Children Will Listen: Conversations With My Daughter on Bisexuality
I met my wife in 1980. She and I worked for the same company in different offices; she in North Carolina and I in Westchester. We met at a two-week long training class in LA, mandated by our comp
any. We hit it off, dated long distance and after one and a half years of dating, I proposed. We married and in 1985 our daughter Amanda came into the world. Our marriage ended in 1991 and in our stipulation, we agreed on equal joint custody. So I embarked on the life of a single parent.
Two years after my divorce, I had a theatre gig out-of-town and became friends with a gay male colleague. For both of us, it began to feel like more than just a friendship and I thought ‘why not?’ We hooked up and I came out. Realizing my marriage ended because of our incompatibility and not my sexuality, I settled on the label ‘bisexual’ to describe myself. I dated men and women for the next ten years, h
ad a few relationships lasting anywhere from six months to three years, then met my life partner and soon-to-be husband Claudio in 2003.
The spring after my coming out in 1993 there was a march; a million gay, lesbian, bisexual, t
ransgendered, questioning and/or two-spirited participants, and their friends, family and supporters converged on a gorgeous April Sunday in Washington, DC. The gathering’s purpose was political, social and simply to be visible, and its timing celebrated the end to Reaganism and a hopeful beginning to Clintonism. I decided to go. Since it occurred during a daughter week, I decided to bring her. She was eight. We’d been to DC a number of times to visit my favorite Hungarian aunt who lived just outside in Silver Spring, Maryland. Her son, my cousin, still lives in Washington and an ex-girlfriend, now good friend, was living there at the time as well, so I carefully laid out the purpose of the trip thus: honey, we’re going to Washington this week-end to see
Aunt Magda and cousin George, and this woman who was my girlfriend in college, and oh, by the way, there’s also this big gay march that I thought we’d go to. Being the daughter of contemporary Park Slope parents, my daughter naturally thought that going to the march was cool.
Friday, on our way down to Washington there was a major traffic jam on the Interstate in Maryland. Traffic was halted for 20 miles, so people began to get out of their cars to stretch and socialize. 9 out of 10 cars, it seemed, were filled with queers going to the march. Some had signs in their car windows proclaiming DC or bust. Cars contained couples or crowds. In one a group of young, gay college students from Boston, in another the occupants claimed to be members of an organization called “Dykes Who Hate Cats.” In the car next to us, an elderly, probably local couple, wondered just what the hell was going on.
The day of the march, I donned a t-shirt with photos of three multicultural same-sex and different-sex couples kissing, captioned “Read Our Lips.” We drove to the Metro station in suburban Maryland at 10 in the morning and walked up to the platform crowded with people going to the march. On arrival at the Mall, we found it already filled. My daughter’s eyes took in the diverse array around us, which including bare-breasted women, scantily-clad men, all kinds of spiked hair, pierced bodies, shaved heads, drag queens and kings. But the vast majority were everyday folk: men, women and children, in shorts or jeans, perhaps with an identifying T-shirt or sign. These were not the people who made the evening news.
We explored, following our noses for the most part. Listened to a speech or comedy act, bought food and souvenirs, watched and learned. After a while we left the Mall and joined the official march on a parade route through downtown DC. At the NYC Gay & Lesbian Center, I’d often attended meetings of a bisexual support organization and they were official march participants, but their place in the march was about 250th. So not wanting to wait and miss so much of the show, when my daughter and I marched, it was on our own or with some random group that was more than happy to let us join them for a bit.
At one point, we paused on the curb to watch. A middle-aged man with a video camera approached and turned his camera on us and other folks in our vicinity. Before he could say anything to us, a long-haired young man wearing a bikini, shades, on blades, with a Walkman and ear buds, skated up next to the cameraman and said, “This man is a member of the anti-queer press. Don’t talk to him.” Then he skated off. All of us within earshot glared at video man. Acting a bit sheepishly he turned his camera off and walked away. My daughter turned to me and, referring to bikini guy, said, “Daddy, what did he mean?” I said, “Well, honey, it means the guy with the camera works for a magazine or newspaper that says bad things about gay people.” She exclaimed, “That man is a problem!” Then the lesbian couple standing next to us, casually attentive to our conversation, offered high fives all around.
