What My Parents Think About My Bisexuality
One of the hardest parts of the coming out process for me was telling my family; not because I felt that they would react negatively, but because I knew that by coming out, I would be affecting their lives as well and changing mine. I was particularly concerned about my parents; the town where I grew up and where they still live is a medium-sized town in Central IL that tends to lean more conservatively and has a barely visible LGBTQ+ community. I had no precedent to look to in order to predict how the larger community might react to my coming out, which only added to the overall stress of the situation.
Blaize Stewart with his parents
Fortunately, as I predicted (and as you can read below) they accepted the news and have continued to give me the unconditional love and support that they did before I came out. However, as time has passed, I have become more and more curious about their experience with the LGBTQ+ community before me, how their lives or perspectives have changed by having a bi son and what advice they might have for parents of other bi people.
They agreed to go on the record and fill me in on what the experience has been like for them as parents, both to provide me some context as to how they grew up and viewed LGBTQ+ individuals and to provide whatever advice they can for other parents out there who might be struggling or unsure of how to handle their child’s coming out news.
Blaize Stewart: Growing up, how did you perceive the LGBTQ+ community? Did it have any sort of impact on your life?
Ed Stewart: No, it wasn’t talked about as openly then as it is these days and no adult ever had a conversation with me about the LGBTQ+ community. All I ever heard were conversations in general, and those were usually not positive. I had one distant, older relative and one close cousin about my age that are both gay, but it was never really acknowledged or discussed openly at any time; it was basically just ignored. I could see the effect it had on my cousin as she grew up, and looking back, I wish that I had talked to her more.
Paula Stewart: Honestly, I don’t remember ever having a conversation about the LGBTQ+ community with my parents or peers; I’m not sure why this was the case, but it was. I do remember discussing racial and religious discrimination, though. We’d also talk about women’s rights and feminism. Perhaps we didn’t discuss LGBTQ+ issues because they were not widely acknowledged in the 70’s & 80’s. As the child of an educator, I was taught that everyone is ‘equal’ and deserves the same inalienable rights; fairly basic thoughts on equality. So, as a grown woman now, I had no issue perceiving the LGBTQ+ community as I have other marginalized groups. I was raised to accept everyone, no exceptions. I realize how unusual this was in that day and age. I was blessed with educated and enlightened parents. As far as an impact on my life, there wasn’t one. If we had discussed the LGBTQ+ community, it would have just another minority added to the melting pot of my country.
Specifically, how did you perceive the bi community? Both growing up and during adulthood, before your child came out.
ES: I honestly don’t think I ever gave much thought at all to someone being bisexual. It was basically assumed you were either gay or straight.
PS: Truthfully, I hadn’t given much thought to the LGBTQ+ community or the different identity groups within as I grew up or entered my adulthood. As I mentioned previously, growing up we didn’t discuss the LGBTQ+ community because it was certainly not as prevalent as it is now. Unfortunately, it was a time people hid their sexual orientation. Once I became an adult, I didn’t have a feeling one way or the other. I have always felt sexual orientation is personal and I wouldn’t want anyone commenting on mine. So, I try to give the same respect to others as I would like to receive. To each their own. I think our society too often feels they have a ‘right’ to comment on the way someone else lives their life. I don’t see our inalienable rights as including ‘judging’ others. If your lifestyle doesn’t impact mine, then who am I to judge you?
Blaize Stewart with his parents and siblings
Did the idea of having an LGBTQ+ child cross your mind during any of your pregnancies? If so, how did you think you would be able to handle it at the time?
ES: As a father, I don’t think it ever crossed my mind until after all four of our children had been born. I was just concerned with having healthy children. Whenever the thought did cross my mind, I never felt that it would change the way that I felt about any of my children. However, having seen my son go through this difficult process, I do feel that I could have done more to express those thoughts earlier so that my children were aware that I would support them, no matter what their sexual orientation might be. I know that I could have made it easier on him.
PS: I was fortunate to have four healthy children within five years! I had all kinds of hopes and dreams for our children. But, sexual orientation never crossed my mind. It wasn’t even given a thought, plain and simple.
When your son came out to you as bisexual, what was your initial reaction? Did you understand what the term meant?
ES: My honest thoughts when he initially came out were that he was saying he was gay, just from the emotions that he showed during it. I really didn’t hear many of the details…or care. I could just see that he was very upset and I wanted to make sure he knew that I supported him regardless of what he proclaimed to be.
PS: Initially, I was terrified he had been diagnosed with some serious illness; he had texted and then called, from college, and asked if he could come home and ‘talk’ to us about his life. He kept saying it’s nothing bad, but when he got home and attempted to tell us, he started to cry from pent up emotions and I immediately thought he was ill. When he finally got it out that he was bisexual I said, “Is that all? Because I was afraid you were sick!” Then I remember saying I was sorry if I was somehow minimizing his good news because I was so fearful the news was going to be terrible and life-changing. Of course, I understood what bisexuality meant and knew exactly what our son was talking about. But, my initial reaction was relief that it wasn’t something serious.
How did you feel in the immediate time after your child came out? Did you feel like your questions and concerns were addressed? Did you feel that you (and your child) would have reliable resources to turn to for current and future questions and concerns?
