Part Two: The Challenges of Coming Out as Bisexual
I did not know at that time that I would find myself attacked by some people in the gay and lesbian community. I became a bisexual activist very quickly, partly because I’m wired to be an activist, and partly because I felt like I needed to make up for lost time. For every time someone made a homophobic, biphobic, or transphobic remark that I let slide by for fear of breaking my cover, for every time someone cracked a gay joke (I still remember one that was popular as hell when I was in high school, the punchline was “Roll-AIDS”) and I stayed silent, for every time I walked past a queer bar and didn’t go inside, or went in and sat quietly hoping no one I knew would see me, for every time I could have done something and didn’t. It’s not my penance, it is my purpose.
I started going into the corners of the web I had avoided for fear of being found out. Silly, I know, but the terror was a deep one. I find these days I am not as scared to be out as I was scared when I was in, because everything that I’m still afraid of being out was also a threat then, compounded by the fear of letting my mask slip.
I recall an incident when I was hitchhiking. A trucker gave me a ride, and told me how the last person he picked up was a fag, and how he beat the hell out of them and left them by the side of the road. I was sitting on the floor of his truck (no passenger seat, no seat belt, no nothing), totally vulnerable and knowing that I did not dare do anything but lie my ass off and look confident while I did so – a skillset that I do not have. I omitted like crazy and got out unhurt by pure luck.
So poking around on the web, I saw page after page after page that either didn’t accept bisexuality as a real orientation, or claimed that we were cheaters incapable of fidelity. That we were just self-hating gay men. That we were lying in order to make ourselves look more masculine and therefore more attractive to men who preferred macho. That my wife was my beard. In some cases where the arguments were made to seem more sophisticated, that we were soaking up straight privilege, that we were hurting trans*folk, that we were too stupid to read a dictionary and know that “bi” means two, so if your attractions went outside the gender binary in any way, you weren’t bisexual, but something else (pan/pomo/omni/Try/no label are some of the ones I hear, a phenomenon I’ve heard called “Anything-But-Bisexual”).
The bisexual closet has two doors. The first one is the one you hide behind when you’re pretending to be straight, and while there are powerful cultural forces (and people who we’ve given power over us, like family and friends and employers and politicians and preachers) pushing on the door to keep it closed (“Why don’t you just keep it in the bedroom! You people are sick! You’re making an immoral lifestyle choice!” are two things I’ve had shouted at me on Pride marches and a third I’ve heard in other contexts) it is fear that causes us to pull on the door from the inside to keep it closed.
If you are gay or lesbian, once you bust down that door, it’s down. The coming out process continues, of course – it’s not a single event – but from the day you choose to live openly, the only people you have to explain yourself to are people in the straight community. The queer community accepts you, as do its Allies. There are organizations there to help you live Out – PFLAG, GLAAD, more and more schools have GSAs.
(Hmmm. Parents and Friends of Lesbians And Gays, Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, Gay-Straight Alliance. Why do I feel like there’s something missing?)
When you are bi, once you get out of that first closet door, you run smack into another one. This one is more like a one-way mirror than a clearly marked door – you can see out, but it seems like no one can see in. Sometimes you can see so clearly that it’s like it’s not even there, at least until you walk right into it and bloody your nose.
That’s when you start to notice that unlike the gay and lesbian people in the community who never have to explain to each other or to you what being gay or lesbian is like, you do have to explain over and over and over that you’re bisexual, and often you find yourself explaining what it means. (I can say it so fast now that I sound like the disclaimer at the end of a used car commercial – “bisexual means having the capacity to have sexual and/or romantic relationships with both the same and other genders”.)
I don’t generally mind explaining. It’s obvious to anyone still reading this blog that I have no problem talking on and on and on. But while I don’t mind explaining to groups of people who have come to learn something they didn’t know, I do grow weary sometimes of explaining to people who should know – to psychologists, to instructors, to people who are committed to equality for gay and lesbian people, to gay and lesbian people in person and online, to people who are the heads of communications for organizations that have LGBT in the title but think that gay and lesbian issues are the only issues that exist, to people who comment on queer media and have decided that bisexuality doesn’t actually exist. It bothers me when lists of queer icons don’t mention the bisexuals on their lists as bisexuals, or when well-meaning organizations think it’s appropriate to list serial killers as bisexual icons because they just can’t find any others.
I finally let go of the inside of the door, and pushed back against the pressures that were keeping me in. Coming out is a political act, but it’s also a profound psychological one. It was not easy to come out, but I don’t regret it – if I have any regrets it’s that I didn’t do it 25 years ago.
There are some queer circles where I have found acceptance and community. My school is one of the good ones – I’ve been invited to give a presentation on bisexuality next week to the GLBT Alliance (Hey! Look at all those letters! One of them means me! Cool!), the queer community accepts me, and the straight community is very supportive. In fact, the President of the university not only gave an address at this year’s local Pridefest, but signed a proclamation that today is Coming Out Day at the school. The staff and student body alike have very little tolerance for homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia. I’m not going to say it doesn’t exist, but it’s not as a rule institutionally or culturally supported, at least not in the areas of the school I am in. We even have a Pride residential community.
And yet, in ways small and large, anytime I step outside the comfortable bi-friendly queer bubble that we’ve built on my campus, I run smack dab into that other door, the one other queer people are pushing on to keep me out of sight. They tell me, “well, it’s your own fault because since you’re married to someone of another gender you can pretend to be straight easier, you’re making yourself invisible by not being queer enough.” They tell my polyamorous friends, “well, it’s your fault because you don’t want to settle down with one person of the same gender, so you’re not assimilating, you’re too queer, and that makes us look bad.” They tell my friends who are in same-gender relationships “well, why don’t you just be gay and quit lusting after The Enemy, you’re going to break that woman’s heart.”
They say that as bisexuals, it’s duplicitous for us to be in a relationship with anyone but another bisexual. That’s when they admit we exist at all.
For thousands of years, Polynesian people told stories about crossing the ocean on small rafts. It wasn’t until a White guy did it that the popular and scientific establishments accepted that it was indeed possible.
For years, many very public gay and lesbian activists said that we don’t exist. Only after a researcher partially recanted his horribly flawed study on male bisexuality did some of them become willing to accept that maybe we are real. Of course, there was no need for scientific studies to convince them that they existed, after all, they could tell their own attractions without empirical evidence.
The only way to show the world that gay and lesbian people lived among them and were deserving of equal treatment was to come out. The only way for bisexual people to be recognized by both the queer and the straight worlds is to come out. Twice.
So Come Out, Come Out, wherever you are, because you can’t get much accomplished if you are hiding – or being hidden.