How to help guide my family and daughter through her orientation (when she isn't quite ready to tell them)?
October 14, 2010 4:20 PM   Subscribe

My 13 YO daughter feels deep down to her toes that she is bi-sexual (perhaps bi-curious is more apt). While she's been "out" to both of her parents (and siblings) for a few years now, no one outside of our household knows this. Her Dad and I fully support her and she knows this. (Not elaborating, just trust me.) My dilemma is with the extended family.

While Daughter X is quite attractive, my mother and step-father are asking her about boys, who does she like, has she been "dating" anyone, "some boy sure is going to be lucky," etc. (It so happens she goes to an all girls school so she's able to safely defer answering.) My father's family is all LDS and I'm rather certain that once they discover her orientation will probably schedule an intervention to save her from herself for all eternity. For all intents and purposes, my mother and step-father are the folks she considers her "grandparents."

It's not her intent to come out to anyone in the family (outside of our house) just yet. It's her timetable and her life. I know for a fact that my mother and step-father will welcome her with open arms regardless of her orientation. However, I'm not a 13 YO girl struggling with being 13 and bi-sexual. Daughter X may read into the boy comments as an indicator that the grandparents will only accept her if she's straight. (1) Should I give them a heads up that they should not tease her about boys? (2) If I do that, they will certainly ask why. Do I tell them?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (38 answers total)
Jesus, I can't imagine any 13 year old, of any orientation, who would want their grandparents involved in their romantic affairs. Maybe this is a better time to work on helping your daughter develop the boundaries that will keep her emotional life safe and healthy no matter what course her life takes.
posted by felix betachat at 4:24 PM on October 14, 2010 [29 favorites]

I think you can probably say something like "teasing her about boys makes her really uncomfortable, and not just joke-uncomfortable, please stop." There's no reason/need to elaborate beyond that, and it's perfectly true, and I think you should leave the telling up to her (or at least on her schedule)
posted by brainmouse at 4:26 PM on October 14, 2010 [33 favorites]

"I know for sure your grandma and grandpap would accept you/welcome you and anyone you choose to date someday. I'm sure they don't mean anything by their single gender queries. What do you think? Should I give them a heads up to not tease you about boys? If I do that, they'll probably ask why. Would you like me to tell them?"
posted by RedEmma at 4:26 PM on October 14, 2010 [24 favorites]

I don't think it's your place to say anything to the grandparents, but if you're concerned about your daughter's feelings, why don't you talk to her about how she feels and reassure her (if necessary) that despite their (completely typical grandparent) comments, you are certain that they will love and supprt her no matter what her orientation.
posted by amro at 4:27 PM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

(I like RedEmma's answer better than mine... though I would suggest you give her the option of "I can just tell them it just makes you uncomfortable without elaboration, or I can tell them ____")
posted by brainmouse at 4:28 PM on October 14, 2010

Your daughter is self-aware enough to acknowledge her sexuality, so why don't you ask her what you're asking here? She probably would appreciate having this conversation with you - someone she trusts enough to be open and truthful with - than her grandparents, behind her back. (Not saying you had anything sneaky planned, but at 13 is an age of easy mortification).

So - "Daughter X, does it bother or offend you when grandma and grandpa make comments to you about boys? Do you want me to tell them to ease off?" Take your cues from her instead of trying to riddle it out yourself.
posted by contessa at 4:29 PM on October 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

No, don't give her grandparents a heads-up. That information is not yours to share. Give your daughter a heads-up that her grandparents are unlikely to be supportive of her sexuality.Then help her brainstorm non-committal or humorous responses to their teasing. "Sorry Gran, I've just been studying so hard I have no time to think about boys..." "Honestly Gran, do you want to marry me off already?" "Stop teasing me Gran, it's embarrassing!"

This process of sizing people up, guessing at their attitudes and deciding whether coming out to them is worth the potential hassle...unless the world changes a great deal, she's going to be doing it for the rest of her life. Particularly as a bisexual, even if she grows up to be very much out and proud, many people will initially assume she's attracted solely to the gender of the partner she's with at the time. She will be forever coming out, and occasionally, for reasons of safety or convenience, choosing not to.

