There are a lot of reasons bi parents choose to come out. For many bi parents, sharing their identity can feel essential to providing their children with an open-minded understanding of the world around them.
“I’ve always wanted to give my son what I didn’t have growing up,” Ellie W., 25, tells SELF. Her own religious upbringing didn’t include open conversations about sex and identity.
Ortiz’s nine-year-old daughter has always been aware that her parents are not straight – being raised in a household with two moms made that evident. But Ortiz’s bisexuality has been a more complicated identity to discuss, one that expands beyond her current relationship and encompasses a broader swath of who she is as a person.
Over the past few years, she’s been experimenting with how to be open and honest with her daughter in an age-appropriate, accessible way that offers comfort and clarity rather than just creating more confusion. Though Ortiz and her family have started the conversation, it remains a work in progress.
As the author of multiple memoirs, psychotherapist Wendy C. Ortiz, M.F.T., is no stranger to personal disclosures. In her books, she’s told readers about her teenage sexual exploits and her struggles as a 20-something Angeleno, and she’s even provided lengthy descriptions of her dreams. But over the past few years, Ortiz has been navigating a different disclosure wholly unlike the ones that have shaped her literary career: coming out as bisexual to her young daughter.
“We’re still trying to find a way to explain it without opening a can of worms that we are not quite prepared for yet,” Ortiz tells SELF.
She’s hardly the only parent to find herself in this situation.
For others, being out about their identity can feel like a way of encouraging honest communication with their children. “I decided relatively early on in my then partner’s pregnancy that I wasn’t going to be secretive about stuff, because I had dealt with a lot of secretive approaches in my own family around all sorts of things. It was bad for me and also bad for the rest of the family,” Jerome C., 44, tells SELF.
And in a political environment that’s increasingly hostile to LGBTQ+ folk, some parents see informing their children about their bisexuality as an important part of preparing their kids for the future. “To be trans and bi is to be pretty visible,” Nola P., 36, tells SELF. “I wanted to make sure that they understood some of the things that might happen, and how it might affect our family directly.”
That sense of community, identity, and visibility is a big part of why some parents might feel driven to open up this discussion with their kids. Being open about your bi identity can help combat bisexual erasure and help kids understand bisexuality not just as an abstract concept but as the identity of someone they’re close to. It can also help create a sense of open dialogue that will serve kids later in life if they wind up identifying as queer.
“Parents might think in the back of their heads, Well, what if my child was bisexual? I would want them to feel like they could come out to me. So I should come out to them and be that role model that they deserve,” Dan Rice, M.Ed., executive director at the sex education organization Answer at Rutgers University, tells SELF.
Indeed, Mike F., 42, was prompted to come out to his teenage daughter after she came out to him first. “I don’t remember the exact conversation, but she made a joke about not being ‘exactly straight,’ and I said, ‘You and me both, baby girl.’ She paused, looked at me, and said, ‘Cool,’” he tells SELF.
Of course, there are a few reasons coming out as bisexual to your kids can be complicated. For one, bi parents who choose to broach this topic with their children run the risk of facing judgment from family members, friends, and community members who consider this disclosure to be TMI. On a popular podcast I listen to, a women’s health expert advised an audience member against coming out to her daughter as bi, saying that it was a discussion best reserved for older kids. The expert’s reasoning? The audience member’s young child wasn’t ready to hear about who her mommy liked to have sex with.
Um. While most of us would agree that frank discussions of adults’ sex lives aren’t an appropriate topic for children, coming out as bisexual to your kids in no way means giving them an extensive overview of everyone you’ve slept with (and how). “Being bi isn’t just about how you have sex and who you have sex with, it’s about how you understand desire and love and connection and community,” Cory Silverberg, an award-winning sex educator and author of Sex Is a Funny Word, tells SELF.
Though some parents might fret about the possibility of burdening their children with too much information at too young an age, Rice doesn’t think parents need to worry about having this conversation too soon. “It’s never too early,” he says. “What we’re explaining to children is love, and who we love and have a special love for. Children understand love.”
Then there’s the fact that starting the conversation can feel complicated and intimidating. A simple way in might be a casual disclosure during a discussion about different styles of relationships, something like, “Some people fall in love with people of a different gender, some people fall in love with people of their own gender, and some people, like me, can fall in love with people of any gender.”
It’s also key to keep in mind that your kid might not react with enthusiasm or even interest. “This could be a conversation that the parent might hope is longer, but maybe the kid isn’t interested, and it’s something to come back to,” says Ortiz, who in addition to navigating this on her own also works with many queer patients as a psychotherapist. Ortiz recommends mainly letting the child lead the discussion: Tie your disclosures to questions they’ve brought up about relationships or love or identity rather than forcing them to listen to a personal monologue that they’re not ready for or couldn’t care less about right now.
In Jerome’s case, he first discussed gender and sexuality with his son when the child was nine. “It was around that time that one of his cousins came out as transgender, so that gave me the opening,” he says. “I tried to make it ‘not a big deal,’ which meant that, in turn, he didn’t seem particularly fazed by anything I was saying or talking about.”
Above all, it’s important to remind your kid that having a bisexual parent doesn’t change things or mean that their life isn’t going to be the same. Even if this information is new to them, it doesn’t change who you are: a parent who loves them very much.
For many, this is bound to be an ongoing discussion, not a single conversation. The conversation you have with your kids about your sexual identity is likely to shift and expand over the years as your children get older and better able to understand more complex topics. Silverberg recommends using pop culture as an entry point to additional conversations. If you’re watching a Disney movie, for instance, you can remind your child that not all princesses marry princes: Some might marry other princesses, some might be happy with either option, and some might decide they’re not interested in marriage at all.
This can be especially useful for younger children. Ellie says her son is too young to understand sexual and romantic attraction, so she describes her own partners as “friends” but encourages him to observe diversity in the world around him. “He seems entirely unbothered by the idea that some children can have two mamas or two dadas or two mamas and one dada,” she says. “He found it quite amusing that there are infinite possibilities of how to make up a family.”
In Ortiz’s own home, the conversations about identity started around the time her daughter turned six. It was something, she tells me, that largely happened organically. When her daughter started talking about kids at school having crushes on each other, Ortiz and her partner gently brought up the idea that people can have crushes on someone the same gender as them as well as on people of different genders. Meanwhile, shows like the cartoon Steven Universe showcase queer relationships in a fun and casual way and have given the family an opportunity to talk about the wide variety of relationships humans might arrange ourselves in.
When Ortiz’s daughter stumbled on photos of Ortiz with an old boyfriend, Ortiz didn’t shy away from being honest about who that person was in her life. “In the last year we’ve approached the subject that I was once married to a man,” Ortiz says. “It’s like, ‘Oh, this is Mommy’s identity,’ versus her other mother who identifies as lesbian.”
As the years have passed, it’s become clear that the many conversations they’ve had about identity and relationships have had an impact on Ortiz’s daughter. When she talks about the future, Ortiz says, her daughter leaves the question of her own orientation open. “She will preface by saying, ‘And I might be with a girl or a boy.’” Thanks to her mothers’ openness about their own identities, she’s able to be confident that whomever her future relationships end up being with, she’ll have the support and love of her family. Which is, of course, what truly matters.