Dilemmas

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this week's problem

Karen is upset because the son she thought was homosexual has turned out to be bisexual. How will she cope when he brings a girl home one weekend and a boy the next? Why can't he simply settle for women? What can she say to her friends? And now the longing for grandchildren has returned. She wants him to be happy, but how can she cope?

One of the brilliant things about being a mother is how maternal instinct can override old prejudices. I remember the day my son decided to do a project on puppets, a subject I had always condemned as being for pretentious, outdated wimps in boiler suits, with socks and sandals and wispy grey hair. The moment my son expressed an interest, my views changed. Puppets were fascinating. If my son turned out to be a puppeteer, good for him. How lucky I was to have a son interested in a world that was so imaginative, vital and contemporary.

Why isn't Karen feeling like this? Most mothers, after an initial shock at finding out that their son is bisexual, would find their minds twisting unconsciously into thinking: "What a lucky mum I am! A bisexual for a son! Pity those sad sacks whose children only like one sex. My child is incredibly lucky and talented to be sexually oriented like this, and I am doubly lucky to have him." Instead, Karen is whining about what she will say to her friends. (I dread to think what she'd say to her friends if her son were into sado-masochism. Would she tell everyone in Acacia Avenue that thugs, thongs, nails and nipple clamps were his thing, so that every time he came home for Sunday their eyes would be on stalks? It is none of her neighbours' business.)

Or she is whining about him bringing a girl back one weekend and a boy back the next. Frankly, most mothers would be surprised if a son brought a different girl back each weekend. Meeting mum is usually thought to be quite a serious business. It's hardly likely that there'll be a weekly turnover.

Then she whines that if he is bisexual, why couldn't he just choose to fancy women? But some of us fall only for unsuitable partners. Some find money a turn-on. Some look for lame ducks. No one has much choice in whom they fall for. And certainly, male sexuality, whether straight, gay or bi, is something that most women find almost impossible to understand. As for grandchildren, they aren't something that are given to her as a right. Even if her son married, it might easily turn out that as a couple they didn't want children, or that one was infertile.

Karen must have done something right in bringing her son up or he wouldn't have confided in her. But I'm surprised she sees his sexual orientation as a particular problem. If she were feeling positive, she'd just think he was a lucky bunny to have double the chance of scoring on a Saturday night: double the chance of happiness.

Despite the fact that she says she wants her son to be happy, Karen seems particularly obsessed with herself and her own feelings. No doubt to be the mother of a gay boy and accepting of it gave her some kind of kudos among her friends. Liberal old Karen. But when it comes to him being bisexual it is a different matter.

Karen worries because she feels her son is peculiar in some way. I think Karen herself is a bit peculiar. I wonder what kind of mother she is that she cannot only accept or rejoice in her son's sexuality. It's not, after all, some compulsion that will lead him to jail, like paedophilia or voyeurism. Karen's son is a product of her and her partner's genes and parenting. How can his sexuality, and everything about him, not be wonderful in her eyes?

Bisexuality need not be a curse at all. There is only a problem if she perceives it as such.

London BiSexual Group, PO Box 33325, London N1 9EQ. Helplines: 7.30 to 9pm Tuesdays and Wednesdays 0181-569 7500, Thursdays 0131-557 3620.

readers' responses

My own son came out to me when he was 16. I was upset for many months but eventually calmed down. I grew to accept that my son was gay, even though he never seemed to do anything about it.

When he was 22 he told me he had met a woman and that they were to be married. Although we had not spoken about his previous "confession" for many years, it was still there in the back of my mind. I eventually gathered the courage to ask him about it. He said he now defined himself as "bisexual" and his prospective wife knew all about his sexuality and was accepting. He said they had reached a mutually satisfactory arrangement.

I was once more a wreck of confusion. But after facing the truth, when I see my son and his wife together, now with their young son, I see a happy family. They do not tell me what goes on behind closed doors, but I know they have reached a compromise acceptable to both of them. The fact that they have refused to toe a predetermined line seems to work for them, and so they have my support.

Once you come to this realisation, you may find that what you consider a problem isn't really a problem at all. My son faced up to his true nature and adjusted his circumstances to accommodate it. His wife, too, seems to have faced the facts with commendable fortitude.

It worked for them, and it can work for your son. It's your job to encourage honesty in his dealings - with you and prospective partners.

Anon

London

About 18 months ago I "came out" as a lesbian to my mother; she still refuses to accept my sexuality. I understand Karen's position as many people find it easier to accept a gay person than a bisexual one. Bisexuals are short-changed in that they are often regarded as traitors by both straight and gay communities. This is one reason why many bisexuals define themselves as gay or lesbian initially.

When he visits, he is only likely to bring home someone he really cares about. But, if Karen is worried about not knowing whether they will be male or female, maybe she could ask him to be considerate and let her know in advance.

Relationships are not as black and white as they used to be. There is more freedom now about who you go out with. He may find someone with whom he will have a serious relationship. I think Karen can start to consider the likelihood of grandchildren.

As for Karen's friends, she and her son should discuss what to tell them, if they need to know anything at all.

Michelle L Jackson

President, Warwick LesBiGay Society

Coming out as bisexual can be harder than coming out as lesbian or gay. Her son may be getting flak from lesbian and gay friends about "selling out to heterosexual privilege". (The main free lesbian and gay newspaper certainly has an appalling record on bisexual issues.) Meanwhile, she wonders why he can't go all the way and become straight.

He has declared that he is attracted to other men. He's now saying he's attracted to women. I think it's a simple issue: why on earth should he have to choose one rather than the other? To make his life easier, or yours?

Yes, grandchildren might happen, or they might not. Lesbians and gay men can have children; many heterosexuals choose not to do so. Like monogamy or non-monogamy, to have children or not is not in itself a "bisexual issue", but it is something we think about perhaps more than monosexuals.

Your son probably has thought about all these issues: why not talk to him?

Ian Watters

London

the next dilemma

Dear Virginia,

As an early Christmas present, my friend paid for me to have my horoscope done by a fortune teller. She also did tarot cards, and the death card came up. She said it didn't mean anything, but I'm sick with worry. She also said there were big changes ahead in my life, that I would marry twice, and have more children and lose two of them. As I'm very happily married, I can't understand it. Everyone tells me not to believe what she told me, but I find myself tossing and turning at night, despite my rational self telling me it's rubbish. Has anyone else had this experience, and how do I cope?

Yours sincerely,

Beth

All comments are welcome and everyone who has a suggestion quoted will be sent a Dynagrip 50 ballpen from Paper:Mate.

Please send any relevant personal experiences or comments to me at the Features Department, Independent, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL; fax 0171-293 2182, by Tuesday 2 January. The next Dilemmas page will appear on Thursday 4 January. If you have any dilemmas of your own that you would like to share, let me know.

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