ES: I really didn’t have any different feelings or concerns other than happiness at seeing my son’s relief after lifting such a huge burden off of his shoulders. I could see the change in him immediately. My only concern was for him and what he may be facing from others as the word spread throughout his friends and school. Fortunately, the majority of the response was positive for him. Although it is still widely unaccepted, there are many more resources for allies and members of the LGBTQ+ community to turn to for support these days. I feel there are several support groups for those who may need it, but access needs to continue to be improved.
PS: I remember feeling very happy for our son! It was clear that he felt relief at sharing his good news and we let him guide the conversation which followed. I don’t think we asked many questions and I don’t think he shared much more with us after that initial discussion. It’s emotionally exhausting to share that kind of information with your family, I would imagine. We did know he had told his three siblings before us and that was important to know. We talked about who to ‘tell’ in the family. He seemed extremely comfortable and confident once we talked. I recall some crying and lots of hugging. Also, we reaffirmed our love and told him how proud we have always been of him. I do think I wondered if he’d suffered and if I could have done something to help him.
The motherly protective mode came into play and I wanted to shelter him from any pain or heartache he had felt to this point and could possibly feel in the future. I had a fear of others judging my son, before even getting to know him, based on his sexual orientation. Not being able to change prejudices toward my child was a new and unfamiliar road I was going to have to travel. I know what an incredible human being my son is. That night, when I went to bed, I prayed that others would see him for who he was and not for his sexual orientation. My other three children aren’t judged for being heterosexual. I want the same for all four of my kids. Is that too much to ask?
What have been the most challenging parts of being the parent of an LGBTQ+ child? Have you noticed any particularly difficult or challenging instances specifically because your child identifies as bisexual?
ES: For me as a parent, there are no difficulties or challenges. I’m perfectly fine with who my son is and am not concerned with the thoughts of others. Sadly though, he will face unnecessary challenges and difficulties throughout his journey because of the perception of others. I will do my best to be there for him when needed.
PS: There are no challenges, per say. I do have a heightened sense of the LGBTQ+ community now since my son is a part of it. I’d have to say I am much more ‘tuned in’ to conversations and opinions of others. It’s disappointing to realize how many appear to be uneducated about the LGBTQ+ community. People seem to think they have the right to comment on others’ sexual orientation because it may be different from theirs.
I had to decide, early on, if I would act differently or speak out more if someone made comments about the community, in general. Would I say something because my son was ‘one of the people’ they might be disparaging? I decided that I would take it one incident at a time. If I feel the person could actually be open to a discussion or would gain insight if I shared my son’s journey then I will say something.
So far, in the few years since my son has come out I have spoken up only a small number of times. As an educator myself, I realize that not everyone has an open mind and I can’t expect to be the one to ‘change’ their opinion. While I’m always open for a good discussion, I have no interest talking to closed minded individuals who are only talking to degrade. It’s definitely heart-breaking to hear any negative comments which are or could be directed at my son. But, I am choosing my battles and I prefer to talk with those who are as eager to accept and to learn about a relatively ‘new’ minority.
What would you say to the parent of a newly out bi person? Any advice or moments from your personal experience that you think would be beneficial for them to read?
ES: Just to be open and listen. It takes great strength and courage for a person to come out. It can go as well or as bad as you choose it to go. If you are seeing signs in your child that they may be struggling with any major issues, don’t hesitate to discuss it with them. It can make a world of difference on how long they take to open up. The sooner they can do this, the better for their lives moving forward.
PS: Advice is difficult to give because everyone’s situation looks different. However, if I learned one thing it’s that there isn’t a correct way to react or to respond when your child comes out. It may feel like your child is suddenly a person you don’t know because they’ve had to hide their sexuality. While, in reality, they’re the very same child you gave birth to and raised all these years. I’ve never discussed, with our three other children, whether or not they were heterosexual and it’s sad that our bisexual son had to ‘come out’ and that he just couldn’t ‘be.’ Unfortunately, it’s our society which makes the LGBTQ+ community feel like they’re a minority. As parents, these are just our kids. Love them. Listen to them. Defend them. Challenge them. Accept them, unconditionally, as you always have. BE A PARENT.
ES: I truly don’t see a person’s sexual orientation as being anyone else’s business and definitely do not believe a person should be judged by this. I don’t believe this is a “choice” for anyone or that we have any control over our feelings for people of the opposite sex or the same sex. We are born the way we are and there is nothing that can or should be done to try and change that. If a person is happy, that should be all that others care about.
PS: I remember telling my son that his bisexuality will be the ‘thing’ that I will worry about for him; certainly not because he is bisexual, but because of what that means in the United States right now. His ‘coming out’ has put him into a situation which any parent could fear. Radical thinkers are everywhere. I worry for him as I do for my other three children. They all have their crosses to bear in this life. Not necessarily their sexuality, but other aspects in their lives which may be challenging for them. I see his sexuality as a private part of his life and, if I could do anything for him, I would work to make sure that one day the LGBTQ+ community won’t be a minority. Rather, the LGBTQ+ community will just be like their heterosexual counterparts. We all deserve equality and the same inalienable rights as human beings.