“My daughter had a relationship with a man for five years, and now she says she’s gay. So it must be a choice, right? Or a phase?”
Question Submitted Anonymously
Answered by Alyse Knorr
First of all, thank you so much for writing in with your question. The fact that you’re seeking out information to help you better understand your daughter shows that you’re committed to having the best possible relationship with her—and this is a great way to do it. I understand how the fact that your daughter was in a long-term relationship with a man could lead you to the conclusion that she has always been straight, and that her recent coming out was therefore a choice. However, there are many other ways to look at this situation that are much more likely to be true.
The question of how someone becomes who they are is rich and complex. Just as you and your daughter may not know exactly why she’s an introvert, or why she likes the color blue, or why she has a gift for singing, it’s never going to be possible to pin down a single answer as to “why” she is gay. And for this reason, it’s very unlikely that she sat down one day and made a conscious decision to be gay. The idea of whether someone “chooses” their sexuality is very tricky, as everyone experiences things differently, but sexuality is never as simple as a direct choice.
But that still leaves you wondering why your gay daughter could stay in a relationship with a man for so long. There are many possibilities here: Perhaps your daughter knew she was gay for all five years and felt desperately unhappy with this man—no matter how happy she seemed to be to you. She might have been trying very hard to bury deeper understandings of herself and lead a straight life. Or perhaps she was genuinely happy with this man, but had just never experienced a relationship with a woman and therefore didn’t know how much happier she could be. It’s like eating cookies your whole life—they do taste delicious!—and then finally trying a brownie fudge sundae. Even more delicious!
Or she may have been genuinely happy with this man, but then she changed. People change! But that does not mean you should treat your daughter like she’s working through a phase. Her sexuality might change again throughout her lifetime, or it might not. The same is true of the words and definitions she uses to identify herself. These changes are a normal and healthy part of being a human being. Past relationships and identities don’t invalidate current ones. Sexuality and identity can be fluid. This may not have been the case for you, but you are not your daughter. You two have different life experiences. That’s what makes families so exciting!
The only way to know why your daughter spent time in a relationship with a man and why she now experiences her sexuality differently is to talk with her about it—in a respectful way that doesn’t impede on her privacy and doesn’t present her with accusatory, passive aggressive questions. Be prepared that your daughter may not exactly know the answers to your questions, and she may not wish to answer all of them. Certain things about our romantic lives, after all, can be very awkward to talk about with a parent. If she can’t or doesn’t want to give you an answer, that certainly doesn’t mean that you are correct that she’s choosing to be gay or going through a phase.
In the end, human beings have a right to their own identity, their own journey, and their own language to describe themselves. No one ever wants to feel as though someone else is imposing their viewpoints onto them about who they are. That action robs a person of their basic dignity and autonomy. Since you’re her parent, you may feel like you are entitled to know everything about your daughter and to explain to her who she is and how she became that way. After all, you’ve known her longer than anyone else in the world! But while that feeling comes from a place of genuine love, you must learn not to act on it around your adult daughter, who is her own independent person. You are her parent and always will be, but that does not give you the right to tell your daughter who she is and how she became that way. You can wonder, and you can ask questions—like you are right now!—to try to become more educated, but your questions must always come from a place of genuine interest, curiosity, and love, not passive aggression, frustration, or fear. Those kinds of feelings you should share with a therapist, spouse, or close friend—NOT your daughter. Your daughter is not responsible for helping you come to terms with this. This is your journey! And you’re just at the start of it.
Things will get easier for you and your daughter, and in the meantime, I encourage you to continue reading and learning through the other resources here on My Kid Is Gay and through PFLAG. Read about the experiences of other LGBTQIA people, and consider attending a local PFLAG meeting. You’ll find that it’s a wonderful, welcoming space for parents at any stage in their child’s coming out process. You may not be convinced yet by this one post, but if you keep expanding your mind and filling your brain with knowledge, you will feel closer to your daughter than ever before, and believe me—she will deeply, deeply appreciate it. Show her your love by staying open and continuing to learn. 🙂
Alyse Knorr is the author of Super Mario Bros. 3 (Boss Fight Books 2016) and of the poetry collections Copper Mother (Switchback Books 2016), and Annotated Glass (Furniture Press Books 2013). She also authored the chapbooks Epithalamia (Horse Less Press 2015) and Alternates (dancing girl press 2014). Her work has appeared in Denver Quarterly, Columbia Poetry Review, The Greensboro Review, Caketrain, and The Southern Poetry Anthology: Georgia, among others. She received her MFA from George Mason University. Alyse is a co-founding editor of Gazing Grain Press and teaches English at Regis University.