are too painful to detail.  Suffice it to say that she was so angry that I thought I lost my daughter.  Never underestimate how a mother’s heart can break.  I cried every day, was more morose than I’ve ever been before and prayed like any parent – maybe even atheist parents pray – when their child is in the emergency room.  It took months of conversations to undo the damage of my doubt, and when my daughter finally came home for a weekend visit and kissed my cheek in a spontaneous moment of affection, tears came to my eyes.

When she next came out as a lesbian, I was already evolved into someone with a tiny bit more common sense.  How could I doubt my child, someone who had a right to make decisions about her own life?  This time, thankfully, my heart spoke ahead of my mind, and I again reassured her of my unconditional love.  What did I say next? NOTHING.  I did not express any doubt.  I respected her ability to know herself, and we moved on.

At that time, she asked me if I minded her sexuality and I told her, honestly, that no parent is fully prepared for a sexual identity talk.  Our babies are born, and we say: “OH!  I have a boy! Or OH! I have a girl!” and we accept that binary.  Parenthood, in general, is without a rulebook, a manual, a how-to.  Add sexuality to that unknown and everything is pretty much an up for grabs, learn as you go, jump into the deep end and swim kind of experience.

How many metaphors work here?  Plenty.

When she next came out as genderqueer, I was again surprised, but in the end, does it matter?  Her brain, her true self of kindness, fun, occasional hair trigger temper, (none of us are perfect), cooking ability, silliness – that’s my child.  Her sexuality?  Eh.  In the end, it doesn’t matter – not really.  What matters is that she is happy, healthy, and getting ready to embark on her own life – a life that doesn’t require permission from me.  However, for the record, (and for whatever it is worth to her), she has my full permission to be whoever she is, because nothing that she does will ever change the core of who she is.

Her dad doesn’t have this ability to say “it doesn’t matter” yet – and that doesn’t make him a bad person, nor even a flawed person.  It just makes him human, and this is one of his struggles.  He doesn’t discuss sexuality with me, his wife of many years, so discussing something like this about his child?  It’s beyond his ability.  Will that change?  I’m not sure.  Life just doesn’t dole out answers the way we would like.

And in the end, since I was asked to share advice with other parents, I guess my advice is just based on the “life doesn’t dole out answers the way we would like” phrase.  I’m not sure I’m wise enough to give much more advice than that.  I’m still figuring my way through all of this.

Ultimately I know this:  My children are gifts to my heart and my heart just loves them.  It’s that simple – I just love them. That feeling is just about the only part of parenthood that’s easy, and I can run with that.

Stealth Mom is not this woman. This woman is Donna Reed.

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