How do I make my siblings understand?

Lilly
asks:
I came out as bisexual to my family 7 months ago, and I am so very grateful that my parents are supportive. The thing is, I keep having to explain to my younger siblings that I like both genders and when I date the same gender I won't become gay or straight. Specifically to my 10-year-old sister. I don't know if this is just from lack of exposure to bisexuality, but I really don't like having to explain that if I eventually marry a man I won't become straight. It was a fear that I would be rejected by the LGBTQ+ community before this, it's just making me more worried and sad that I have the chance to be no longer accepted by the queer community when I date someone of the opposite sex. I was wondering if there was a way to explain this so my 10 and 8 year old siblings would understand that I like more than one gender. Thank you, Lilly
Heather Corinna replies:

Hi there, Lilly.  I think I can help you with this.

First, I want to assuage some of your fears. Just because your young siblings are having a hard time understanding this doesn’t mean the whole of the LGBTQ+ community does or will. For sure, biphobia is, unfortunately, still alive and well in plenty of people’s minds, and some people in the commmunity do have a hard time understanding this. I think it’s fair to say that isn’t the case for most, though. By now, most queer and trans folks get it. Those who don't get it or are jerks about it are the exception, not the rule. Of course, most of the LGBTQ+ community is also older than 8 and 10: it’s a lot harder to understand a whole lot of things at those ages.

I see a few options when it comes to approaching your siblings with this.

One big thing to decide first is if you want to involve your parents.  Since they've been supportive, if one or both of them seem to get this, I think talking with your siblings with your parents present might help.  Different people explaining the same thing in their own ways, and a united front from them, could both make this more clear to your sibs, and, most of all, make it easier on you. This is obviously a lot more challenging and trying to do on your own, and if you're the only queer person in your family so far, you're probably the only person who experiences fear and pain when you have to explain this. Asking our allies to actively be our allies is always something we can do.

On the other hand, if you feel like they support you, but don’t really get it, or you just don’t want to involve them, that’s okay, too.

Ultimately, what usually is tough for kids (and some adults!) to understand about orientation — especially if they haven’t grown up with any queer family or community — is that this area of identity isn’t about what someone does, but about what someone feels. They also often have the idea that things in romantic relationships are completely different than they are in friendships or family relationships, even though they really aren’t that different.

In other words, this isn’t really about who you do or don’t date, marry, or make a family with: this isn't about what you do, period.  This is about what you can feel.

When I’ve talked to younger kids about this, I usually explain it in relationship types they can understand. After all, there's a lot they won't understand about romantic or sexual relationships at those ages, because they often haven't experienced those kinds of relationships yet, or, if they have they only have in the ways we do in childhood, which is different from how things often are in our teens and in all the phases of adulthood.  Most of the time, their only understanding of them is what they have seen in their own families and through media, both places that usually don't give very diverse or realistic presentations of relationships, especially the latter. Bisexual or other queer representation also remains incredibly slim and not-great in the media, too, and if there's also been none in the family, you're giving them the first real glimpse of things.

I’ll often put explanations like these in the context of friends or family, since those are kinds of relationships they know. I’m a nonbinary person, so in my worldview there aren’t just men and women, but since it sounds like that’d be pretty advanced for where your sibs are at, maybe we keep it basic to start.

For example, you could say something like, “You know how you can want friends who are girls and friends who are boys?  That’s how I feel about people I might want to go out with or fall in love with.  When someone feels that way — like they could have sexual or romantic feelings for people of any gender, not just one gender — they will often identify as being bisexual, pansexual or queer. Just like you can have a friend who is a girl and only want to be best friends with her, but tstill want or have other friends who are boys; the same is true with me and who I could date. If I fall in love with a girl, that doesn’t change the fact that I’m bisexual, because that doesn’t take away how I can feel about boys.”

I think one of the tricky parts with this is that kids often assume that a) every romantic relationship is exclusive, and b) if someone is in love with someone they can only have feelings for that person.  That’s not surprising, since if you look at every Disney movie ever made and the rest of our culture, that message is omnipresent. So, you might have to do some unpacking with that in order to get them to understand this too, with something like, “When people choose to be together and only with each other, you know that doesn’t mean they stop being attracted to other people, right?  It just means that even though they usually still find other people attractive, they decide to only be with each other.  So, someone who is bisexual and decides to only be with a boy for a while doesn’t stop being bisexual because they’re with a boy. They are just in an exclusive relationship, and usually still have feelings about or for other people; they just choose not to express them.”

One other thing I think is very important to help kids understand is that we respect other people's identities even when we don't understand them. How we know someone is a given identity is because they tell us they are. That's it. Period. End of story.

In other words, if you married a man and still said you were bisexual, then you would still be bisexual because that is how you identify yourself.  A lot of people don't and won't even understand being trans, for example, or being queer.  But we don't need to understand something or someone to accept it or them: understanding and acceptance aren't linked that way.  Rather, it's on us -- all of us -- to always accept that someone is always the expert about themselves, and they are who they tell us they are, even if we don't understand or agree.

That information about acceptance and tolerance will not only benefit you; it'll really benefit them and everyone else they encounter in the world: queer people, disabled people, trans, and otherwise marginalized people -- a host of us where it simply just isn't appropriate or respectful to ask us to prove who we are.

I think it's easiest when it comes to them understanding to make this less about you and more about all bisexual people.  But I do think that when you're talking about that last part, it can be helpful to tell them how it makes you feel if and when they argue with you or otherwise won't accept your identity.  You can just say something like, "By the way, I'm happy to explain some things to you, but it hurts my feelings if you don't also just believe me about who I am. Even if you don't totally understand, can you support me with this by accepting that I know who I am?"

After you say things like this, you can then ask them if they have questions; make clear you're open to them, but you also get to say that some things are private, because some things are.

Obviously, you don't gave to say exactly the things I said: those are just examples for you to try on. If you like them, you can tailor them to what feels right for you, how you talk, and the way you and your siblings relate to each other.

I do think that it would be great if you could show this to your parents and ask them to back you up and have the conversation with you and your siblings.  If they can model being supportive of you and accepting your identity as you talk about this, and if they can echo what you're saying, that'll really help all of this land best.


Lindsey at Queer Kid Stuff also did a great job breaking this one down, if you want some video help.  Another video that might help out is Amaze's video on sexual orientation. Videos like these where others are explaining this -- and not making it about you, personally, which can complicate things -- can be really helpful, and might also expand your conversations in a productive way.


I hope this can at least get you started, and I hope it goes well.  If you want more help with it, or have follow-up questions after you try to have one of these conversations, you can always find me and the rest of our staff over on our message boards.

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