By Beth Smyers Innis
I’ve come out to my children several times. It takes a lot of emotional effort each time. I try to be happy they don’t see me any differently after, and as a result they forget, and sometimes I am frustrated because it feels like yet another thing my tween and teen don’t hear that I’m desperately trying to communicate.
The first time I came out to them, my mom questioned, “Why do they need to know? They are so young!” My gut instinct was: They need to know that I could have chosen a man or a woman, that I happened to choose their dad, but I could have just as easily married a woman. This didn’t help my mom understand, but it did ground me in the need to share who I am.
The second time I came out to them, I could see their friends starting to fly their flags in all sorts of ways and I felt strongly that the kids in my life would only benefit from seeing different expressions of healthy sexuality. How many times had I looked around me as a youth and observed expressions of so many things, different from myself and my parents, that led to greater choices for myself? Also, how often do I have to wear this “MIGHTY BI” shirt for you two yahoos to get the picture?
The third time was more of a reminder. “Yes, remember, I am the B in LGBT.” “Right, yes!” they said and carried on with their days. It was more of a cool factor than a “Wait, what? Explain!” and that time was easier.
So, I thought we were all set.
When their friend came out as pan, I congratulated them and wrote them a letter. Go, me! I thought. I’m there. I’ve arrived. Definitely a grown-up, now!
Both my kids are theatre kids. I love watching all these kids in action as they try different identities on and land somewhere I didn’t expect. At one event, I donned my “Protect Queer Kids” sweatshirt. I had no idea what an impact that would make.
I thought, Hey, great, I’m super friendly! I’m a bi mom supporting all the queer kids! Many of the kids gave me some unexpected eye contact as they said with emphasis, “I like your shirt!” and both my kids made mention of how cool the kids thought it was.
At the next theatre event, my older daughter, then fourteen, said, “So do you think you’ll wear your MIGHTY BI t-shirt to this show?” I practically choked on my “Well, sure, honey, I’d be happy to!”
It turned out there was a huge difference between wearing a shirt and embracing queer kids and outing myself as a bi parent. It turned out it made my palms sweat and my desire to pull my cardigan over my t-shirt almost unsurmountable.
And then I pictured this:
Little Beth who didn’t really think too much about her thoughts of I guess I’ll wait to date girls until college and then I’ll figure it out. And then she met the person of her dreams who happened to be a man and then it took another fifteen years to figure it out.
Little Unknown Theatre Kid who would one day be bi/pan/other and now had one more example of something that was just fine to land on.
Both of my children seem solidly cis and straight …but how many of my friends hadn’t told their parents at that age? How many kids know enough people who didn’t fall into those categories at that age, including myself?
This time, I had to out myself to the kids (not a problem) and all the grown-ups (more of a challenge).
I had to stand up and essentially proclaim:
“For your kids, I will be my authentic self and shout my bi from the rooftops.
“For your kids, I will answer the questions you have about why it matters that I am bi if I am married to a man.
“For your kids, I will deflect your questions regarding my detailed sexual history with grace.
“For your kids, I will be open so that if they have questions, they will know that I am a safe grown-up to field those questions.
“For your kids, I will be a bi parent of two daughters, married to a man—a man who has two moms and one dad.
“For your kids, I will be a grounded, rooted tree on which they can lean for as long as they need until they find the words to describe what feels right to them.”
Beth is a bisexual woman married to man, with two daughters, two dogs, two cats, and four guinea pigs. She is a veterinarian and small business owner in the Boston area.