So, remind your daughter that she will always have your full support, warn her that grandparents are more conservative, and teach her the ancient art of telling nosy people to mind their own damn business.
posted by embrangled at 4:35 PM on October 14, 2010 [20 favorites]

I agree with the first 2 comments. For the purposes of this specific little thing you need to accomplish, simply leave gender or sexual orientation out of the conversation. There's no need to raise it. You can decide that your goal is nothing more or less than this: to communicate to them that you think it's best not to tease or question Daughter X about romance or dating, at all. Everyone knows about how awkward and sensitive that age can be. If Daughter X wants to bring up a specific romantic interest, that's her call, but she isn't likely to react well if adults spring it on her. They should understand. I don't see why the words "girl" or "boy" or "straight" or "bisexual" or "bicurious" or anything else having to do with gender or sexual orientation would need to figure into the explanation at all.
posted by John Cohen at 4:35 PM on October 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

Sorry, looks like I mis-read -- I'm glad the grandparents are likely to be supportive. You should make sure your daughter is aware of that. Be honest, though, and tell her that many people still consider straight to be the 'default' sexuality -- so even though they'd be supportive of her if they knew, they won't necessarily use the sort of inclusive language that would make that clear.

The rest of my advice remains the same, though. Being bi, practically no-one guesses your sexuality correctly first time; if she decides to come out completely, she'll forever be correcting people's wrong assumptions. So, she'll need to learn to deflect nosy questions; and later, to gently set people straight (hah!) when they wrongly assume she's either straight or gay.
posted by embrangled at 4:49 PM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

It sounds like your mother and step-father are looking for ways they can engage with your daughter, and they picked a well-intentioned-but-misdirected route they feel opens up avenues for conversation. Maybe that dynamic isn't what's going on. But if it is, and they're just trying to know / understand / love her more, you might suggest some alternate topics, both to your daughter, and to them, that can serve as good conversation starters. An extracurricular she's into is always a good one: "Your mother tells us you've gotten really into playing guitar. That sounds great. Are you playing with friends? ..."

I also like contessa's point, about having an open conversation with your daughter about how she'd like to handle it.
posted by Alt F4 at 4:50 PM on October 14, 2010

I'm straight, and if my grandparents had teased me about boys when I was 13 I would have been enormously squicked out and uncomfortable. If you sense that she has the same reaction, I think you can intervene on her behalf on the grounds that she is 13 and easily mortified and leave all the orientation issues out of it.

There is no need to go into any further detail than that she is 13. *Everyone* is awkward and uncomfortable at that age.

Helping your daughter navigate when/how/whether to come out when she is ready, on her own terms, and understand some of the reactions she may encounter, is also a good thing, but that doesn't seem to be what the OP is asking here.
posted by ambrosia at 4:52 PM on October 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

1) Should I give them a heads up that they should not tease her about boys?

That depends. Is the daughter bothered by the comments? How does she feel about their questions? You really need to talk to her to see how she feels about it.

(2) If I do that, they will certainly ask why. Do I tell them?

Yes, the cool parents a heads up, especially if you feel it won't change their feelings about her. Having a support system that's aware of what she's going through and who she is could be very important in the short and long term.

As to the LDS people, you should have a talk with Daughter X about their beliefs and how they'd react to her, emphasizing, of course, that they are wrong and should not be taken seriously on this matter.
posted by nomadicink at 5:00 PM on October 14, 2010

Oops, "Yes, the cool parents a heads up," should be "Yes, give the cool grandparents a heads up,"
posted by nomadicink at 5:03 PM on October 14, 2010

contessa: "Your daughter is self-aware enough to acknowledge her sexuality, so why don't you ask her what you're asking here?"

THIS. I was in your daughter's shoes a decade ago, and I would have been SO grateful if my parents had offered to be my allies against naive/homophobic LDS relatives. If you handle this situation well and take your child's concerns seriously, it may well be something she'll look back on and appreciate for the rest of her life.
posted by arianell at 5:05 PM on October 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

Don't teenagers usually just roll their eyes at grownups whenever this sort of topic comes up?
posted by Deathalicious at 5:08 PM on October 14, 2010

Try to reposition this as a learning opportunity.

When she gets older and moves out, she's going to enter a entire world where she is a minority, so to speak. This is only the START of this kind of messaging she's going to receive, in one form or another, no matter where she goes -- everywhere from LDS communities to wherever lesbian heaven is these days.

Don't frame this as a "let's figure out how to get through it this one time." Instead, approach it as, "let's start working on coping skills in general."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:28 PM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

"Yes, give the cool grandparents a heads up...."

