Bisexual student dates while closeted from parents

Kate began to suspect she was bisexual in middle school. She is now dating another girl but is not out to her parents. (Tara Connick)

Editor’s note: This story was part of  an in-depth package of our Feb. 12, 2021 issue , which won first place for print in depth news/feature package in the ILPC contest. It was also a finalist for series/project in the Dallas Morning News high school journalism contest. 

*Names have been changed to protect the identities of those involved

At Kate’s* house, sound is everything.
It’s the reason she and her girlfriend, Sarah*, prefer to stay there. Kate has the top floor to herself, so the two girls can blast the TV, binge-watching their favorite shows without being told to turn it down.

But the softer sounds that often go unnoticed — footsteps on the stairs, doors closing, voices across the house — resonate the loudest to Kate.

No matter how loud the TV is, Kate is always listening for the quiet warnings of her parents’ presence. Most teens do this for a few minutes, but Kate can’t stop. She can’t risk falling asleep and missing the footsteps or voices, no matter how tired she is.

She doesn’t know what exactly would happen if she wasn’t vigilant; if they walked in while Kate and Sarah were sitting next to each other on the couch and didn’t give them enough time to jump apart.

I have a girlfriend and I’ve had a girlfriend for seven months, and you don’t accept me and I can never tell you.”

— Kate

“There’s cuddling with random friends on a couch, and then there’s spending my every waking moment with this girl,” Kate said.

Kate’s siblings, Sarah’s parents and their friends are supportive of their relationship, but Kate knows that her parents would never accept that she is bisexual and dating another girl. She said that her stepdad is extremely homophobic, and her mother adopted many of his beliefs after they married.

Getting kicked out or disowned is what many LGBTQ+ teens consider to be the worst case scenario when coming out, but Kate said it would likely become her reality. This means she has to keep her sexuality and her relationship with Sarah a secret.

If she slips up, she could lose everything.

“It’s mentally and emotionally taxing,” Kate said. “There’s always that feeling in the pit in your stomach of something could go wrong, because it could be so detrimental. If my parents came, who knows if I’m going to college or if I even have a place to live?”

Kate said she was never close with her stepdad to begin with, but it’s losing her mom that would hurt the most. Kate believes that even though her mom might have told her to marry a man, she probably would have accepted Kate’s sexuality if it weren’t for her husband. If her stepdad wasn’t part of the picture, Kate wouldn’t worry about losing her home because of who she loves.

“My mom’s getting more like him and I’m getting less like both of them,” Kate said.

• • •

Kate and Sarah didn’t fall in love at first sight. They weren’t brought together by a grand romantic gesture like in the movies.

Their story started in class. They immediately clicked and became friends, hanging out whenever they could.

“We just kind of blended well,” Sarah said. “I didn’t really think anything of it. It was normal, but I got along with her a lot better than anyone else.”

After about a year, Kate realized that she had a crush on Sarah, but she convinced herself she just liked her as a friend. She didn’t want to ruin anything.

It’s like walking on eggshells. ”

— Sarah

They saw each other constantly over quarantine. Sarah expected to grow tired of seeing her every day, but it never happened. Instead, she began to fall for Kate.

“We weren’t being subtle about it at all,” Kate said. “We were just flat out flirting with each other from March, April, May. Those three months were just her and I totally peacocking to get each other’s attention.”

In May, they decided to try dating, just to see where it went. It felt like they were back in middle school, with butterflies in their stomachs at the sight of each other.

“It started working really well,” Sarah said. “It was like, ‘OK, this is something that I can see myself in.’”

• • •

Kate almost came out to just her mom in 10th grade, but was stopped before she could begin saying it.

“I was crying, talking to my mom and I was like, ‘There’s something I have to tell you and I just feel like I can’t,’” Kate said. “And she was just like, ‘You can tell me anything. I mean, you’re not gay or something, are you? You don’t want to be a boy?’… The worst thing she could imagine for her kid is for me to be transgender or for me to be gay.”

Kate believed coming out to her mom wasn’t an option anymore; at least not until she’s financially independent after college.

This was the final crack that broke the relationship between Kate and her parents.

Although it hurt, Kate wasn’t surprised. She said she hasn’t been close with her parents in years. She often stays out until curfew, so they’re asleep before she gets home. They might have a quick conversation in the morning, but some days, even that is too much. When they ask her about it, she can’t even begin explaining why.

Then, the cycle repeats.

“I’m just like, ‘I don’t know. I’m tired,’” Kate said. “But really, it’s like, ‘I have a girlfriend and I’ve had a girlfriend for seven months, and you don’t accept me and I can never tell you.’”

Whenever Kate’s parents are home, she and Sarah are always on edge. They can’t do anything that most couples would, like holding hands under the table. Anything that even seems slightly romantic has a risk.

Sarah has to think about everything she does, making sure any dates or gestures aren’t too obvious.

“It’s like walking on eggshells,” Sarah said.

The worst thing she could imagine for her kid is for me to be transgender or for me to be gay.”

— Kate

Even when they aren’t around her parents, Kate and Sarah can’t escape homophobia. Although they haven’t received much backlash from community members, living in a conservative area means that they can never fully relax in public.

Wherever they are, Kate and Sarah have to be aware of their surroundings and what belief the community holds about LGBTQ+ couples. They only hold hands in well-lit areas, where they feel less threatened by people nearby who may disagree with their relationship. Kate finds it difficult feeling like she can’t express her love for her girlfriend the same way straight couples can.

“Out in public, I’m scared to get hate crimed or beat up,” Kate said. “I don’t feel like I’m doing anything wrong and it [stinks] that other people care so much. It’s not any of their place, no matter what their religious or social beliefs are.”

She began to suspect that she was bisexual in middle school, so felt like she had no sense of self after pretending to be somebody else for so long. Everything felt like it was piling up, causing Kate to grow desperate. When she had no way to cope, it got to be too much, so she turned to drugs and alcohol.

Kate took pills and smoked weed constantly, leaving her high for almost two years straight. She doesn’t remember much from the time.

“It was kind of a way to block out the lingering ‘There’s stuff I’m not telling people’ in my head and ‘There’s still stuff from the past that I haven’t told people,’” Kate said. “But also constantly feeling like I have to pretend to be someone else around my parents, around my friends.”

However, Kate said meeting Sarah saved her. Even when they were just friends, Kate has been able to find that missing love and support in Sarah, who liked her for who she truly was, not the fake version she had created.

Sarah didn’t know about what Kate was going through, but she was always there to remind her friend that her feelings were valid.

“[Sarah has] been there for me when they weren’t, even before we were dating,” Kate said. “Even before we were best friends, she was always the one person in our friend group who cared about me.”

Although her future with her parents and Sarah is uncertain, Kate knows one thing for sure — she got to fall in love with the pretty girl from school who became her best friend. And for Kate, that’s enough for now.

“I can’t imagine a life without her,” Kate said. “I can imagine a life without my parents. I haven’t needed them for a while other than literally to have a bed.”

When Kate thinks about her future, she imagines going to college and getting an apartment with Sarah and roommates. She hopes to discover who she is and build her own life, where she can finally watch a movie with her girlfriend without listening for footsteps.

“I’ve known for a while now she’s who I want to spend the rest of my life with,” Kate said. “I love her so much.”