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An Open Letter to a Conservative, Sex-Negative Mother From Her Bisexual, Polyamorous Daughter

·1516 words·8 mins
Bisexuality Polyamory Relationships

Dear Mom,

I know you’re confused by how I live. I’ve come to expect it. It’s understandable to me that you don’t get it. That you don’t get how I live my life.

You say my life is too quiet. That I should have a kid or get a few dogs. That it seems empty, like it’s missing something.

And I suppose that makes sense… since there are large parts of my life that are invisible to you. The fact that I’m bisexual, polyamorous, kinky. Not because I’m hiding any of that from you, exactly. But because you refuse to see it. Because you’ve drawn firm boundaries around being told about any of it.

I’ve come out to you a dozen times (or more!), and each time your face grows tight. You raise your hand, waving it frantically in front of me.

This is your sign for “TOO MUCH INFORMATION, please stop.”

The First Time I Told You I Was Bisexual

You did this the first time I told you I was bisexual.  I remember that day very well.

We were talking about one of my friends from college, what she’d been up to. “You knew she was gay, right?” I said.

You said, “I think so. I barely remember her.”

“You know, Mom,” I continued. “I have A LOT of gay friends.”

“Seems it,” you said.

“I’d say more than half actually, especially if you count the bisexuals.”

You didn’t say anything.

“You know, people who can love either men or women?” (As this was 10 years ago, nonbinary gender wasn’t something I’d personally given much thought to since it wasn’t a well known social concept yet, and I don’t think I could have explained it well to you. You wouldn’t have thought it made sense.)

“I’ve heard of that,” you said.

“I think a lot of people are in the middle,” I said. “A lot of people are bisexual and just get passed off as straight. Because they’re married, and no one asks.” I paused. “Like me, for example.”


“You okay, Mom?” I asked.

“I’m not really surprised,” you said. “I always kind of knew there was something going on with you and _____.” You said the name of the woman I was involved with off and on for six painful years.

I nodded, started trying to explain it a little bit more.

But you cut me off, sighing and waving your hand. “You talk way too much about your friends, religion, and sex. I don’t care about that stuff. Let’s just stick to talking about dieting, food, and your marriage from now on.”

You drew a boundary. And I accepted it, by saying, “Fair enough.”

But I never knew that you’d later pretend we never had that conversation.

The First Time I Told You I Was Polyamorous

The same thing happened when I came out to you as polyamorous.

I remember the first thing you said, “Polyamory? Is that something from the Internet?”

Which made me laugh. And we talked for a while.

I fumbled through parallels to things you were familiar with. That TV show Sister Wives. I remembered that you’d told me how disgusted you were with it, primarily because the wives weren’t allowed to date other people, and it was unfair.

I explained that there was no gender disparity there in polyamory. You liked that.

You ended the conversation by telling me that you were fine with it so long as I wasn’t dating married men. Which was a curious thing to say because I was myself married and actually dating a man married to someone else (a fact I’d just told you and that you seemed to accept just a minute before). And you didn’t say anything at all about women. It was like we’d never had that conversation about my being bisexual.

You changed the subject as soon as you could. And like a TV show whose plot lacks continuity, you would conveniently forget both conversations every time it would become relevant in the future.

It was like I’d never told you I was bisexual or polyamorous. Like you’d never let yourself encode that into your memory.

Or that you felt if you could just pretend it wasn’t reality that it would fade away, like some kind of phase.

It Hurts You That I’m So Independent

Whenever we talk, which is never as much as you would like, you tell me it bothers you that I don’t need you. “What do I have to offer you?” you ask.

You talk about my brothers and sisters, how much they need you. And in what ways. How it makes you feel like you have a purpose. But me, I’m a different case. And it hurts you, you say, that I’m so independent.

“You should be proud that I don’t need you,” I say to you over the phone. “Isn’t that what all parents want, to raise children who can fend for themselves?”

“I just don’t want you to forget about me,” you say.

And it’s all I can do to keep myself from replying, “Well, you seem intent on forgetting half of who I am, so what’s the difference?”

But I don’t say this. Instead, I reply, “I don’t want much. I just want respect. Space. Freedom.”

You groan. “That doesn’t sound like any fun.”

I frown and ask you about the particulars of your baked haddock recipe. Since fresh seafood is one of the things I miss the most about Maine.

This makes you happy. “Can you get good haddock in Ohio?” you ask me.

“No, but you can get tilapia at Costco,” I reply. “It’s not the same, but it’s pretty good, just in a different way.”

We talk for 15 minutes about fish, before you interrupt me midsentence to tell me again that my life seems boring to you, too quiet. That I shouldn’t work so much and should have a kid instead.

You Think Sex Is a Chore

Even if you did decide to finally listen to me, I doubt any of it would make sense to you. Why I’ve done anything I’ve done over the past decade.

You love to be the center of attention; you need it to feel alive. Polyamory would sound like torture to you, sharing time and attention with other people, especially if it meant some of that attention would go to other women, whom you’ve always regarded with suspicion. You view other women as cutthroat competition. Female metamours would be your personal hell. And dating more people separately would fill you with anxiety. Make you bitter.

And the idea of an MFF triad wouldn’t be appealing to you at all, as a straight woman. But then again, neither would MFM. Or even having more male lovers you could see on your own.

You think sex is gross and a chore. Something you do to get what you really want: Financial stability, children who are extensions of you and show everyone what a good person you are (bringing more of that delicious positive attention), the constant presence of a good handyman (my father).

To you, sex is not pleasure, it is duty.

You Think Ambition Comes From Greed, Not a Need to Contribute Something

“You work too much,” you tell me. “You should relax, let other people take care of you.” Because to you, a job is something you do to survive, not because you want to achieve things. If you had your way, you’d lounge eternally surrounded by snacks, fully entertained. It would never occur to you to feel bad about not doing enough for the world.

You think ambition always comes from greed. That driven people are competitive, striving for things they don’t need.

But you don’t understand the basic premise of my life: You can be driven because you’re trying to make up for being born. To give something back to the world instead of simply consuming and damaging everything you touch.

So the way I live my life is entirely incomprehensible to you. And yet you say you want to be part of it.

I’m Not Going to Let You Love Part of Me

When I was a child, you wanted me to be close to you but to do everything differently. To be the kind of person you could love without confusion. And back then, I had no choice. I had to bend as far as I possibly could so I could stay safe and loved. You forced me to tell lies to you and to myself every day so you could maintain the illusion that I was someone you could be completely proud of.

But I’m an adult now, and you don’t get to pick and choose parts of me to love anymore.  You said it yourself: I don’t need you anymore.

The tables have turned. You need me now more than I need you.

And I’m not going to let you love part of me. Take me as I am or leave me. It’s up to you.


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