"Help! My mom says my bisexuality is just a phase and I need a boyfriend" and more of your questions

Sep 02, 2014

Columnist Steven Petrow your took questions about LGBT and straight etiquette and various other topics. His answers may appear in an upcoming column.

Welcome back from summer and to our live chat today. I'm glad to be here and to field your questions. Let me start with today's column and its question: about church and same-sex marriage. What do you think?


Dear Civilities: Last week I was at the pool with my young kids when a new member of the club, also a mom, started chatting with me — asking me the ages of my children, where my people were from, and so on. Everything was going nicely until she asked me what church we belong to. I didn’t think for one second not to answer directly and said Presbyterian. Immediately, this woman said, “You know they’re allowing gays to marry now and our clergy to marry them. We’ve had to find a new church.” Honestly, some of my best friends are gay and for a sec I thought about pushing her into the pool. But, actually, I was flummoxed, especially with my children splashing around and simply said, “I’ve gotta go look after my kids.” Then, I felt I had let down my gay friends by not saying anything. What could I have done instead?”

Here's the link:


I don't understand why the gay community is so quick to attack Brad and Angelina for getting married before all 50 states have marriage equality. I know what they said - they've also said their kids are really pushing for them to get married. They're clearly supportive of us. Shouldn't we support them?

I've gotten a few questions about the Pitt-Jolies in the queue here. Brian Moylan wrote a piece in TIME this past week about his disappointment with the couple:

"Back in a 2006 Esquire article, Brad said that he and Angie “will consider tying the knot when everyone else in the country who wants to be married is legally able.” I can’t tell you how much this meant to gays and lesbians all over the country. They were two of the first celebrities to draw attention to the fight for marriage equality and did it before marriage was legal in states like New York, Connecticut, Iowa, California and a growing number every year. This brought international attention to the cause and showed that they were principled people who were willing to put their beliefs before their convenience.

Now they got married in France and it just all seems like a ruse."

(Here's the full link: http://time.com/author/brian-moylan/)

I certainly don't think they are guilty of anything like a "ruse." I've read that their kids have pushed them to marry, which is completely understandable. At the same time, they've continued to be among our strongest allies when it comes to same-sex marriage. I think it's important to keep focused on the prize and not get side-tracked by well, side issues. I'm eager to hear what others think, however.


Said, "I think it's wonderful that the Presbyterian Church is acknowledging that gays are human beings with the same rights as other human beings." But that's easy for me to think up, sitting at my computer and not standing there openmouthed with shock.

Oh, I know it's so much easier to think of snappy, snarky remarks after the fact (or at your computer). In my original draft of the answer I did suggest that she consider deploying a phrase oft-used here in the South: "Bless your heart." This is the nicest way to be rude that anyway has ever heard of.  She could have said: "Bless your heart. I know change is hard." Or "Bless your heart, some of my best friends are gay."



Technically, can't gay couples from any state get married at least somewhere in the US now, even if it's not in their own state, and even if their own state still won't recognize it? I like to consider the Pitt-Jolie nuptials as a sign that marriage rights are now unstoppable, even if not complete yet.

Yes, that's a good point. For instance, my husband and I now live in NC where same-sex marriage is banned by the state constitution. We got legally married a year ago in Calif. In fact, anyone can go to one of the 19 states where same-sex marriage is legal (plus DC) BUT (and this is a big but) those marriages won't be recognized in the 31 other states as I'm sure you realize.

I am a gay man in a 40 year relationship....Yes we would Love to marry, but understand that Not all people feel we should....It is still illegal in Missouri, and can't wait until it is legal....My question is....well more of a statement....I think the lady at poolside (just read your article) was so correct in her response....No harm. no foul.....

Statements are allowed, too! I hope you can get married in Missouri soon.

I'm a 24-year-old woman and came out to my mom as bisexual not long ago. She has said over and over that my bisexuality is a phase and I just need a good boyfriend. What do I tell her? She's driving me crazy -- and making me angry.

Thanks for writing. Over the years, if not decades, there have been so many myths about bisexuality. And one of the most prevalent is that it's a "phase" - just as your mom is suggested.  In a recent column I quoted therapist Joe Kort who said vis a vis a definition “Bisexuals have an enduring attraction romantically and/or sexually towards both genders. Sometimes it is more toward one gender over another.” Kort ought to know as he's the well-respected author of “Is My Husband Gay, Straight or Bi?”

In other words, bisexuality is as much a sexual orientation as straight or gay. It's an inherent part of who you are -- which means that finding "a good boyfriend" won't change that. Tell mom that's what I said! Try not to get angry - although I know it can be frustrating.

It is nearly impossible in the heat of the moment, which is why I like your considered response. I like to try and have ready a response to homophobia and racism etc.. For example I find 'that's how we teach bigotry to our children' is often a useful response to racist comments. When in doubt, what the LW did is good - walk off! Vote with your feet!

