She’s 17 and bi–and her parents won’t allow it.

She’s 17 and bi–and her parents won’t allow it. June 24, 2015

Got this in. My response follows it.

Dear John,

My name is [x], I’m 20 and bisexual. I’ve fallen head over heels for this wonderful, beautiful girl who loves me the same way. No one has ever made me feel the way she does. She’s seventeen and has recently discovered herself as bisexual as well, possibly even lesbian. We had a long weekend together, just spending time walking around, kissing, doing general relationship things, and she started to express an interest in coming out to her parents. I supported her in doing it if it was what she wanted and we talked about it all weekend. She decided to come out to her parents the Monday after that weekend. She was tired of hiding who she was from them, and wanted to be honest with them and she did. She came out to them. Which turned out to be a horrible mistake.

Her parents outright rejected her, telling her that she was confused and just in “a phase.” They used words like abomination, and asked her to question where she thought she would be going when she died. They said that any form of homosexuality is unnatural, and refused to listen to how much pain she was in.

In the end they told me I would no longer be allowed to see or communicate with their daughter. She is also no longer allowed to hang out with her non-straight friends.

We both ultimately feel at fault. We’re both miserable and unable to see people we care about very deeply, and don’t know what to do to solve the problem. I understand the age difference is not helping our case and I acknowledged that going into our relationship. I would never do anything to hurt her, and what has happened has made me feel like I became part of something that did hurt her. All I want is for her to be happy and accepted, and I feel helpless to do anything for her in those regards. If you have any advice we would both appreciate it.

So, first off, the age thing. Given, if nothing else, that you sent me your full name, I’m going to assume that you and your girlfriend reside in a state where the age of consent is under eighteen. So … that’s enough about that.

Except not quite. The difference in your ages has ramifications beyond the strictly legal. There’s anywhere from nearly two to four years between you. If it’s the former—if your girlfriend is days from eighteen, while you just turned 20—that’s comfortable enough. But if it’s the latter—if she’s newly 17 and you’re nearly 21—then my advice to you would be to pretty quickly phase yourself out of her life, and let her find her way into the world and her identity in the company of people her own age.

Just be honest with yourself, is all I’m saying. Though it might not seem like much to you, you can bet that it means something to her that you’re older than she is, be it by two years or four. She’s still a teenager; you’re a young adult. You already know that you’re bi; she’s just discovering—and perhaps at your hands, so to speak—that she is. You are the leader in that relationship, which means that it’s incumbent upon you to always take into account not just what excites and makes you feel good, but also what’s best for her.

K? K.

Though clearly not a brilliant idea, don’t feel bad about encouraging your girlfriend to come out to her parents, especially if it’s something she wanted to do anyway. It’s not your fault, or hers, that being honest with her parents went so immediately south. Being honest with one’s parents is supposed to be good. It’s supposed to be healthy. It’s supposed to be the fruit of a tree rooted in trust.

And all rivers are supposed to run clear. And no person is supposed to get murdered because of the the color of their skin.

But, alas, reality, is reality. And given the reality of what’s happened between your friend and her parents, my advice to her would be the same I usually offer young LGBT people in her dismaying situation: start lying like a rug.

When the truth becomes your enemy a lie becomes your friend.

My advice to her—and to you, for that matter—is to tell her parents exactly what they want to hear—or as much of it as they need to hear in order to quit sweating her. She doesn’t have to say, “Hallelujah! You were right, Mom and Dad! It was just a phase!” or anything like that. But she can sincerely acknowledge that sexuality is a complex matter, that as a teenager she’s still relatively new to the whole idea of establishing a sexual identity, that she certainly wouldn’t want to do anything wrong or morally offensive, and so on. Let words of that sort—not self-negating, but reassuring to her parents nonetheless—quell the tumult now happening in her house.

Come the time that she’s living independently of her parents, she can be honest with them. Until that time, if her parents can’t handle the truth there’s no need to give it to them. They’ll only further punish her for it. She doesn’t need that. No one does.

Do, the both of you, also be aware of how amazingly common it is for parents to initially react poorly to their kids coming out to them—and then, and most often in surprisingly short order, for them to come right again. Freak out; calm down; accept; embrace: that’s the typical emotional trajectory of the parent broadsided by the information that their child is LGBT. And as unpleasant as it is, we can understand their initial burst of negativity. So much of what fuels it is simply fear for their child’s well-being. What they really want to know is that their kid is okay. Once they come to see that, in fact, the sky hasn’t fallen, and that their child is perfectly fine being who they are, they get to breathing regularly again. And things normalize.

So give her parents a couple of weeks to adjust to their new reality. They might surprise you. Stranger things have happened.

