by Edna Berry-Berg
Ed. Note: Edna Berry-Berg is a long-time resident of Mt. Airy
Five years ago, I sat across from my daughter at a restaurant in New York when she casually blurted out, “I think that I will date women.” I responded to this naively by saying, “Why would you want to go out with women?” I was surprised by her statement but denied and minimized what she was trying to tell me. I was not ready to hear this. It never occurred to me that my child would date women.
My daughter was the little girl who wore pink dresses and princess crowns around the house growing up. I envisioned Prince Charming, and now this new information was not in keeping with the future as I imagined it.
I always thought of my daughter walking down the aisle right out of a Disney movie. Alex dated boys in high school and college. She never had crushes on girls (that I knew of), and when she discussed dating it was boys. Now I was confronted with a whole new way of looking at my plans.
The conversation did not come up again until about a year later when Alex informed me that she was going to date men and women, stating that she was bisexual. And even though I heard this before, it was now registering as a reality. I think I initially thought it was a stage where she was exploring her sexuality.
My daughter is a journalist and at the time was beginning to open up about her sexuality through her work and on social media. As part of her work experience, Alex discussed her sexual orientation and came out online. I was not comfortable yet with my daughter’s sexuality, and now I felt that the whole world knew.
I would see friends in passing who followed my daughter’s career online, and I never uttered a word to them nor they to me. I was not ready to discuss this openly. A very close friend of mine asked if I knew about Alex. Yes, I knew; my daughter told me before she made announcements to others. (I must say I am so grateful for that).
I was totally unprepared for my emotional reaction. I have always been accepting of others’ sexuality, considering myself not to be homophobic. Still, it felt surprising and upsetting to learn that my daughter was bisexual. No, I never suspected this, nor were there any overt behavioral indications.
But now even more than my hopes of a Disney wedding were being dashed, I was facing the hard reality of my child being exposed to the spectrum of negative attitudes that exist toward LGBTQ individuals. When my daughter came out, same-sex marriage was not an option. Bisexual women faced a litany of mental health challenges. I can’t even talk about the bullying, depression, risk of suicide and substance use and abuse. These hurdles didn’t square with the life I imagined for my child!
My real capability for acceptance would be tested. It was always easy for me to be accepting of LGBTQ people as long as it was someone else’s child.
What would I say (to my neighbors) when asked if Alex had a boy friend? I was faced with having a whole other kind of conversation. I was, and am, aware of the negative attitudes toward the LGBTQ community. There was a range of information that I sought out online, some accurate and some so venomous that I felt outraged.
Leftover attitudes from the past with several organizations blaming parents (the refrigerator mothers of days gone by). Descriptions of a therapy called “conversion therapy” that espouses a kind of treatment that is beyond torturous. Now as the parent of a bisexual child, I felt the judgments of others about the kind of mother I am.
And on a happy note, my husband, Alex’s father, was on board from the get go with Alex’s sexuality. Initially I could hardly talk to my daughter about her sexual identity, and I did not call her for several weeks while trying to sort out my feelings and figure out how to respond.
Obviously, she was hurt by my reaction, and I definitely needed some help navigating this new terrain. I was so worried about what to say that I walled off part of myself. I did not have a day when I did not think about my daughter. It was a very emotional time for both of us, and we had many conversations about this (both candid and painful).
I think back to my birthday celebration in New York (at my daughter’s request) as we were ordering cake and coffee in our favorite Manhattan pastry shop. Each time the waitress approached the table, one or the other of us was crying. I knew that I hurt my child, and I give her so much credit for weathering this emotional time with love and acceptance for me. Looking back, I regret that I was not able to say, “So what?” My child is the same child that she always had been.
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