“My teenage daughter says that she doesn’t care about the gender of the person she dates. She’s never dated anyone before and I’m trying to be supportive but I’m unsure if she’s bisexual, a lesbian and just isn’t ready to tell me or what. How can I get better at this?”
Question Submitted Anonymously
Answered by Cornelia Prior
A scene: I am 16, and I have laid the table like the diligent and wonderful daughter I am. Now, over sauerkraut and something, my mother to my right and my step-father to my left are discussing sexuality. Somehow, without really fully appreciating what it is I am saying, I say, “I don’t really think that, when looking at my prospective love interests, gender is very important”(for I was, of course, a precocious little babygay.) Neither my mother, my step-father, nor myself could really comprehend quite what this meant, but I understood that sharp feeling of the frustration of not being understood when my stepdad said, “It’s great that you think that, but…”
Like me, your daughter might understand how she feels but not quite how to urge that feeling into an articulate thought, let alone an explanation. And she shouldn’t have to. After this meal, I spent the next five years trying to emphasize—without any “proof,”which presumably, to my mum and my stepdad, would have been a girlfriend—that I didn’t care so much for the gender of the person I dated as I did for the way the sharp winter light falling through the French window cast the shadow of our shoes against the wardrobe’s scrolled base, or for their kind heart, or for the simple joy of becoming something almost-new with somebody. I spent the best part of five years trying to convince two people that I knew myself better than they did, than they might ever be able to. And by the time I had the proof they were looking for, I was so exhausted from trying to explain myself and being met with a wall of misunderstanding as thick as lead in response that I couldn’t possibly bear to tell them.
The thing about saying things like, “It is great that you think that, but…”or, “It’s wonderful that you’re so open-minded, but actually…”or speculating about future husbands is that in wanting your opinion to be heard, you silence your child and, moreover, take away their agency and their ability to self-identify. She may try on many of the labels people in the LGBTQ+ community use: bisexual, queer, pansexual—the list goes on—before finding one that properly fits her. If she is sensitive at the moment and doesn’t want to talk, there is a wealth of information on the internet, including many resources designed especially to educate those who want to know more about the nuances of sexuality, gender, or the LGBTQ+ community. All you have to do is read, listen to your daughter, and take her at her word—as she is—in the knowledge that while the label she uses to describe this aspect of herself might change, the person who opened up to you and asked you to trust her will not.
Another, happier scene: The Photographer and I have been together for a while. I have told my dad in an e-mail that I am not straight and he wants to meet me at my local Portuguese restaurant, where they pile whitebait so high you can hardly see the person with whom you’re lunching. “So what does your partner do?” he asks. “Do you have a photo?” “Gorgeous, can I meet her?” “Would you like some dessert? The ice cream here is delicious.”
Cornelia Prior is a Writer and Communications assistant by day and Cultural and Critical Studies student by night. I currently work at the Whitechapel Gallery creating content for the website, blog and social media. I was Culture Editor of The Leopard Newspaper from September 2014-July 2015, where I commissioned, edited, and wrote pieces that delved into local culture, from fine art to food and from book reviews to restaurant reviews. I have written about art for The Flaneur and Best for Film and about LGBTQ issues for My Kid Is Gay. When I’m not busy being 25 years late to the Judith Butler party or frequenting art galleries, the theatre, the cinema and other things that classify as either “Critical,” “Cultural,” or both, I can be found reading, swimming or admiring lighthouses.
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