No, please don't. Doing so would be a monumental breach of your daughter's trust. It doesn't matter whether you believe the grandparents would be supportive, mortified or over the moon...your daughter should be the only one deciding when to come out more widely and to whom. Do not out people to others without their permission, period.
posted by embrangled at 5:41 PM on October 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

talk to you daughter about it. let her know that you think heterosexism sucks and is not ok in your books. i basically was your daughter, and it would have meant the world to me if someone had been like, "yep, heterosexism hurts just as much as homophobia sometimes."

let her know you understand how shitty it is to hear that kind of crap, and that if she ever wants to tell grandparents to stick it, you got her back. do not tell grandparents yourself.
posted by crawfo at 5:44 PM on October 14, 2010

She's 13. Whether she's straight, gay or bi, I think it is totally appropriate to ask people to knock it off about asking about "boys". A perfect answer would be "I'm way too young to be worrying about that." (Yes, I know that most 13 year olds DO think about that stuff, but come on, we adults can leave them alone about it, can't we?)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:47 PM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'd just like to second the idea that you give her the wisdom she needs to handle her grandparents herself, along the lines of what embrangled said. Heck, I'm 30 with no intention of marrying, ever, and my mom *still* teases me about boys.
posted by IndigoRain at 5:48 PM on October 14, 2010

I personally think that this kind of teasing is inappropriate. I remember being that age and feeling horribly uncomfortable about it. I would have loved it if my mom stepped up and said something like "TooFewShoes will like who she likes, it's not really something appropriate to talk about in mixed company. It's not like I'm ready to be a grandma."

I was way too shy at 13 to stand up for myself, it would have been a great relief if one of my parents had done it for me.
posted by TooFewShoes at 5:55 PM on October 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm almost thirty, not in any way "closeted", and many of my extended family members still don't know I'm bisexual.

This might be because I'm from the Bible Belt and have quite a few socially conservative family members. But I generally feel that it's a need-to-know thing. Among most people, if it comes up, it comes up. Otherwise, I'm pretty much waiting to be in a relationship with a woman that gets serious enough that it comes time to introduce said woman to my extended family (most of whom live spread out across the country, so we could be talking about, like, my wedding).

Maybe you are from a very tight-knit liberal family which can tolerate a lot of complicated information about the sexual orientation of a preteen. In which case, obviously YMMV. But, yeah - I really don't think they need to know at this point, and if your daughter wants them to know she can tell them herself in her own way.
posted by Sara C. at 6:21 PM on October 14, 2010

my mother and step-father are asking her about boys, who does she like, has she been "dating" anyone, "some boy sure is going to be lucky," etc.

While I guess this is somewhat problematic in terms of garden-variety teasing issues, or in terms of the ideas about gender it might saddle her with, please remember that your daughter is bisexual, and not a lesbian. She may very well have crushes on boys, or have boys in her life who are attracted to her, date boys, etc. at some point in the near future.

To censor everyone in her life from any mention of the idea that she may participate in heterosexual dating is a bit much. Your daughter is going to have to develop an awareness that people are going to make boneheaded comments about dating and heteronormativity in her presence. It's certainly not going to stop with her grandparents.
posted by Sara C. at 6:26 PM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I know you want to ease things for her in an attempt to minimize some of the angst, but it's entirely up to your daughter to speak up when she wants to if it ever comes to that.

At 13 I would have been mortified if anyone in my family discussed something so personal and, I would view it as a breach of trust too. I have jay dubs in my family and, am bi so know it can be really difficult, but I don't think its your place to tell anyone however well intentioned.

And, I agree with contessa, you should be asking/talking to her, not us.
posted by squeak at 6:33 PM on October 14, 2010

Years ago I was furious when my cousin told his parents that I was bisexual. Especially given I've since reconsidered my sexuality and now think of myself as straight. I still have to endure "knowing" comments in my direction and I don't feel comfortable acknowledging them OR refuting them.

Tell your daughter than your parents will be supportive of her and love her no matter what, and that their teasing doesn't mean anything. Offering to act as an intermediary is cool, but her disclosure is HER choice. You cannot breach that trust.
posted by elsietheeel at 6:56 PM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

A heads up to extended family? For the love of god, Nooooo!