Love to you both, and lemme know how it goes.


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  • Michael Edwards

    Wise words, John. But I am disappointed that so many parents have very little knowledge or understanding of sexuality, such knee-jerk responses, and such a minimal grasp on the emotional and romantic life of their children.

  • As an young woman who is also bi, I would like to offer some insight from a slightly different perspective: I would suggest clarifying priorities. My parents did not “freak out” when I came out to them, but they were very dismissive. They told me that it is almost expected in this culture to be very curious, and as a teenager I would be “trying on ideas” that I would later reject as I matured.

    In many ways, they were absolutely correct – there are many ideas that I embraced as a teenager that I no longer hold to (the most notable, to me, is I am once again a self-professed Christian). However, my sexuality has been a wonderful journey that I continue to experience with God, and my certainty that I am attracted to men and women has only deepened.

    In that regard, my parents were wrong – and it hurt that they were so dismissive. However, their *priority* was, and always has been, my well being. I am now happily married (to a man, which is relevant to them and irrelevant to me), so they feel justified in continuing to call my sexuality “a teenage phase”. However, they are still very clear on how much they love me.

    I struggle with the fact that there is a topic I cannot be honest with my parents about. They do not know that I am still very openly bi, and they have not known about any of the girlfriends in my life. However, because I am aware of their priority to love me and care for me, I have been able to maintain a meaningful relationship with two individuals who are extremely close to my heart.

    It may be, as John suggested, that the easiest solution for this young 17-yr-old is to lie – for now. I did the same, even though I did not face such an extreme reaction. I would focus, however, on getting the parent-child relationship to a point where you can all honestly express your love for each other. If that is present and genuine, the truth can be discovered together at a later time.

  • Hi. I can’t imagine what that’s like. I can say, as a rule of thumb, that straight, gay, bi, your parents don’t want to know. Not at that age. You’re their little girl and all of it makes them crazy.

    The good news? I did some stuff I was pretty sure my parents didn’t approve of, starting in my teens. When I finally told my (very conservative) dad, decades later, in a long rambling monologue, his sole answer was, “THAT’s what you’ve been worried about? Get a job.”

  • Lee Delaino

    I disagree on the matter of age and wonder if John’s perspective on the experiences of young women is reliable. I don’t think it’s fair to presume the gap in age is dramatically different from almost two years apart to almost 4 years. Many young women at 17 are very mature–I and many of my friends could and did have relationships within these ranges that were as normal as these things get. (We were young so, whatever, but the stupid part wasnt the age difference. )

    Doesn’t sound like either of these women made the best decision–it couldn’t have been a big surprise that the parents held these beliefs. But I just don’t think the age gap here is the big issue.

  • Hmmm. This is a tough one. One of the first things that struck me about that letter was when the seventeen year old recently discovered that she was bi and possibly lesbian. It seems — and this is only an assumption — that the 17 year old may not know what her orientation is at this time. Perhaps she is straight as an arrow, but exploring — trying to find where she is in the grand scheme of things. This is what teenagers do, do they not? No need to upset the parents or turn the world upside down. Everybody is still young and there is plenty of time to figure this one out. I agree. Take things nice and slow.

    There is an old song that goes something like:

    Wise men say
    Only fools rush in
    But I can’t help

    doing something or another.

    Just saying…

  • Strange enough, I know some folks who are in the affirming camp, who totally accept LGBT individuals and yet have a hard time accepting them if they are their own (grand)children. It could be as our brother John here states. These parents are only wanting what is best for their children and those who are already affirming see how a lot of other people regard this issue. Not too friendly. Through my observation, some folks are fond of an idea as long as it doesn’t affect them personally, what I call NIMBY — Not In My Back Yard. Some people are different like that…

  • Brandon Roberts

    nice article c: honestly if she’s newly seventeen i’m not sure 3 years doesn’t seem like that much and usually cops don’t take action in age differences like that so tough one. and unfortunately i think a lot of parents are usually in denial when their kids first come out (sadly) but hopefully they’ll see the error of their ways

  • “What they really want to know is that their kid is okay.”
    That’s all my mum wanted to know when I came out as bisexual: “are you ok?”
    I’m sorry that it’s not like that for everyone who comes out.

  • Matt

    I think the issue is less with the number of years as with the differences in where they are in their lives. Although young adults and teenagers so often get lumped into the category of “kids,” the fact remains that they think about different things. Even the most mature 17-year-old is most likely still in high school, living with their parents, worrying about normal teenage things. A 20-year-old, meanwhile, has much more independence, especially if they are full-time in the workforce like I was at 20. That’s a power differential however you slice it.