In time we made our way back to the Mall, filled from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial with all manner of queer folk. I found a spot in the middle where we could put our blanket down and watch the speeches and the proceedings. We were near one of a number of huge TV screens scattered about the Mall; so many of us were too far away from the stage on the Capitol steps to see anything. We happened to be near the Mall’s carousel and my daughter’s interest in watching the big screen lasted for all of two minutes. So she rode while I heard Ian McKellan and Martina Navratilova speak, and some watched some people new to me perform such as the comic Lea Delaria, drag queen RuPaul and the lesbian folk duo, the Indigo Girls.
At around five in the afternoon it was time to go. I coaxed my daughter away from the carousel and we headed toward the Capitol and the nearby Metro station.
As we stepped our way around blankets and their occupants, my kid casually asked me, “Daddy, have you ever kissed a man?”
“Oh, sure,” I replied, mildly taken aback. “I’m in the theatre. Everybody kisses everybody in the theatre.”
“No! I mean on the lips!” she stated unambiguously.
“Yes, I have, hon.”
“Uh, a friend. You’ve never met him.”
“So what are you?”
A banner nearby conveniently displayed the word “bisexual” in its caption. “See that word up there, ‘bisexual’? That’s what I am.”
“What does that mean?”
“Well, it means I date people I like and it doesn’t matter to me whether they’re men or women.” She seemed satisfied with this answer and we made our way back to Silver Spring.
We retrieved the car and after exiting the parking lot my daughter said, “Yuck! Daddy, I just saw two men kissing!”
“Oh, so you think it’s better if a man and a woman kiss?”
“How about two women?”
“So you just don’t like kissing.”
Two weeks later, during a parental week, I’d been asked to participate in a play reading. The man I was seeing then was curious about my acting and wanted to see what I could do. He was also interested in meeting my daughter. I thought the play reading would be a nice, low-key event at which I could introduce them. The reading was in Manhattan on a week night and I decided to drive in from Brooklyn.
As we were crossing the Manhattan Bridge I said, “Oh, by the way. A friend of mine is going to be at the reading tonight and he’d like to meet you.”
“What does he do?”
“He’s a teacher, a college professor.”
“How do you know him?”
“Uh, well, we have dinner sometimes.” A pause.
“Oh, right, bisexual. So what is he?”
“Uh, well, he’s gay.” End of conversation.
They got along beautifully.
Two years passed, a few relationships came and went. I realized if I decided to introduce a semi-serious squeeze to Amanda and the relationship subsequently ended, she’d be part of the break-up process as well, so I became more judicious in sharing my personal life with her. One day I got a call from my ex-wife. Amanda was upset and needed to talk to me. She’d been serving as a playground mediator at her school and that day all the mediators had attended a conference and workshop with their counterparts from other schools. The kids had participated in a discussion, answering the questions, ‘What do you like about your neighborhood?’ and ‘What don’t you like about your neighborhood?’ Answering the latter, one group, consisting almost entirely of children of color, had a member who stated, to general agreement from her schoolmates, “There are too many gay people in my neighborhood. We should get rid of them.” According to her mother my daughter was shocked into silence. In liberal Park
Slope we had two lesbians on the school board and gay and lesbian families were rather common. In this tolerant environment, my daughter had long before outed herself to her friends as the child of a bisexual dad. Some of her good friends were also mediators and in attendance. These friends immediately protested to their mediator colleagues, saying that gay people had as much right to live among us as anyone. But that day, for my daughter homo-prejudice became personal. We talked. We cried. Blew kisses through the phone and hung up.
In Into the Woods Stephen Sondheim writes:
Careful the things you say, children will listen.
Careful the things you do, children will see and learn.
Children may not obey, but children will listen.
Children will look to you for which way to turn, to learn what to be.
Careful before you say, “Listen to me.”
Children will listen.
Careful the wish you make, wishes are children.
Careful the path they take — wishes come true, not free.
Careful the spell you cast, not just on children.
Sometimes the spell may last past what you can see and turn against you…
Careful the tale you tell. That is the spell.
Children will listen.
Please join us at the Church of the Village during the entire month of June for LGBT Pride Month activities including small group Bible study, Sunday morning Pride testimonies, a Faithful Response Against Bias Crimes Service, dedication of the PFLAG plaque, and Pride Parade Witness.