After shaving my head for the first time at 21, I suddenly, for the first time in my life, had game. That whole summer was a glorious festival of flirting with the brave and visible queer ladies of Ann Arbor, Michigan. We danced like goddesses at Necto nightclub on Pride night, leaving the straight males alone in their college-night shark tank.
That summer I really stood for the first time in my identity, knowing with confidence that I am bisexual (attracted to those of my gender and those who are not my gender). Bisexual, because with the addition of being biracial, I occupy multiple spaces, multiple identities at once. I am not gay, not straight. I am not white and not fully Mexican. I am mestiza, mixed, mixing. The margins are my home and it’s there I plant my roots. I am not pansexual, though I respect those who claim that word, because if I told my smartass Mexican family I’m “pansexual” they would tease me about being a bread-fucker. They’d take the euphemism “butter your biscuit” to a whole new level. They know the word bisexual, they know people who are bisexual. I’m not about to walk into their space and correct the sexual connotations in their culture, even if I myself don’t always fit them.
But throughout that reckless, finger-licking summer, I knew I would have to tell my parents, at long last. I happened to have dated cis-men up to that point, so although I suspected I was bi, I hadn’t spoken up about it for fear of being thought attention-seeking. I had fallen under the misconception so pervasive among young bisexuals, the mistaken belief that who I date defines who I am.
My father at that time was paying for my room & board in college. He’s a white Tennessee Republican, and I was clenched in anticipation of the stories I’d heard of disownment & the dissolution of our relationship. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to finish college. I was worried we’d see each other even less than we already did, a long-distance relationship driven between Tennessee and Michigan.
Finally, though, it happened. We were driving together on one of his visits to Michigan to see my brother and I. My dad point blank asked me, “Laurie...are you gay?” It must have been the buzz cut. My very new girlfriend floated behind my eyes, along with the fear I’d been collecting, planning and not-planning how to tell him about her. “No…” I said slowly, making the split-second decision & entering full panic mode, “I’m...bisexual.”
He took a long, quiet pause. “Okay,” he said, just as slowly as I had, “as long as you’re not robbing banks.”
A hot gang of queer bank robbers paraded through my head in gender non-conforming disguises of leather and denim. They grabbed the cash and left only a pile of elegant sex toys behind, for the education of all the sad, straight, sexually-frustrated bank tellers.
When I prepared to tell my mom, I wasn’t sure what to expect. In addition to being Hispanic, she’s a political wild-card and we’d never discussed sex at all, much less sexual orientation.
In the bright yellow living room of the little house I had since moved out of, I showed her a picture of my cute, blue-eyed new girlfriend. My mom agreed, very cute and very blue-eyed. Ok, good sign.
She hugged me, then said, “Laurie, come with me, there’s something I need to show you.” We walked down the narrow hallway to her room. I felt like I was walking into a trap. What could she possibly need to “show me” in this context?
She rummaged in her deep, cluttered closet for a minute and then turned around, with her show-and-tell behind her back.
“Here,” she said, “you need this now.” She presented it to me across both her palms:
A massive, double-sided, sparkly purple dildo.
She might as well have smacked me in the face with it, I was that stunned.
“Mom...wha...why…” What was I supposed to say to this?!
She proceeded to tell me that not only had she previously used this phallic phenomenon, but used it on a man. She didn’t know the term “pegging,” which I explained to her in my best “don’t yuck someone’s yum” voice, but that’s what she had used this dildo for. She had pegged some dude with it and now she wanted me to use it on my brand new, very first girlfriend.
I thanked her for the sentiment, for the tacit acceptance, but thought, “Not even if you melted it down and made a whole new one.”
My parents, like me, are weird people. I could have read further into their initial reactions and gotten angry, put up barriers of fear between us. But I’ve done that before. I’ve lived in the fury, shredding strangers on the internet over semantics. It’s never gotten me, or the causes that are so vital to my life, anything but stress stomachaches.
My dad’s bank robber comment was a strange response that I could have read into, gotten pissed about, but I thanked him. Having lost his younger sister to a drunk-driver when they were young, he’s not one to take family for granted. He’s known loss, and isn’t willing to destroy our relationship over this. Accepting me, even through his own discomfort, was a big step for him. My mom’s offer of a sex toy did momentarily flatten my new relationship, another example of the straight world’s inability to see queer people and relationships as more than sex.
But accepting their odd, vaguely inappropriate responses got my foot in the door. Now, when they have questions they come to me, shyly at first and now with more comfort and openness, knowing I won’t judge them for being new to these ideas. Of course, I won’t stand for even a whiff of bigotry, but a little clumsiness and a simple lack of knowledge I can certainly forgive. And besides, they make for a great story.
Laurie Stevens is a nerdy INFJ living in Nashville, TN. She's also a member of Showing Up for Racial Justice's steering committee, a queer marching band, the First Unitarian Universalist church of Nashville, and works at the Tennessee Justice Center, a non-profit law firm. She holds a Bachelor's in Literature and a Master's in Women's & Gender Studies, with a concentration in autobiographical graphic novels by marginalized authors. Laurie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.