There has never been a point in my life when I haven’t known I was attracted to women and men. I’ve had romantic experiences with both, and it’s never been a secret from anyone who knows me well — nor has it ever been a big deal. And yet, I’ve never called myself bisexual.
As a writer, I’ve shared extensively about my relationships with men over the years, but I’ve never once written about any of my experiences with women. And while those dalliances are common knowledge among the people I’m closest to, they’re a pretty well-kept secret from everyone else. For reasons that are sometimes hard to explain, even to myself.
My own mom is a lesbian. She came out in the late ’80s/early ’90s, shortly after divorcing my dad. I was only 8 years old at the time, and my mom’s first girlfriend moved in with us without any real explanation of what that meant. It wasn’t long before a neighbor taunted me at the school bus stop, “Your mom’s a dyke, and you’re going to be just like her.”
It took me a few days to gather the courage to bring up this topic of conversation myself, but I did so one night as we were wandering the mall together. “Hey Mom,” I said. “Some of the kids at school are saying you’re a lesbian.”
She seemed to freeze, pausing for a moment before deciding how to respond. “So what if I am?” she finally said coldly. The look on her face told me there was no room for further questions, a point she punctuated by turning on her heel and walking away, leaving me standing there confused and alone in the middle of the food court.
It was a different time, and people had a lot of really cruel things to say to and about my family. That day in the food court was the only time my mother talked to me about her sexuality. It was a topic we simply didn’t discuss from there on, even as one girlfriend moved out and another moved in. She stopped hiding who she was, publicly holding hands with and kissing her significant others, but she never provided me with any understanding or resources for dealing with the level of hate we went on to receive, much of it borne from the religion I’d grown up in.
To this day, I still have a difficult time reconciling my own personal faith with the horrific ways I know religion has been used to condemn the LGBTQ+ community.
I wish I could say that, over time, my mom learned how to better balance parenting with her newfound identity. But in so many ways, it felt like she just discarded one for the other. That conversation in the mall became indicative of the way she mothered. We didn’t have a relationship where I could count on her. One where I could talk to her. Caring for me seemed more like a burden on who she wanted to be than anything. And some of the things that happened in that home, some of the things I was exposed to as my mother looked the other way — it was only as an adult that I fully realized how bad it all really was.
When I was 13 years old, she checked out of my life completely, allowing my dad to take full custody and relinquishing the last of the parenting responsibilities she had been loosely maintaining when it came to me.
Of course, none of it was as simple as all that. There had been a series of meltdowns on my part that culminated in a doctor’s visit where she told our physician, “Depression runs in the family. We just need to get her on the right meds.”
There was no acknowledgment of how the chaos in our home might have contributed to the ways I was struggling, no request for family therapy or an attempt to fix what might be broken. She didn’t seem to recognize any part she may have played in how much I was hurting. For me, that was the moment I cracked completely.
What followed was a fight where I pleaded for her to see me. To hear me. To be the mother who could talk about the hard things and help me understand. And when that didn’t work, when she didn’t seem to care or respond, I called my dad and asked him to pick me up. He did, packing my belongings in garbage bags as my mother stood there serenely, never once putting up a fight.
And that was the part that crushed me: knowing I didn’t even mean enough to her to fight for.
Initially, there were supposed to be visits, but they never happened. Years later, when she expressed interest in seeing me, my dad laid out a set of rules, starting with therapy. No further effort on her part was made.
Today, as an adult and mother myself, I now recognize how much she must have been struggling back then. I can’t imagine how hard it must have been having grown up in a religious home, always hiding this part of herself. But she left me damaged and scarred, and for a long time, I hated her. I’ve always fought against any part of myself that might be anything at all like her.
Including my sexuality. I’ve never been ashamed of my attraction to women. It’s one of those things that’s kind of just always been, and that, for a long time, I assumed was something most people experienced. But when I reached my mid-twenties and started acting on that attraction, I experienced a need to downplay it and to never label it.
“It’s just experimenting,” I would joke with friends. “Nothing more than a little fun.”
But the thing is, no matter how I presented it, I always knew there was more to my attraction than bi-curiosity. There was no curiosity about it. I’ve known what, and who, I’m attracted to for as long as I can remember.
There’s a great deal of privilege in being able to hide this part of myself from the outside world. I’m a huge advocate of LGBTQ+ rights, and I’ve always been extremely vocal about that. This is a community I have forever been willing to fight for, but by failing to identify myself as part of that community, I’ve also excused myself from having to deal with any of the struggles they face.
I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately, particularly in light of a conversation I had with a friend who knows very well that I’ve been with both women and men.
“I’ve just never thought of you as bisexual,” she said.
And I had to admit, I’ve never really thought of myself as bisexual either, but I’ve also never thought of myself as completely straight. Neither of the labels feels right to me exactly — I just know I’ve always been open to the idea of love.
But that’s the thing: Maybe I don’t want to label myself or align myself with the same community I once struggled with feeling like I lost my mother to.
When I became a mother myself, I found this distancing from who I am took an even stronger hold. I adopted my daughter as a single mom, and once I had her in my arms, my entire being orbited around her. I promised to be everything I had ever wanted in a mother, everything I’d needed — which, in many ways, has translated into not dating at all.
But as I raise a little girl in a world that has become so much more accepting than the one I grew up in, I realize I’m not doing her any favors by hiding pieces of who I am. I’m not setting the example I would want her to learn from. I’m not sure what the answer is at this point. The idea of introducing anyone new to our lives, male or female, scares me. Perhaps more so the latter, if I’m being honest, if only because of the judgment and stigma I know still exists.
But I also know I am not my mother, despite some of the similarities we might share. I would never stop talking to my little girl. I would never stop being there for her. Nothing in this world could make me walk away. And I suppose that’s the difference I need to cling to as I work to be more true to myself, even in motherhood. My little girl will never have to question the depth of my love for her, no matter who I may enter a romantic relationship with. I may be my mother’s daughter, but I am not my mother.