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Auntie SparkNotes: Should I Abandon My Identity?

Dear Auntie SparkNotes,

I’m bisexual and I’m in a bit of an awkward situation: my parents know I’m bi, but it’s not because I came out to them. Long story short, they came about this information while looking at some private correspondence of mine, in which I came out to one of my best friends who moved away last year.

He was very supportive, so I don’t regret coming out to him. However, ever since my parents found out, things have been different. My mom wants me to trust her more, but it’s hard to when I know my privacy is often violated by her reading things I have written and searching my phone. Even worse, she thinks I’m too young to “label myself,” which makes me really upset because I don’t think she understands what it’s like when you don’t have a name for what you are. She also doesn’t understand that I feel as though I can change labels if I want to, since she has never come into contact with the LGBT+ community. I have tried to explain this to her many times, but she just doesn’t get it. My dad, on the other hand, has not mentioned this at all to me and I’m waiting in fear of when he does.

This situation has caused me a lot of tears and anxiety, and I’m not sure how to move forward. Should I stick with my instincts and hold onto my identity, or should I listen to my mom and do my best to forget about it?

Oh no, Sparkler, don’t do that! In fact, this is a perfect time for you to begin acquainting yourself with an exciting and unfamiliar concept that is going to CHANGE YOUR LIFE. It’s called “Not Letting Other People Tell You Who You Are, Even If Those People Are Your Parents.”

Because when it comes to the truth about your identity, nobody is in a better position to figure that out than you are. What do other people know about the yearnings of your heart and the thoughts inside your head? They’re not in there! And they’re certainly not in a position to tell you to “forget” about a part of yourself you have determined to be worth exploring. You’re a teenager! Muddling through complex questions about who you are and what you want from life is what you’re supposed to be doing! And even if you ultimately decide that “bisexual” isn’t the best word to describe yourself, that’ll be because you thought about it, you lived with it, and you came to a better understanding of your orientation after time and experience led you to realize that the old label didn’t quite fit.

With that said, I will also say this: just as it is your job as a teenager to explore your identity, it is your parents’ job to offer guidance as you go through that process, which means that butting heads over this stuff is basically a foregone conclusion no matter who you are. Behind every single kid who feels like they’ve figured out something important about themselves is a freaked-out parent going, “Whoa there, let’s not be hasty!”—which is one more reason not to worry too much about what your mother says (or what your dad might say, although it’s worth noting that he hasn’t bothered you about it yet, which might just mean he’s not going to). Parents always think (often wrongly) that their teenage children are too young to label themselves; the teenage children in question always think (often incorrectly) that their parents just don’t get it; and yet, the world keeps on spinning. As long as the labels you’ve chosen aren’t consuming your life or limiting your growth—as long as they serve you, and not the other way around—then you’ll be fine.

Meanwhile, if your mother wants you to trust her more, then you should tell her the same thing you’ve told me: that she’s gotta give it to get it. A person who asks for your trust has to respect the nature of the request—that she’s asking for it because the choice is yours to bestow it or not. Whereas your mom not only doesn’t respect that, but is behaving in a way that renders the entire concept of trust totally meaningless: if you don’t give her the information she wants, she steamrolls into your affairs and takes it. So pick a calm moment, and lay it out for her: you will be happy to trust her with a window into your private life, but logically, that can’t really happen until she trusts you enough to let you have a private life. Is she ready to give you more space, to stop monitoring you, to let you choose how much to share? Are you ready to start managing your life and your relationships independently, and to seek out your mom’s input only when you feel you need it? Talk about it. See where you end up. But whatever the outcome of that conversation, just remember that when it comes to working through the complex question of who you are, the inside of your own head is a safe and inviolable place to do it—and nobody can stop you.

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