Let her decide when.
posted by ovvl at 7:00 PM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Nope. That would be her call. But you are wonderful for thinking of her and her mental health. Everyone needs parents like you.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:05 PM on October 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

From when I was about 14 through high school and college, my step-grandma always used to say something like, "Just wait a couple years: some nice Christian young man is going to be so lucky to find you!"--every single conversation. To some extent, I think she was trying to encourage me, but it was also at least partly about reinforcing her own ideas of what I should be. I was a pretty awkward teen, not very feminine, and never had a boyfriend. I didn't love being awkward and single, but I hated her teasing/encouragement.

(My other, equally religious grandma always managed to say something like, "I'm so impressed with how hard you study and how well you do in school!"--every single conversation. It was fantastic.)

Personally, I think it would have been great if my parents had asked my step-grandma to knock it off with the boyfriend comments. When I was 14, I didn't know how to politely express that an older relative's conversation was making me uncomfortable. Maybe your daughter is different, but I do think she's probably young enough that it would be appropriate for you to take the grandparents aside and say, "Can you cool it with the boyfriend comments? She's only 13! Wait for her to say she even wants to start dating." No need to out her--indeed, that would be inappropriate--but a private word about age-appropriate teasing could be worthwhile. That, and maybe give them something else to talk about, like a new hobby or interest your daughter is developing.
posted by Meg_Murry at 8:22 PM on October 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

When I identified as a bisexual 13 year old, my mom told my grandma. I was both irritated and relieved that she did it for me. On one level, I think she should have allowed me to decide. On the other, my mom needed people to talk to about her feelings, and it's only fair that she should have been able to talk to her own mom.

My instinct here is for you to to ask your daughter if she wants you to intervene and if she's comfortable with you telling the grandparents. Or, if you feel it will be helpful to you to talk to your parents, then I at least think you should tell your daughter honestly and directly that you are going to tell them.

I want to gently suggest that you can't know "for a fact" how your parents will react, and homophobia has very deep roots that come out at surprising times. So if your daughter does want you to share this news, you might be doing her favor by absorbing any initial, un-thought-out reaction from your parents. My experience is that there is a common negative reaction that comes from those who mean to be supportive that involves some version of "I'm just worried about how hard things will be for you" that you also have the opportunity to respond to first - by saying how happy you are for your daughter no matter who she ends up dating, and how confident you are that she will find happiness with whomever she falls in love with.

Separately, it is up to you as parents to help protect your daughter from any homophobic "intervention" on the part of her father's family.

As a formerly queer kid who is now a queer grownup, I want to thank you for the thought, caution and love you are putting into this issue. Having supportive parents makes the biggest difference for all kids, and especially kids who are likely to encounter unfair attitudes in the world.

Good luck.
posted by serazin at 8:39 PM on October 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'd agree that there's no need to - nor would it be supportive to - out your daughter to your parents.

With that said, it is appropriate to be a parent. In this case it means support your daughter and tell your own parents that their behavior is inappropriate, that teenage years are tough enough with modern social pressures to not need home life to be any more social-centric. Then quickly thank you for raising you the way you grew up so that you had the strength to say that to them and ask them if they'd like a cup of coffee.
posted by Nanukthedog at 9:18 PM on October 14, 2010

I'm straight and I hated this kind of teasing too - because it was my business, and being a kid is awkward, and teasing awkward kids about boys reminds them that nobody is interested (in their head). Add heteronormativity into the mix and it's no surprise she feels uncomfortable.

Ask your mother to knock off the teasing for a bit (adults forget how cringey it is) and let her decide what to do. It's great that you're so supportive of her - the best thing is to support her in whatever she decides.
posted by mippy at 3:36 AM on October 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

You must have done something very right to have a 13-year old who feels comfortable enough to talk to you about her sexuality. In that kind of supportive environment, I don't see how a bit of boy-teasing by the grandparents will have any effect, but you'll only know by asking. I'm guessing it probably makes you more uncomfortable than her, in which case there are plenty of ways to ask your parents to bite back the comments without saying too much. She is, after all, 13, when any matters of love are intensely felt and mortally embarrassing. And anyway, if she's certain she's bisexual, and starts dating a boy first, it's only going to confuse people. Best leave it to her to deal with in her own time and her own way.
posted by londonmark at 4:55 AM on October 15, 2010

"My father's family is all LDS and I'm rather certain that once they discover her orientation will probably schedule an intervention to save her from herself for all eternity."

