August 14, 2015
I am bi and currently in a LTR with someone wonderful. They are male-looking and I am female-looking enough that we are considered a heterosexual couple, in particular by our parents. We are also poly, and both choose to see other women outside of our relationship. It is a good set up, we have great communication, everyone is happy.
My dilemma is whether or not (or when) I should come out to my parents. I have all the usual fears that they would not take this well and that it would change our good relationship, but am I being dishonest by not sharing my full, true self with them?
(I could go on for ages about the pressure that bi/pansexual individuals feel to ‘pick a side’ and how I sometimes feel like a coward hiding out in hetero-land).
I always tell myself that I will tell them when there is a woman in my life who is important enough that I want them to meet her, but I think this has led to me cutting things short with the women I’m dating for fear of the intimacy that would force my coming-out issue.
How much should we share with our parents about our sex lives and the complexities of our sexual identities? Is it okay to keep this part of my life a secret?
Holy moly, what a twisty situation! I think it’s incredible that your LTR is so nourishing; that is just the best and you deserve all the respect and pride in the world for devoting energy to your happiness in this way.
I’d like to Say A Thing about what you term “feeling like a coward hiding away in hetero-land.” I think your feelings of being under pressure about “picking a side” are so valid, and it sounds like they’re really hard to endure! People’s sexual identities are policed at every turn and it’s garbage and I wish the world would chill. You’ve really beautifully illustrated a slippery thing about passing as hetero—it’s simultaneously a privilege (because people like your respective parents see you as a couple that embodies the “default” of heterosexuality and monogamy, meaning that they’re not interrogating the interiority of your relationship) and an erasure (because people like your respective parents see you as a couple that embodies the “default” of heterosexuality and monogamy, meaning that a part of who you are isn’t visible to them, or anyone else who presumes your relationship’s form). Isn’t it wild how as soon as a relationship is perceived to be hetero and monogamous it’s presumed to be identical to every other hetero and monogamous relationship out there?
On to your question. You don’t have to share any part of your sex life or the complexities of your sexual identity with your parents if you don’t want to, and it is 100% okay to keep this part of your life a secret if you want to. It’s totally up to you. You not telling your parents isn’t a lie, and it’s not shameful: you are not dishonest. Your sexual identity is your purview and you get to share it with people in your life as you see fit. You’re the expert on you! You have an absolute right to determine what boundaries are healthy for you in terms of your relationship with your parents; those boundaries can shift over time at your discretion but they’re yours to set and maintain. You’re allowed to trust yourself to navigate your own boundaries.
In terms of your pattern of cutting things short with women for fear of intimacy “forcing [your] coming out,” I’d say that to decrease some of this anxiety I think it makes sense to practice what you’d say to your parents in advance of the idea that you might one day decide to tell them more about your sexuality. You can practice by yourself in your head, out loud, or with anyone you love and care about. Be gentle with yourself: I know the idea is super scary right now and it can be hard to make yourself imagine scary situations, but there are any number of really affirming and loving things that you could say. You can explain to your parents about boundaries, and affirm that you weren’t ready before but that you’re ready now, and that you’re really excited to get to share this part of yourself with them just like you’re excited to talk to them on the phone about how your week has gone (or whatever). You can also think through what you feel safe with in terms of different ways to tell them: you can send them a letter or an e-mail if you feel happier writing, or you can talk to them on the phone if you feel happier on the phone. You could find a book or an essay or a blog post that gets at what you want to tell them and send it to them and then ask them to talk about it with you, or you can communicate in person. And, if or when the time comes, you’re allowed to be honest about your process if you want to: remember, these are your boundaries, and you’re the expert on you!
If, one day, you decide that you do want to tell your parents more about your sexuality, you’re allowed to trust your parents to react lovingly to your disclosures, and you’re allowed to trust yourself to navigate their response even if they don’t react well. You’re allowed to remember that, if you do tell them more about your sexuality, their hypothetical response to your disclosures says everything about them, and nothing about you.
Good luck, and let me know how it goes!
I am about to move across the country. I am excited, because it is an adventure, but I am also nervous. I have spent two years in a nurturing community, and I have grown so much and gained so much confidence. But what if this is contingent on community? What if, untethered from these folks and this place, I regress into a smaller, less sure version of myself? How do I hold onto my fiercer self in a new place?
Oh Nervous Mermaid,
How exciting that you have a big move so imminent! Adventures are the best, and the country—violent geopolitical fantasy construct that it is—should be honoured that you’re set to traverse its breadth. You say you spent two years in a nurturing community, and that this community helped you grow and gain confidence. What a transcendent thing to experience; it is so understandable that you are feeling apprehensive about your departure. There are two things that you’re allowed to remember about this experience: the first is that community doesn’t necessarily go away when you change physical locations; the second is that you were a part of a community, and that means you helped to build it. I am not gonna preach to you about the twit and the FB and the snail mail because I suspect that you are already a champion of correspondence in all its genres and mediums, so let’s talk a little bit more about the second assertion.
When you moved to where you are, you did really hard work: you met people, you learned their names, you started to remember their stories, you snuggled their pets, you asked about their kin, and you cared about them as they loved and lost and worked their bums off and raged against the machine. You’re a historian of their lives because you lived with them, and in turn they are the same for you. You did this work carefully and thoughtfully and reciprocatively (I don’t think that’s actually a word but all linguistic prescriptionists can hop off my tits RIGHT now). You learned how to do this work, and you did this work WELL: that’s what made you fierce, and that’s why you have such a fierce community.
When you move, you’re going to get to do this work again, and you’re going to learn and grow just as much as you did the first time you laboured in the name of community. You, your power and the rag and bone shop of your heart, will shapeshift in your new place, and you will not shrink. You’re the sum total of every person you’ve ever encountered, and that includes every single one of your selves. Your past self is no better or worse or more or less than your present self or your future self. You will shine.
DO YOU WANNA LEARN TO TRUST YOUR PAST SELF, YOUR PRESENT SELF, AND YOUR FUTURE SELF? YOU CAN ALWAYS WRITE TO DEAR BB HERE