6 Ways My Queer Identity Has Positively Shaped My Parenting 

by Reaca Pearl

I've known about my bisexuality since I was 13 years old and I begrudgingly admitted I could also have sexual feelings for men. As a society, I believe we have grown in our understanding of inclusive language since then, and the more accurate description of my sexual identity is pan/demisexual — meaning I can be romantically attracted to any human of any gender identity if and when I have a deep, soulful connection to that person — more accurately describes who I am. While there's to it than my sexuality, my queer identity has positively shaped my parenting in a number of ways I will be forever grateful for.

I was shocked to find out, having been born in late 1980, that I am "technically" an elder millenial. It does make sense, though, because I never really fit in with Generation X. After all, the younger millenials seem to have accepted the fluidity throughout sexual orientation and gender. This is one of the many reasons the constant patronizing criticism of millenials is ridiculously unfounded, in my humble opinion. If acceptance like this had been prevalent in my high school and college days, my life experiences would be categorically different. However, as it was, navigating the world as a bi-identified, female-passing co-ed in those days was a constant fight to be recognized and validated.

I went to high school in an ultra-conservative suburban town. I will never forget the moment when a (presumably) straight girl in my health class offered her solution to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Her suggestion? "Put all the gays on an island and burn it!" This despicable comment was met with guffaws of approval from the rest of the 30 sophomores in the class. I ran from that town as soon as I could, hoping to find a place I could be me without fear. What I found was a college town halfway across the country, where the so-called LGBTQ community at the time was more like an "LG" community. Transgender people were blatantly ostracized and belittled. And Bisexuality? That doesn't even exist. You're just confused, or a "fence-sitting-swing-hitter" unwilling to give up your straight privilege. I actually lost close lesbian friends when I fell in love with my now-partner, because they believed I had "chosen the wrong side."

These experiences, and my unwavering commitment to be true to myself despite lack of understanding or support, undoubtedly shaped me in a positive way. After all, anything that shapes the person, shapes their parenting.

I Am Aware Of Identity Erasures

Bi-erasure is a real thing. For me, it was aggressively painful and isolating. I had no real community because:

  • lesbian and gay people thought I was faking it or in a "phase" of the coming out process as a "real" lesbian;
  • straight men thought my identity existed for their pleasure and I was into threesomes (I'm not);
  • straight women thought it meant I'd perform sex for or on them without them having to take into account my feelings as an actual, emotionally-invested human being.

Forget trying to make people acknowledge and take my identity seriously. Eyes rolled and there were more than a few blow offs of, "You're just too sensitive," and "You'll understand one day when you're finally not scared to come out." Ugh.

No matter the gender of the person I was with romantically, people consistently conflated my partner's gender with my sexual identification. Conversations turned, "She's with a woman," into, "She's finally decided she's a lesbian," and, "She's with a man," became, "She's straight now." All of these myths are supported in our wider culture, too.

The chronic identity threat I experienced on a daily basis is why I vowed to be a parent who always validates my children's identities. Even, and perhaps especially, when I don't understand them. There are many people who don't understand or support my decision to support my transgender child's gender expansiveness. I hear a lot of the same things about my child's gender as I did about my sexuality when I was young, like, "It's just a phase," and, "What if your kid grows out of it?" to, "It will harm your kid in later life for you to let them express their gender identity now," and on and on and on.

My answer is the same for her as it was for me: even if it is a "phase," oppressing someone's present-moment experience of themselves is invalidating and violent. I will never do that to any of my children.

I Never Assume

When your identity is essentially erased by those around you, it's easy to understand how important it is to never assuming anything about somebody else based on how they look, present, or pass. For example, and contrary to popular belief, Freddie Mercury was bisexual, not gay.

My family has passing privilege. That means we can pass for a heteronormative, white, cisgender family. This gives us a vast amount of privilege in our country, but it also helps us teach our kids that, regardless of appearances, you never know someone's experience unless you ask them. Period.

I Believe People When They Tell Me Their Story

It's developmentally appropriate for kids to be egocentric. That can make it hard to help them develop empathy, or to simply understand that other people may see things differently than they do. What having a queer identity, and having so many people telling me I wasn't "queer enough" for so long, taught me was that I can never know what someone's experience is better than they do. So I teach my kids that when someone tells you who they are, believe them. Plain and simple.

I Know Anti-Oppression Work Is All Connected

As a queer person, it makes sense that I would want to be involved in the fight against anti-LGBTQIA oppression. I'll never understand why people don't realize why it's important that I am involved in all anti-oppression work. Or, for that matter, why we all aren't.

The systems of power, privilege, and oppression are all one fight. They are all connected and always have been. I am not blind to the fact that white privilege gives me the supposed option of opting my kids out of anti-racism work. However, to me, that is absolutely not an option. White supremacy and all other systems of oppression negatively effect every single one of us. That is not a belief system, that is the truth. My children are raised to acknowledge their privilege and fight to dismantle the systems that protect it. No one is free when others are oppressed.

I Know I'm Interesting

Sorry not sorry, bug queer folx of all shapes, colors, sizes, and queernesses are my people, ya'll, and we are interesting AF. My kids are lucky to have such a colorful array of loving humans as their community.

After my daughter told us we got her gender, wrong some people suggested that we had "caused" her to be transgender because of "exposing" her to me and being "too open." Was I supposed to lie about myself to assure all my kids would be cisgender and straight? That's bizarre thinking, if you ask me.

Here's the deal, dear reader. It's common practice to teach kids that it's OK to be different, only to turn around and balk at them when they show us their differences. Spoiler alert: I teach my kids people are different and I actually believe it's OK for people to be and own and celebrate those differences. I think, and research agrees, that oppression is damaging to the oppressed and oppressor alike.

I was raised by straight, cisgender parents. This did not "cause" me to be anything (except maybe scared sh*tless to come out.)

People aren't all straight and cisgender. They never have been and never will be. Parenting doesn't cause sexuality or gender identity. What does parenting do? Well, supportive parents of LGBT youth have been found to have kids with less overall health risks, including drastically reduced suicide attempts, compared to youth with unsupportive parents.

I Make Sure My Children Know They Can Tell Me Anything

My child told me we got her gender wrong when she was 5 years old. I know some children wait much longer to tell their parents, for a variety of reasons (many that aren't what one would consider to be "positive"). Did she feel safe because I'm queer? Maybe. Probably. And guess what? I am totally OK with that.

There are a lot of people who say a lot of horrible things about my family because we chose to accept my daughter's own definition of herself. As much as those things hurt, I will never question our decision to do so.

I couldn't tell my mother I was bisexual until I was 16 years old. I knew a helluva long time before that, but was petrified to tell her even though my mother was always supportive. I let my brother tell my Christian father when I was 22 years old. To this day he has never acknowledged my queer identity.

If who I am makes it easier for any of my three children to tell me who they truly are so they can go and live confidently as themselves in the world, then I'd say, as a parent, I'm successful AF.