“Dad would have disowned you,” my older brother told me as I explained to him how I experienced my bisexuality and my first same-sex experiences.
“If he weren’t on his death bed, he would have disowned you — you know dad wasn’t about any of that.”
Something about my brother’s words was simultaneously traumatic and affirming and worth pointing out as we rapidly approach Father’s Day in Pride Month.
When my brother said these words, “Dad would have disowned you,” I didn’t know whether to celebrate because someone else could see what I saw or panic because my dad was one of those men; one of those men who could not see past his own narrative, even with his own seed.
Four years after my dad’s death, I still experience deep, random waves of grief. One thing they don’t tell you about burying someone is that the actual death event happens once, but the mix of regrets, emotions, longings and clear memories never fully disappear — memories that can only be tolerated.
The word “disowned” felt too extreme for something like bisexuality. Perhaps because I’m too far down my road of acceptance or because bi people as a demographic have visibility issues about who we are and who we aren’t, in general.
I want to believe that my brother’s words about my dad were “absolutely” not true but, at the same time, I want to believe that he is “absolutely” right. If the words were not true, then it was me who had made a false assessment about who could be trusted and who I could trust. If the words were true, then perhaps I had protected myself through childhood.
What does it mean if the stakes of my bisexuality were so high (or at least putting a label on it was so high) that I had to wait for my dad to die to express myself?
Do I have an obligation to other black and brown bi youth who may be feeling trapped in rigid, conformist homes right now?
My dad was a world traveler, a big thinker, and someone I thought I believed would have studied how identity is formed as a Master’s degree holder. But often, my dad chose his religion over his family. And same-sex attractions, people with “alternative lifestyles,” were denounced and mocked in my home, often under the guise of Christianity and the bible.
While growing up, I recall actively considering sharing my bisexuality. I wanted to do it for myself. I remember trying to identify who in my family or friend groups I could trust. Every aspect of my upbringing was religious, which may have contributed to this pervasive, reinforced fear whenever same-sex issues were discussed.
I had even written a two-to-three-page letter to my dad and mom explaining how I had come to realize and express that I was bisexual, but I could never muster the balls to send it to them. To this day, my mind has recorded nearly every microaggression or passive-aggressive comment made about same-sex social and legal issues which made not sharing with others super reasonable.
Financial repercussions and the withdrawal of financial support were things I imagined may happen if I shared my truth. I was never fully confident I would not put myself at risk of homelessness. I want to be clear, my parents are very nice people — they are not evil. And when my brother uttered the word, “disowned” it triggered “what if” beliefs that I once had solely because disownment would not be a reach.
When I consider myself as a teenager who was trying to survive in a bigoted home, I feel disappointed. At 17, I was pretty smart, caring, and did my best to respect others.
When I consider my parents as people capable of disownment, I’m terrified. I believed my dad to be a likable, wise man, and it’s disturbing to consider his love being conditional. But I know there are thousands, maybe millions of fathers out there who hope and pray for a masculine, straight oriented, and straight-identified son to prevent what they may perceive as embarrassment from their social groups. I imagine some would proudly prefer a straight delinquent over a bisexual scholar. And there lies the issue.
Youth.gov reports,“approximately 20 percent to 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBT. African American and Native American youth are disproportionately represented among LGBT homeless youth.”
Youth.gov also stated that a study showed that the #1 cause of homelessness was family rejection resulting from sexual orientation or gender identity
According to The Trevor Project, “ 66% of bisexual youth reported feeling sad or hopeless for two or more weeks in a row in the past year compared with 27% of their heterosexual peers and 49% of their gay/lesbian peers. Almost half of bisexual youth seriously considered suicide in the past year.”
When I discover statistics like these and learn about other bi youth’s experiences, I think of myself as a survivor, but I also feel a pressing need to speak up for people who may not be able to see past their current situation. It will end — either by an act of nature or by you taking charge of your situation.
Joy and confidence about your sexuality and the expression of your sexuality may seem like an idea that only exists online. Or any idea reserved for celebrities. But it’s reserved for you as well.
If you are a bisexual youth or of any LGBT+ identity who finds themselves in an unsafe home environment, below are some things to consider.
