Six months ago I wrote a post about losing my faith in God. That post took me seven years to be able to write. And although I had intended on it being just part of my reentry into blogging I found it nearly impossible to follow that post up with anything else. Everything felt trite and empty of compelling energy. Because as important as it was for me to write about my deconversion I was really writing a totally different post in a sort of code. I was half way through the post myself before I saw it. I was really writing this post. I needed this story to be heard but didn’t have the courage to tell it.
Perhaps we only have a few stories we tell ourselves about our lives and our experiences, no matter how diverse, always cling to these few patterns. This is one of my stories: I am always leaving home for a journey I am not happy about, am ill-prepared for and without any idea of the end goal. It’s certainly not a unique story; it is, in fact, archetypal. I wrote that last post about leaving my home in Christianity, faith, and God and going on a journey into the unknown dark beyond faith. This post is about leaving the home of my identity as a straight person and leaving on a journey into the unknown spectrum of queerdom. I still don’t really know where I’m going but now my car has a bi-pride magnet on it.
None of the people I’ve come out to personally have expressed surprise when I’ve told them, cryptically, I’m afraid, “I’m not straight.”* I think, that it has been a matter of politeness rather than a case of “we all knew dear.” But still, I found the lack of surprise surprising. Because, damn it, I was surprised.
I wasn’t someone who knew from childhood that I was somehow different from my peers. I wandered along the straight and narrow – dating, falling in love, marrying – without genuinely questioning my actual orientation. Until one day a woman laughed – I blinked -and the world I knew came apart. That straight and narrow path had led me right off a cliff, and like Wile E. Coyote, I briefly stood there groundless and confused but aloft and with a remarkable new perspective. At that one moment I knew for a fact I wasn’t straight, that it wasn’t going to be a secret I could keep forever, but that ultimately everything would work out ok. The change in perspective was instantaneous, complete, and it struck a chord of authenticity in me that had been silent for far too long.
Then, a la Looney Tunes, gravity kicked in and I began a long fall. I forgot everything that had been so clear just moments before. What I call the “Oh-shit” cascade began. One terrible thought thudded into another, crowding out reason.
Oh shit, what if I’m not straight?
Oh shit, but I’m married.
Oh shit, what if my husband finds out I’m not straight?
Oh shit, what if he thinks I’ve been lying?
Oh shit, have I been lying?
Oh shit, I don’t even know anything.
Oh shit, what if this freaks my friends out?
Oh shit, shit, shit, here’s this thing out of no where and it’s made me a liar to my spouse and my friends and myself and if it ever gets out I’ll be alone forever. Shit.
This is where, at the grown-up age of my late twenties, I locked myself in a bathroom. I held onto the walls more for psychological stability than physical and ran the taps to cover the conspicuous lack of normal bathroom noises. I tried to come up with some excuse for why my day had suddenly taken such a crazy turn: I must be mistaken, overtired, or some other bizarre excuse I thought up for why all of a sudden questioning my orientation seemed 100% legitimate and extremely urgent. I thought a few good night’s rests would solve my problem, or maybe more vitamin D in my diet, or maybe just ignoring it altogether would work. “That’s the ticket!” I thought, “Don’t talk to anyone, or think about it further and it will all disappear like a bad dream.”
It couldn’t be wished or willed away. It couldn’t be ignored into oblivion either. But I promised myself that I would go to my grave before I ever told another soul about not being straight (I hadn’t yet gotten out the LGBTQ p-touch and made myself a label yet, all I knew was that “straight” was no longer cutting it). I’m surely not the first or last to try those remedies for an inconvenient self-revelation. What I could do was make myself miserable, anxious, and isolated by refusing to share this fact about myself that I was seriously stressing over with anybody. I could manage to pick fights with my spouse and other friends because I was incredibly wound up and convinced everybody could tell what was wrong with me but didn’t want to talk about it because it was too embarrassing/terrible/shameful. I could lose sleep. I could cry in my car. I could see all the bad things I feared would happen if I allowed this disruptive non-straightness even an inch into my life happening anyway. Happening even as I worked so hard to quash it.
To the grave. To the grave. To the grave.
That was my depressing, defeating, limiting, harassing mantra.
To the grave.
In quiet moments that called for self-revelation I’d press my lips together as if to physically stop words from coming out of my mouth, turn around and leave the room.
