When I was 14 I told my mom that I was bisexual. To be fair, this was a bad weekend for her. She was away for the weekend helping my aunt pack up their parents’ house. Their mother’s, my granny’s, Alzheimer’s had progressed to such a state that my granddad who was 11-years her senior, needed help caring for her, so they were all moving them to be closer to my aunt. However, I was 14, and I had only known my grandmother as a woman who was often partially unaware of what was going on. I was also selfish, as people who are still gathering experience are often selfish. Being selfish, I explicitly picked this weekend because my mom would be out of town.
I told my dad first. He and I had a difficult relationship, and as he was an avid consumer of Rush Limbaugh, I had assumed any pushback I would receive would be from him. We sat down in the family room, he in his chair, and me adjacent to him on the couch. I told him I thought I was bisexual. My only clear memory is of his immediate response, which was a pause followed by the word, “Okay.” He followed up by telling me that I was still young, but probably old enough to know myself, and then gave me a vague warning about perhaps being more aware of my surroundings and safety if I were to be out and about with a future girlfriend. The entirety of the conversation probably took less than 10 minutes and ended when he asked me if there was anything else and I said, “Not at this time.”
Buffered by the relative ease of this interaction and believing I had cleared the highest hurdle, I called my mom. When I declared that I was bisexual, she immediately began crying. “Please don’t do this to me right now,” is my recollection of her words. I don’t know what I said in response, or if I said anything. I do know that I locked part of myself away in the following 15 minutes, and that now that this interaction had played out it would become the first in a pattern that established itself as logically and quickly as the spiny brambles that encased Sleeping Beauty’s castle.
I never brought my non-norm-conforming sexuality up to any member of my family again. I stopped bringing up a lot of things that happened. For an unfortunate while in college I made jokes to my mom about how much I loved men, which made me feel like a liar—not because I really don’t, but because by doing that I was admitting to myself that who I am was someone to be ashamed of. Combined with a pre-C history of slight sexual abuse that seems so common as to be unremarkable, this denial of who I experienced myself to be so that I might gain her favor so fucked with my head that I effectively became asexual. Better to have no desire than one that hurts someone I love.
I don’t know why my mom seems to have such a hard time grasping the concepts of inequality that play out so cleanly in my own life. In dark times I attribute it to my acquiescence—that internalized gag reflex of victim-blaming. I often wonder if everyone has such a hard time believing that they’re real. I spent my undergrad career trying to answer the questions of the bifurcation of my experience and my indoctrination. I have a lot of theory that explains it: white privilege, white guilt, objectivity of the feminine, criminialization/medicalization of the other, and on and on and on. But all of it feels flat when I consider that we are two humans who cannot overcome the legacy of historic de-humanization based on race and gender lines and complicated by a hierarchical, familial relationship.