1. You don’t have to make your sexuality known if you are not comfortable.
If you do not feel safe, or you feel that you will put your housing (or life) at risk of violence, you don’t have to confirm or deny your sexuality. I know this fear very well. I also know how it feels when people bully you for being different. Social media and media at large often pressures people to “come out.” Rainbow capitalism is very visible in city centers and can indicate widespread progress and acceptance. But in real life I know you may feel it is difficult to anticipate what your parents will or won’t say.
Owning your truth can be an empowering and affirming experience. Keep in mind that unless you have a community of people and a support system waiting for you, if we consider the stats from Youth.gov, “coming out” for the sake of coming out or because a celebrity told you to do so may not be best for your health or your situation. There is a cost to coming out. Unfortunately, people are biphobic, homophobic, and transphobic and some are unwilling to learn about new things. However, stigma isn’t a barrier to what you can achieve in this world when you are in a safe, affirmative environment.
2. Write affirming letters to yourself (often)
Write a letter to yourself about how you experience attractions. Creative writing is a great healing step to take to get your thoughts and opinions out. It’s important to purge and process your thoughts, so you don’t become negatively obsessed with your sexuality. I have heard from many bisexual people that report dysphoria and feeling anxious about their sexuality, oscillating between thoughts of “Am I really straight?” or “Am I really gay?”
The mental chatter can be isolating and disaffirming when you are the only bi person you know and no-one supports you. Affirm and validate yourself and your experiences the best you can and know that bisexuality and any identity under the LGBT umbrella are normal and represented in world history.
3. Seek safe communities online/find role models that reflect you
Thankfully, in 2021, everything and everyone we need is either a click or an easy Google search away from being in our lives. The Trevor Project is one of the largest organizations that support LGBT youth, with counselors working with all identities. The Trevor Project provides both educational and emotional and mental health support resources. The Trevor Project’s 24/7 crisis intervention and prevention helpline is: 1–866–488–7386
4. Keep your parents/caregivers opinions in perspective
There are several organizations who are doing their best to raise awareness and decrease stigma toward bi people and the LGBT community at large. The work will never end. I would hate to recommend that you wait until your bigoted parents pass away in order to live your truth. So, instead, I will recommend you first take a deep breath and keep your parents’ or caregivers’ opinions in perspective. Do this often.
After my dad died, it took many years for me to realize that he was just a man. Yes, he was my dad, but he was a man first. He had his own life experiences, beliefs, hardships, hopes, dreams, and expectations for how I should fit into his world.
Often we think of our parents as God-like creatures incapable of misunderstanding or causing harm. Even when they do hurt us, they always have the status of our parent. But remember, sometimes things have happened in their lives that we are not aware of, and there are things they will never share with us. Think about your life! There are some things you tell some people and some things you won’t in order to control how they view you.
Sometimes parents form opinions based on things like sexuality from misinformation, but also past or traumatic experiences. I once heard a podcast story of a woman who came out as bi to her sixty-year-old mother. Her mother waited one whole year to then tell the daughter that she was also bi. Sometimes parents (especially older ones) are just not equipped with emotions or language to meet us at the level we need them because of how they were raised or chose to live.
Forgiveness and understanding are the highest perspectives you can have for situations like this. Still, other’s shortcomings should not put your well-being at risk. You do not automatically inherit emotional labor for someone to get-to-know or understand you.
Message to fathers:
Every father acts as a role model to their children, especially their sons. Children with caring fathers who don’t subscribe to ‘hypermasculine’ stereotypes are often raised as boys who grow into emotionally balanced men. Men that women want and men that other men want.
Some get it right, some get it almost right, some get it wrong. Children are the cosmic will of the parent. Because of this, it’s a father’s duty to model the values, traits, and confidence they want to instill in their sons.
As a mid-thirties man, I now see that all the pain and all the hardship — including the worry around my bisexuality — have been put in my path for a reason; for me to share and empower others. It hasn’t been easy, and I still need support and affirmation to know that I’m not alone.
And in 2021, there are a hell of a lot more resources for bi and LGBT youth than there were in the early 2000s!
Previously Published on Medium