To the grave.
The phrase tolled through my head as I had conversations with friends and kept me from seeking the encouragement and advice I needed.
To the grave.
I’d think about it in the dark at night. I’d gone another day without saying anything; I was one day closer to my goal.
It was at once numbing and consuming in it’s repetitiveness.
I walked to its morbid waltz-like beat, chewed to it, breathed to it.
I could imagine my secret buried in my heart, my hands folded over a dead chest holding the secret in, buried under feet of dirt, but still I could see that secret rising ghost-like and haunting. If taking my secret to the grave wasn’t far enough to hide it, how much further could I take it? I felt incredibly defeated.
I didn’t have the distance to see it at the time, but it is obvious now that it was the deception that was toxic and not queerness. What use was the secret if I was going to suffer everything I feared if I were out? Might as well be hung for the ewe as for the lamb. I had lasted two months in the closet. What I was supposed to take to my grave I tearily and haltingly confided to my husband on Christmas Eve. And he took the news in the most perfectly loving, perfectly supportive, perfectly perfect way. Then he asked me if I was going to say I was pregnant next; I assured him that was definitely not the direction of this conversation. With a minute’s reflection he was more at peace with my revelation than I was. I went from terrified to grateful. What a Christmas present!
All I wanted from my confessional coming out was for my marriage not to end, for my husband not to think I was a terrible, gross liar whom he was sorry to have married. It was a low bar, to be sure, and I was pretty sure the two of us could clear it. What I was aiming for a mix of toleration and forgetfulness. I wanted to be loved in spite of being bi. My husband did much better; he aimed much higher. He wasn’t intimidated by the seriousness of my revelation or the dourness with which I delivered it. Nor did he believe it was something either of us could just forget about. He didn’t love me in spite of who I am, but because of who I am.
My story turns on his supportive response. I finally had a confidant and a shoulder to cry on – much better than sniffling alone leaning against the steering wheel of my car. I had felt so cut off at the time of the “Oh-shit” cascade: cut off from my spouse because of the seeming impediment of my orientation, cut off from my family and friends by the closet I suddenly found myself in, cut off from the greater queer support networks by the fear that more than a quarter century of straight-identification disqualified me from even walking in the door, cut off from myself by this sudden, traumatic break with my previous sense of identity. Now it was time to rebuild these bridges.
To integrate bisexuality into my own sense of myself was not simple. The fears and anxieties that had piled up for months mixed with all the internalized bias from my upbringing in a Catholic home. But the remarkable sense of authenticity that I felt by identifying as bi was more powerful than my fear. Every time that I hit a wall and got discouraged, wishing I could just “go back” to my old identity I could see how ill-fitting it really was, like trying to wear a pair of shoes two sizes too small. It was like for my whole life I had been getting around by jumping on one foot and I had finally put down my other foot. Identifying as straight, jumping on one foot, worked – kind of – but was exhausting. Going back would be like picking up that foot again – too tiring a thought to even contemplate. Two feet please! I like men and women, people who are like my own gender and who are not like my own gender. Knowing this made my friendships made more sense. It made my childhood and adolescence make more sense. I might not have realized I was queer as a kid, but it’s pretty clear to me now that’s pretty likely what I was. The sense of genuineness, and how good being genuine feels, slowly won over the negativity swirling from both inside and outside of me.
My first forays out of the closet were extremely hesitant, more like chucking some hangers and socks out at people and seeing what happened. I told my most liberal, already-out-themselves friends. They were not shocked. They were not appalled. They asked me a question I found so incredible I had them repeat it,
“So, what do you want to do now?”
I didn’t have to be at the mercy of my orientation happening to me. I could make decisions. And it was okay for those decisions to be about what was best for me. I could come out to everyone I knew! Or, I never had to tell another person. I could get involved in local queer groups and be politically active for LGBTQ rights or I could decide that being bi, while an interesting thing to know about myself, didn’t affect my day to day life so it could be set aside. But I could choose. What a wonderful feeling! I had felt forced to be miserable, but I could definitely choose to be happy. So I did.
