Not sure what to say? There’s a lot to consider when you’re ready to share your sexual orientation. In this Verywell Family article, Mindpath Health’s Brandi Garza, LPC, offers age-appropriate insight on how to help your child adjust.
Coming out to a child can be a complex conversation, full of all kinds of emotions. For some LGBTQ+ parents, this conversation might happen early. For example, a child might notice that they have two dads while a friend has a mother and a father, leading to a conversation about different families, diversity, and what it means to be queer.
But for bisexual parents, particularly those in relationships that society might perceive as “straight,” coming out to their child might prove to be trickier. In a world that unfairly assumes a “default” of straightness unless stated otherwise, how does a parent come out to their child? What questions will children have? And how can parents speak to them in a way that doesn’t overwhelm them—or the parents themselves?
We turned to some experts to find out ways to talk to children about sexual identity, how to prepare for their questions, and how to keep the conversation going.
What is bisexuality?
The Trevor Project defines bisexuality as, “having the capacity to form attraction and/or relationships to more than one gender.”
Contrary to the binary that seems to be implied in the “bi” part of that word, it’s important to know that the broader umbrella of bisexuality doesn’t exclude any gender identity. Meaning, bisexuality is also inclusive of trans and non-binary people.
What’s more, some folks might view their sexuality as fluid, and could eschew labels altogether. People arrive at a name (or lack thereof) for their sexuality on an individual basis—and the term “bisexual” is sufficiently broad for many.
Common myths and misconceptions about bisexuality
Even with our growing knowledge of the term, there are many common misconceptions about bisexuality that should be cleared up.
One pervasive myth is if someone is in a relationship that “appears” to be straight, they are somehow less queer or not “really” bisexual. Another damaging myth is if a person’s only sexual experience is with one gender or another, then they cannot be bisexual.
Many times, people who identify as bisexual will battle comments such as “it’s just a phase,” or find themselves accused of attention-seeking behavior. These viewpoints can be damaging in building a personal identity, and they are all false.
Folks can experience attraction without having sex, and one’s dating history (or lack thereof) does not define their sexuality. Moreover, any relationship that includes a bisexual partner is, in fact, a queer relationship.
Coming out as bisexual
The pressure of heteronormativity and gender roles are many and challenging.
JoLeann Trine, LCPC at Thriveworks, explains, “Individuals who identify as bisexual can face difficulties with feeling accepted for their sexual expression and can be labeled as ‘experimenting,’ ‘attention seeking,’ or even ‘greedy.’ As a bisexual woman in a heteronormative marriage, my sexuality can be written off. Sharing my sexuality can be scrutinized…because I choose to be in a heteronormative relationship. Additionally, sharing can lead to fetishizing comments on how my sexuality could benefit my spouse.”
Because of these challenges, femme-presenting people who are dating or are otherwise coupled with straight, cisgender men might feel the need to defend their sexuality, and to come out over and over again.
Masc-identifying folks can struggle with defending their bisexuality as well, says Brandi Garza, LPC at Mindpath Health. “From my male clients, I hear more around shame and grief of exploring their bisexual nature, as it has been messaged throughout their life from every angle that the pursuit of a woman is normal and ideal,” Garza adds, noting that our entire western culture has prioritized heteronormative relationships. “It can be difficult to explain to loved ones especially how they can love multiple genders.”
When the baseline assumption is that all straight-appearing relationships fit neatly inside a heteronormative framework, bisexual folks live under a constant pressure. This push to perform sexuality can be damaging and painful, leading to uncomfortable resentments and dysphoria.
When should I come out to my child?
For parents, this push and pull over defending their bisexuality can be compounded with concern about their children. They may ask when it is developmentally appropriate to discuss their sexuality with their child in a conversation where the takeaway is not “my parent is different,” but rather, “my parent is who they are.”
Trine says this conversation can happen at any age. The key is meeting children on a level that is age-appropriate.
“With safety being taken into consideration and all things being equal, I would say that for most children, meeting them at their developmental age emotionally and intellectually is a wonderful guide,” says Garza.
How to have the coming out conversation
Coming out to children when developmentally appropriate can be a joyful event.
“Sexuality is a sensitive subject, and the timing and setting of talking to a child takes some thought. Avoid expecting to lecture and leave. Leave space for conversation and questions,” Trine suggests. “When considering what language to use when coming out to children, simple, honest words they can relate to is great.”
Garza agrees, adding, “It begins by answering the questions they ask…with a simple, clinical, age-appropriate answer, and waiting to see if they’re satisfied.”
As children get older, the language parents use will likely have to evolve to suit the circumstances, but remember: just because a parent is talking about their sexual orientation doesn’t mean they have to talk about sex, as queerness is so much more than that.
Using age-appropriate terms to discuss love, care, or attraction is a great way to explain that some people feel these things for a certain gender, while others might feel them for many. Parents might also talk about community, the importance of being true to oneself, and wanting to share their authentic self with their child.
Books can also be an amazing tool, and there are plenty of LGBTQ+ inclusive children’s titles available to spark conversation.
How to answer your children’s common questions
Let’s face it: kids are full of questions.
“Children may ask about roles or what will change,” Trine points out. “They may ask how you came to find out or even go as far as to ask you personal questions. The important piece is to remember to normalize and welcome questions and answer honestly. Do not be afraid to pause to think or even say, ‘I am not sure how to answer that right now.'”
Trine also notes that it’s okay to tell children, “That is personal,” or “That is something we can talk about another time.”
It’s also worth keeping in mind that the conversation will likely be ongoing, and will evolve as your child grows.
In the event that your child has questions about their own sexuality, a great resource to start with is The Trevor Project. But Garza adds, “I would say you as a parent are the greatest resource to your child as they are learning to express themselves and explore their likes and dislikes. While it can be difficult at times, continuing the conversation with your children is of utmost importance.”
Read the full Verywell Family article with sources.
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