Every year on National Coming Out Day (Oct 11), I have a dilemma. I always wonder if I should tell my story because it doesn’t really have an ending. Or, a cute one at least that makes people feel hopeful and inspired. But in therapy I’ve been pushed more to stand in my truth and be open about who I am because I owe it to myself. Playing small only hurts me-and people who could benefit from what I have to say-in the end. So here goes.
I should preface this by saying that the whole notion of coming out is kinda trash. There are a lot of reasons why people may not want to come out publicly, not least of which is the actual potential for violence. It doesn’t make their identities less valid, nor does it mean they’re trying to be sneaky.
That being said, I guess it makes the most sense to talk about the “thing” that people always think about on National Coming Out Day: Sexual Orientation. I really wanted to write about my journey into sex positivity and how I see myself as less of a sex educator and more of a Sexuality & Pleasure Aficionado but then this post would be an extra 2000 words so. More on that another day.
I’ve written about being bisexual before, but like a lot of identities my relationship to it has changed over time and I never had a true “coming out” so what better time to reflect on that. I first knew i wasn’t straight when I was about 9. I kissed one of my (girl) friends during a sleepover and liked it, a lot. I still had crushes on boys, but I had a crush on her too. I couldn’t really name what I felt but I just knew that I wanted to do all of the things I thought I wanted to do with a boy with her too.
Cut to middle school. I’d been ambivalent about my sexuality for the most part. But then “I Kissed a Girl” by Katy Perry came out, and suddenly it was cool to be into girls? Except, it wasn’t. During that pop culture moment it became abundantly clear to me that as a woman, being interested in other women was only cool at parties or to get the attention of men.
Otherwise, being attracted to women for your own enjoyment made you a dyke bitch and that wasn’t something ANYONE wanted to be. I remember hearing the word bisexual for the first time around then and trying to claim it for myself, only to be told I was just a poser saying it to be edgy. That makes me laugh now, but as a 13 year old who didn’t know a single thing about myself or the world, whose identity up to that point had been formed by other people’s opinions of who I should be, I just assumed they were right and let it go.
And then we make it to high school. After a disastrous couple of years marred by the grief of losing my maternal grandmother (the person who had the second biggest influence in raising me after my mom), bad relationships with abusive shitheads, and anxiety attacks that almost kept me from graduating, I met the person who I thought would solve it all for me, my soon-to-be-husband. Did I also mention that I was in the throes of a religious and spiritual crisis about my relationship to Christianity during this point in my life?
When I met him, despite being so young I thought I had finally figured it all out. I didn’t have to worry about my sexual orientation any more. I was dating a man and we had no immediate plans to break up so even if I was still interested in dating women it didn’t matter right? I was straight for all intents and purposes because I had picked a side. You see where this is going.
My freshman year of college I went to a talk by Robyn Ochs, a bisexual activist. It was like the heavens opened up. I guess the whole time I had been looking for permission to admit to myself that I was bisexual and that that was okay? It sounds so obvious in hindsight, but one of her major points was that your relationship status doesn’t invalidate your identity. Cue my 18 year old brain exploding. You mean I can be in a long term relationship with a man and STILL be bisexual!? Color me shocked.
In the years since, I’ve interrogated my relationship to my identity, in part because it really bothers me how much of my identity is ascertained by my romantic proximity to an assumed cisgender, heterosexual man. No one knows the intricacies of my relationship and yet there’s a lot of assumptions made about me because of it. By straight people and other members of the LGBTQ+ community (bi erasure by other queer people is a WHOLE post in and of itself). I dabbled in id’ing as queer for most of college, because it was just nebulous enough that I didn’t think anyone would make me defend myself. Plus I had short hair and a septum ring for a lot of this time period so I just generally fit the aesthetic of a queer liberal arts major.
After graduation, around the time I started Sexology Bae, I began id’ing as bisexual again. I try to avoid being a hypocrite, so I felt that it was doing a disservice to people I was claiming to want to educate or inform to tell them that they should be honest with themselves about needs, wants, and desires when I’m not doing the same!
Identities are as varied as humans are, so I don’t claim to be the One True Bisexual. It’s just that this the most accurate way to define myself, and I felt like Identifying as queer was a reverse flattening of my identity, basically another way to hide without naming who I truly am. So that’s where I am now. I’ve “come out” to myself, the internet, and the people closest to me. And it’s interesting how little a difference it makes in my daily life.
I felt crushed by the weight of not knowing how to name who I was, but I don’t really see it as a “coming out of the closet” story either. I was never really in a closet, more like an invisible box. And I still find myself in that box, mostly when I’m dealing with hyper-religious family members (or coworkers) and decide to pick my battles. But being read as straight isn’t a privilege to me because straightness isn’t something I aspire to. That being said, not being read as visibly queer in most arenas of my life affords me a certain level of privacy which depending on context can be a blessing or a curse.