I wanted to be happy and I did not want to leave my bisexuality in the closet. I chose to come out to some friends and family, though the process was slow and kind of awkward. A lot of people thought I was maybe trying to say I was pregnant, or maybe had a terminal disease. But, once I was clear about what news I was actually delivering, no one freaked out like I was afraid they would. I joined my school’s LGBTQ group and was pleased to find that no one demanded some kind of notarized queer credentials upon entering the meeting room (or since). I went to my first Pride parade and stuck the rainbow magnets on my car.
And if you are reading this, I chose to be out to you. Yay!
Happy coming outs are all alike; every unhappy coming out is unhappy in its own way (with thanks to Leo). Every person who comes out has to deal with both. Happiness in living in their own truth and reducing the stigma of the LBGTQ community and unhappiness in the potential breakdown of important relationships. But being out means being free. It means not having to lie or hedge the truth. It means simplicity, authenticity, and genuineness. Being out is a big sigh of relief.
Being out means identifying with the LGBTQ community as a member and not only as an ally, having skin in the game. I am very happy that being out is a way that I can combat the bizarrely prevalent bi-phobic ideas that bisexuality is fake, gross, scary, or is about being confused or undecided. I am real. I am not scary or gross. I am not confused or undecided. I am definitely bisexual. Being out also helps combat bi-erasure. Did anyone of you assume that because I am a woman and am married to a man that I must be straight? Well, I’m not blaming you, because I did too! But straightness is just not something that can be assumed. Nor can people in same-gender relationships be assumed to be gay or lesbian unless they identify that way. Bisexuality is the** invisible, forgotten, but ever-present possibility. I think that bisexuality still makes non-bi people uncomfortable the way that gay and lesbian folk used to make straight people uncomfortable and that’s why the largest segment of the LGBT community remains largely unacknowledged.
It means I might become a polarizing subject for some friends and family members. I hope it doesn’t. Being bi hasn’t changed how I feel about my family and friends; I don’t love them one iota less because of it. Why would I? I’m really hoping it doesn’t change anyone’s feelings about me. But I know it’s a possibility that it will.
Sadly, I know this is especially true when it comes to people I know from the churches I used to belong to. Certainly not all Christians nor all Christian denominations believe ugly, false-witness bearing things about the LGBTQ community, but some Christians seem to be trying to outdo each other in cruelty. One of the hardest things for me to accept when I first started coming to terms with my own bisexuality was the enormous, queer-shaped stumbling block that I saw developing between me and my old church. I love them so much and I fear the sharp shape their rejection might take. As at peace with myself as I might be I still don’t know how deep and wide that chasm of their fear and exclusion might be.
It’s not like I ever thought I could really go back to the church, considering my atheistically backslidden ways, but I could pretend. That pretending was very comforting. But my bisexuality, from the beginning, seemed different from my atheism and more permanent. Atheism is a difference of opinion, it lives in the mind, it is changeable. Atheism describes my lack of belief in divinity but it isn’t really about me, just my thoughts and opinions. If people can refrain from name-calling then I’m happy to playfully spar on religious/theological topics all day and it’s no skin off my nose. My bisexuality is a fact; it is not negotiable. It’s part of my heart and body and it isn’t really up for discussion. It’s a heavier and more important thing on my part and I’m afraid for the church it is a more disconcerting and partisan subject. I’ll be waiting on their reaction for a while, uncomfortably. I am holding on to hope though, that like the humanizing-through-early-childhood-adorableness I attempted in this post, my church families will look at me and say, “Oh? That’s a queer person? She’s not some scary other! She made bookmarks for the hymnals.” And that, I hope, hope, hope, can lead people to rethinking their less-than-loving views or emboldening them in their loving views on LGBTQ people.
Thank you for reading – I genuinely hope my story has been worth something to you. Telling it has been worth a lot to me. Hopefully I can get back to the kind of blogging I love – anger-trolling and Henry antics. I mean, that’s what the internet is for, right?
I swear, when I first heard this song my blood went cold. I was convinced the chorus went, “…Come out to me, come out to me now!” But I was not ready yet. So here you go Charli 10/60 (40/10?), now I’m out to you too.
*Isn’t that a funny way to put it? It’s obviously not straight-forward (ha-ha?). Was it a fear of the word bisexual? A minimization of the truth? As in, “I’m not straight, but I’m also not a lima bean. So what?”
**Or, ‘a’ possibility, if you like. I’m using “bisexuality” in its umbrella meaning here, to stand in for any non-monosexual orientation of which there are several.