My son is an adolescent, and a thoughtful, honest kid who likes to meet me at the train station when I come home from work so we can talk, just the two of us. Sometimes it’s just a recap of his day or questions about mine, and sometimes it’s to get something off his chest. On one such day, he seemed especially eager to meet me there, and happier still when I asked him to run an errand with me. Clearly something was up.
“You know how all the guys my age are all looking at girls?” he asked me. I nodded.
“Well I DO look at girls … but I also look at boys.” He gave me the side-eye to see my reaction, but I wanted to let him speak more before responding. One of the reasons he talks to us about what’s important to him is because we listen, and I gave him space to keep talking. He told me that he wasn’t sure what it all meant, but he found himself looking more at the boys than at the girls.
It was my turn to talk, and I was careful to give him information without trying to steer him in any particular direction. I started out by saying that first of all, everybody looks at everybody. (Yes, I know, some people insist this is not the case. But MOST people look at everybody, and this wasn’t the time for nitpicking qualifiers.) I said it was normal, especially as his hormones are raging and everybody at school is developing at different rates.
Then I talked to him about the spectrum, which it turns out, he was unfamiliar with. I told him there’s straight, and there’s gay, and then there are all these places in between where people fall. I told him his aunt—my sister—is in love with a woman now and has been interested in guys before. “She’s bisexual,” I explained.
“What’s bisexual?” he asked, interest piqued.
“It’s when you can want to be with a man OR a woman … you like both.”
He chewed on that for a while, a good time for a break as we arrived at the drugstore and I picked up what I needed.
“So here’s the thing,” I said as we headed back. “You don’t have to decide anything right now or draw any lines. If you WANT to, that’s different. But to still be figuring it out is completely normal, and there’s no rush to arrive at some sort of final answer. Not ever. You can figure it out as you go.”
Inside my head I was going through all the possibilities. He could be straight and just not aware that it was normal to evaluate other guys — was he looking at them as romantic partners or sizing them up? He could be gay and not ready to fully explore or accept it. He could be truly bisexual, and since he’d just learned of its existence a few minutes earlier, was still weighing out exactly what it meant.
“Can you tell Daddy?” he asked me.
“Sure. But don’t you want to?”
“Well I do, but I want you to tell him first so it’s not like a surprise or anything.”
So I told my husband, and then later, my son was ready to talk about it again. This time he wanted to hear more from us about what we thought.
We told him that he shouldn’t be in a rush to label himself. We want him to have time to think about what he’s feeling, and not feel pressured to call it something or define himself. Then I wondered if it might be comforting to do so, so I threw that in, too, telling him that if he wanted to be part of an existing group or felt like he knew what his heart was telling him, that that was also great, and equally valid.
It’s his heart I am interested in. None of this is about sex yet; he had a girlfriend very briefly last year and I’m not even sure they held hands. This was about his heart, and who he will one day love. And all I want for him is to have that love, and I don’t care if it’s from a man or a woman, as long as that person is worthy—and that alone is going to be tough, because, like most parents, I think my children are extraordinary.
My son is lucky; he is part of a very open and accepting family. My father is gay and has been with his husband for decades, my sister is bisexual, and even my in-laws are completely chill about the whole thing. The only reasons I can come up with for hoping he’s straight are that it’s easier to have children (usually), and it’s easier to live in our society. Neither of those reasons brings me any sadness about him being gay, if that’s what he is, or bisexual, because he can still find love and have children and enjoy a rich and happy life. (As a mother, of course, I’m not even considering that he won’t want to have children. Ha!)
A few weeks later, he suddenly got very casual about the whole thing. He was texting a friend and paused to tell me, “So one of my friends told me she might be gay, and I told her that I was bisexual, and she’d never heard of it before! She got so excited because that’s what she is and I told her that’s what I am, too.”
He added that his favorite thing I told him was that if he IS bisexual, he’s actually lucky, because he has double the choices for romantic partners than straight or gay people. “That’s the best thing you ever said!” he reported. I love this kid.
Now that some time has passed, he’s getting a little more comfortable. “My friends know my situation,” he told me one day, and I’m not 100 percent sure, but I thought I overheard him telling his little sister. He also described himself as “80 percent homosexual, 20 percent heterosexual” one day, and another day, was asking a girl to the middle school dance. We can’t always keep up with him, and I’m not sure we have to; it’s like he’s bouncing up and down on a trampoline, and we’re his spotters. If he needs us, we’re here, and as long as he sees us there, I think, he’ll feel safe enough to keep jumping.