That sounds like kidnapping, kind of a little worse than teasing. It sure would be a better 21st century USA if people didn't kidnap children and send them to isolated, unsupervised schools to church the homo out of them. I'd be happier saying gosh, askmifi, you're right, families are never torn apart by religion, I over reacted again. Instead, I say be ready to call the police and FBI on your father if he does what you say he might.
posted by eccnineten at 5:52 AM on October 15, 2010

I'm straight, and being teased about boys by adults from roughly ages 10 to 14 made me want to fall off the earth. It was only later that I basically forced everyone to butt the hell out and leave me alone. I know the people who teased didn't have malicious intentions, but it was still awful.

I agree with PPs, this is less about orientation and more about boundaries.
posted by Leta at 8:03 AM on October 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

One thing that hasn't been talked about here: Coming out isn't just about clarifying that you might want girls to date you (instead of or as well as boys). For many of us, it's also about defining your larger identity as a person. If your daughter does want to be out to her grandparents, it may have to do with something different than the very limited discussion we're having here. (This is another reason to ask your daughter what she wants to do.)

Assuming your daughter does think some kind of discussion is helpful, this added dimension of coming out is why I can't totally agree with commenters who say dating is simply a private matter not to bring up with gram and gramps. And it's why I think this situation is different from the also irritating or potentially shaming situation that straight girls face when some well-meaning older adult asks about boyfriends.
posted by serazin at 8:44 AM on October 15, 2010

Haven't read the comments in the thread. I'm sure there's lots of good advice here. Just wanted to share some anecdata.

I came out to my immediate family when I was 19. Didn't come out to the extended family. There wasn't really much point -- they all lived in a different state, and we only saw them once a year. Plus, this was the early 90s. Things have changed a LOT since then. There WOULD have been judgment. I saw no reason to put myself through that. My immediate family didn't either because, while they accepted me, they didn't really want to be having the "what's it like to have a gay daugher/sibling" conversation at every meal.

The comments/questions about boys is something your daughter is going to have to put up with pretty much for the rest of her life, or at least until she reaches the age when people don't want to ask her if she has a boyfriend (or, in other words, why she isn't married) because they don't want to embarrass her about being an unmarried woman of a certain age.

Don't tell anyone anything without your daughter's explicit consent. But do see if you can find a way to explain to her that throughout her life, people will ask her if she has a boyfriend or if there are any boys she's interested in far more often than they'll ask her if she has a girlfriend or if there are any girls she's interested in. That doesn't mean she should be with a boy instead of a girl. It just demonstrates that people's brains work in simple ways. They follow the path of least resistance. They play the odds. And the odds are that a 13- or 15- or 25- year old female is straight, and is interested in boys. So that's how they frame their question.

Teach her early not to be offended by it, or caught off-guard by it, or to take it personally. Teach her that it's not a judgment call, and that she can respond in any way she feels comfortable. Teach her that even though people are generally much more accepting of GLBT folks now, that acceptance is still being broken in like a pair of new blue jeans. By being strong, confident about who she is, and confident in her family's support of her, she'll be able to weather those questions with grace and comfort.
posted by mudpuppie at 11:57 AM on October 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

"Daughter X, does it bother or offend you when grandma and grandpa make comments to you about boys? Do you want me to tell them to ease off?" Take your cues from her instead of trying to riddle it out yourself.

This is what I was going to say. She very well may roll her eyes and add "or girls" in her head every time relatives say this stuff. It's certainly on the list of heteronormative assumptions, but might not be something she wants to pick as a battle to fight.

The more irritating thing to me is how persistent adults are about framing kids' relationships as pseudo-romantic for their amusement. If you're very young, it's all "oooh, X has herself/himself a little boyfriend/girlfriend!" During pre-teen years, the relatives ask if you like boys/girls yet. As soon as you hit the teen years, casual conversation starts with "are you dating."

I used to roll my eyes anew at my older relatives who, after all of this, also wanted to pontificate on the dangers of letting me wear lipstick or heels because we wouldn't want to encourage me to look sexy. Gee, grandma, I dunno, where DO these girls get the idea that they should be lobbying for a boyfriend?
posted by desuetude at 9:20 AM on October 16, 2010

It looks like no one has said this yet, so I'm going to: you are such excellent parents for being supportive. She's going to appreciate this so, so, so much when she's older. Most queer teens aren't this lucky. You are an absolute treasure.

That said, she's 13. I would have been embarrassed talking to my grandparents about socks at 13. There's nothing wrong with telling your parents, "Look, she gets embarrassed when anyone talks about boys. We want to let her think about that when she's ready."
posted by honeydew at 1:00 PM on October 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

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