I like that: Vote with your feet!

Steven - My partner and I (both 43) are getting married in a few months. He and I have both accumulated a lifetime of belongings and don't need anything (in fact we really need to pare down!). We'd like to suggest that in lieu of gifts, our family and friends might consider donating to a charity in our names. We're doing a wedding website (in addition to actual invitations). Is there a way we can politely word this on our wedding website and suggest one or two charities that our near and dear to us? Of course if someone chooses to give us a gift we'll graciously accept, but we'd like to present this other (and preferred) option.

Congratulations! That's great news. And like many couples who are marrying in these early days of gay marriage you've likely been together for a while and have got enough "stuff" to last a lifetime. It's wonderful that you're doing a wedding website because etiquette in her (his?) infinite wisdom has decreed it's ok to make a properly worded request online. I'd say something that's authentic to how you feel, like this for instance: "We're fortunate to be combining two households and in lieu of a gift we'd appreciate a donation to [insert your favorite charity]. Of course, our real present is your presence." As for your actual wedding invitations, please don't use that piece of paper to make this explanation. Some couples actually insert a separate slip of paper with the donation language but high manners folks are likely to call them out (if that matters to you). Tell your closest friends of your wishes and they can help spread the world. And when folks ask you about ideas for a wedding gift, then be forthcoming about the charities you like. Good luck!

I always say Catholic. Nobody tries to recruit a Catholic.

I think it wise for me not to comment:) But you probably have a point.

Do you think Michael Sam being cut from the Rams was because of homophobia?

From everything that I've read, no I don't think that's the case. This is how my friends at Outsports wrote about it:

"Michael Sam was cut today by the St. Louis Rams, the team announced, a victim of the numbers game and not homophobia.Sam, the seventh-round draft choice by the Rams, was seeking to become the first openly gay player to make an NFL regular season roster. He still can get that chance, but it's unlikely to be with the Rams."I will tell you this: I was pulling for Mike, I really was," Rams Coach Jeff Fisher said Saturday in a news conference. "And I don't say that very often. Mike came in here and did everything we asked him to do. ... It was a football decision, and the decision is no different than any other decision that we make. It was a football decision. It was a football decision back in may to draft Mike."

I agree with this analysis.

Let me also add what Sam had to say after being cut. Grace under pressure.

"I want to thank the entire Rams organization and the city of St. Louis for giving me this tremendous opportunity and allowing me to show I can play at this level. I look forward to continuing to build on the progress I made here toward a long and successful career. The most worthwhile things in life rarely come easy, this is a lesson I've always known. The journey continues."

I'm sure we'll be seeing more of him -- on the field and off.

One of the biggest changes in social views in the past five years or so has been the increased acceptance of same-sex marriage. Presumably at least some of the folks who have changed their minds used to feel like the mom that the OP met by the pool. My point is that, as Grandma used to say, "You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar." Therefore, I think the OP handled the situation perfectly, and if (s)he'd said anything I favor the minimal snark of "Bless your heart. I know change is hard." The point is to encourage bigots to WANT to change their minds.

Thanks for writing in. And I most certainly agree with your last line.

I often get turned on by thoughts of others of the same gender, but rarely act on them (well, there was that one threesome in college)!?!?! Does that make me bi-sexual, bi-curious, or not even? Is this something I should be disclosing to my partner of the opposite sex, or, if I have no intent on acting on it (because it's unfaithful) then should/can I keep it to myself?

I don't think it's for me (or anyone else) to pin a label on you. Which means it's up to you to decide how you identify.

Should you tell your partner? If this is a serious relationship, your sexuality (regardless of how you describe it) I'd say is part of getting to be known and know each other. Holding it back turns it into a secret -- and secrets are never healthy for an individual or in a couple.

How does my answer sit with you?

not just gays. I had someone tell me how sad they felt for me because as someone who is Jewish, I was not "saved". Normally I am not that quick witted, but I must have been channeling my inner Jewish humor because I replied that I didn't need to be 'saved' because in fact as a Jew I was actually already 'chosen'. While she didn't think that was funny, the rest of the table did (in fact they thought it was a very nice way to make my point with out being similarly rude back).

I like it, too. Perfect under the circumstances.

Hi. A good friend from college, over the last few months, began realizing she's at least bisexual, possibly a lesbian. Her husband is apparently providing little support on all, or most, fronts (emotional, spiritual, etc.). She sees their marriage ending. There are two young kids caught in the dissolution. I'm friends with both parents, more so with the wife. How can I best support all four as they enter this period of turbulence, uncertainty and possible dissolution? Specifically, what resources can I utilize to help me help her (them).

Good question. I'm a very big fan of this site: www.straightspouse.org

And here's their resource page:


This won't be easy and this couple is fortunate to have a supportive friend like you. I wish them well.



Is my husband gay?  Is my wife a lesbian?

You’ve had suspicions. You’re pretty sure, or are positive, that it’s true. You may have caught your wife with another woman, or found gay-porn on your husband’s computer. There are countless red flags that literally millions of straight spouses see; lack of interest in having sex with you, suspicious phone calls, unexplained absences - it can be an endless list. It can blind side you. 

- See more at: http://www.straightspouse.org/#sthash.BKOMPnIO.dpuf


Is my husband gay?  Is my wife a lesbian?

You’ve had suspicions. You’re pretty sure, or are positive, that it’s true. You may have caught your wife with another woman, or found gay-porn on your husband’s computer. There are countless red flags that literally millions of straight spouses see; lack of interest in having sex with you, suspicious phone calls, unexplained absences - it can be an endless list. It can blind side you. 

- See more at: http://www.straightspouse.org/#sthash.BKOMPnIO.dpuf


Is my husband gay?  Is my wife a lesbian?

You’ve had suspicions. You’re pretty sure, or are positive, that it’s true. You may have caught your wife with another woman, or found gay-porn on your husband’s computer. There are countless red flags that literally millions of straight spouses see; lack of interest in having sex with you, suspicious phone calls, unexplained absences - it can be an endless list. It can blind side you. 

- See more at: http://www.straightspouse.org/#sthash.BKOMPnIO.dpuf

You might ask for experience gifts - that what we did. We had lovely dinners and trips to the theatre with friends. If you do go the charity route, please suggest a few and/or ask to make a donation to Guest's favorite charity. The problem with donating to a new charity is that you can't get em to stop being in touch! Please don't include it in your invitation as Steven says.

There are all kinds of registries these days -- for honeymoons, paintings (the art kind) and more. All are fine to participate in; it's really more about not "overcommercializing" what's admittedly somewhat of a material affair. And that takes us back to how we inform others of our decisions. Without entitlement or expectation. Remember: Gifts are always voluntary!

Another after the fact snappy comeback in response to "we had to find another church." Answer: "I'm sure you won't be missed." Or the nicer version "I'm sure you'll be happier elsewhere." As for Mom who continues to give her bisexual child a hard time...can you treat it as less about your orientation and more about respect for you? Make her see she is questioning your ability as an adult to know what is best for you. I know that sounds dangerously close to suggesting your orientation is a choice...which I don't believe...so maybe others can help with the wording. The point is: you're an adult, she should treat you like one and that's a battle to fight, too.

Thanks for writing in but, as you can imagine, I'm not in favor of the snarky: "I'm sure you won't be missed."If we're going to try to change hearts and minds that kind of attitude won't help. As for your "nicer" version -- yes, it's nicer but still with a bitter bite.

to educate the world that their attitude toward gay marriage is not shared by everyone they assume shares it. So you did nothing wrong. However, if you would like to be the person that educates the assumers, that is great too. I bet your gay friends would love to help you talk through funny and/or pithy ways to respond. Your other friends might liek to help too, but the gays ones would probably have a bit of extra fun with it. And talking it through ahead of time is general advice for any uncomfortable situation. I told my parents to do it this weekend when my mother was upset about going to a funeral where my father's sister was likely to be telling all the relatives that my father won't help her financially, when she was the one to tell him never to talk to her again.

More help for our poolside mom.

Do you have any thoughts or suggestions on helping a son or daughter come out? Without completely overstepping boundaries? We have two sons, both in early - mid 20's. While the older is heterosexual with an active dating life, the younger is extremely private about all personal matters...including the fact that (we strongly suspect) he is gay and has recently started a new relationship. His brother, Dad and I are all fine with this - we have married gay relatives and friends that we love and are active with socially. Is it ever OK for a parent to initiate this discussion? Seems more respectful to let him come out when he's ready, but it feels awkward more and more of the time. I want him to know that we love him just as he is and don't want him to change! Any ideas?

Thanks for asking this question. It's one I get often from caring parents such as yourself. I've written about this before (do a quick search here on the WaPo site) but in general I suggest letting the individual come out when he or she's ready. In the meantime, there are things you can do or say to make sure he knows you're fine with his identity whatever it is. Invite your gay friends over. Talk about LGBT issues like marriage equality. And let him know that you love him just as he is (without asking "the" question!). For all you know, he may still be questioning .... Good luck.

That's all for today. Thanks for being here and a quick reminder: I'll be holding another live chat next Tuesday, 9/9 at 1 PM ET. Yep, two in a row. I've got some questions left in the queue, which I'll get to then. sp

In This Chat
Steven Petrow
Steven Petrow is a respected journalist and the go-to source for modern manners. Petrow writes the "Civilities" column for The Washington Post as well as "Manners Hero" for Parade and "Medical Manners" for Everyday Health.
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