….As told from the pulpit of the Universalist Unitarian Church of Riverside for National Coming Out Day on 10-13-13
*Note: This is as-written. No adlibs added during the presentation are here*
My Coming Out Story
One complaint I hear all the time from straight people, generally after someone famous has come out, is “why do they have to announce it? I don’t go around announcing my sexuality to everyone. Why make it everyone’s business?” Then usually someone asks where the Straight Pride parades are and all the eye-rolling from the non-straight people and the allies commences. It takes a lot of privilege and a lot of ignorance about that privilege to ask such a question. If you didn’t know, let me tell you, every day is Straight Pride Day. Straight people don’t have to make announcements because straight is considered the default, the golden ticket, your Hogwarts letter. The norm. Everyone and everything else is considered deviant. You are considered straight until proven otherwise. If you are straight you get to have your orientation celebrated and rewarded. From tax benefits, legal privileges, the media etc. And it’s everywhere. You announce your orientation everywhere you go with wedding rings, holding your partner’s hand, putting up family pictures in your office, casually discussing your partner with friends, family, coworkers and strangers and it’s never called “flaunting” or ‘shoving your lifestyle in everyone’s face.’ Such behavior is so commonplace and ‘normal’ that it goes without comment. But when someone who is not straight does it, it’s “flaunting” and trying to make a statement.
Coming out is a revolutionary act in our society. It takes courage and conviction and unbelievable strength. Coming out can mean homelessness, loss of a job, loss of family, friends, community standing, reputation and death. That makes coming out a privilege for many people. People often stay closeted for good reasons. Important reasons. necessary reasons.
Coming out is a multi-step process. Sometimes the first step is coming out to yourself. I envy those people who have always known who they are and who they want. Just knowing must be so nice. This is not to trivialize the struggle that generally follows this knowledge, we know that you accepting yourself and the rest of the world accepting that truth are two different things, but at least being sure in your own heart must be a comfort on some level.
Let me tell you my story now.
People tend to think of sexuality as fixed and polarized. You are either gay or straight. It’s fixed, it doesn’t change and it’s very clear. That has not been my experience. In high school I was straight. I was not in denial. I was not closeted. I did not struggle. I was, to the best of my knowledge, only attracted to boys. No crushes on female classmates or fantasies about women. This, however, changed in college. I started finding myself attracted to women. It wasn’t about experimenting or curiosity. My attractions simply changed, but it was not about choice. It was about evolution. This threw me into some confusion. I didn’t know what to do or what to think. I was clearly no longer straight, but I also was not completely gay. You might be thinking, ‘well, duh. You’re bisexual’ but bisexual implies a 50-50 split. Someone who is equally attracted to both men and women. I am not. This is a long time before I heard of the spectrum of sexuality or monosexuality versus non-mono-sexuality. In some ways, being gay, lesbian and straight are really easy. It’s either attraction to the same sex or the opposite sex. Neat boxes. Those are monosexualities. Non-mono sexualities are bisexuality, pan sexuality and queer (depending on how one defines it).
Bisexuality is a fraught identity. You have one foot in each world and you aren’t accepted in either. There are so many stereotypes and barriers if you are a non-mono. Bi-phobia is the term used. Bisexuals are considered slutty, not able to commit, greedy, indecisive, risky and sexual unicorns. I’ll explain that one later. Many do not believe it’s even a real identity. Ever heard ‘bi now, gay later’? Bisexuality is often seen as either a stop rest on the way to Gay Town or an experimental phase, at least for women, until their college hippie days are over and they are back safely in the arms of heterosexuality. It’s a weird place to be. I get some hetero privilege because people assume I’m straight. I’m safer than others. I can “pass”. On the other hand, I’m also usually invisible. To everyone. Gays and straights. This is called bi-invisibility. And it sucks.
I spent so many years being torn over a label. It was so important to me that I find something that fit. I was desperate for a community, for something real and tangible. I used ‘lesbian’ for a bit and felt like a total fraud. I used queer for a long time, but that took a lot of explaining. I’ve recently started using bisexual. Boxes are so important to us. We don’t do well with gray lines and people who refuse to play by the standard rules. People demanded that I label myself for THEIR comfort, not mine. Why don’t you just pick a side! Why do I have to?
I have to come out a lot as someone who does not generally ‘look gay.’ Most people assume that I am straight. I am selectively “out.” I do not lie. I will tell anyone the truth if they ask me. But they usually have to ask. I don’t generally volunteer. I live and work in a conservative part of SoCal. I spent the last 4 years working mostly with youth with Planned Parenthood. Disclosing that I was queer could have easily jeopardized my relationships with needed community contacts, schools, teachers and so on. I was once called a “faggot” and had my car vandalized by a homophobic teenager who saw a “Diversity” sticker on my car. With my family I am very selectively out. Most of my family is not what you would call “gay friendly.” I take a very passive-aggressive approach and post things on Facebook, hope they will see them, and then tell everyone else. Work done for me. That’s actually how I came out officially. I announced it at the end of a post about something totally different on my LiveJournal. It was on National Coming Out Day—and I didn’t even realize or know. The universe was clearly speaking to me. All my friends know.
So who am I? Sylvia Plath said, “I took a deep breath and listened to the old bray of my heart. I am. I am. I am.” At the tip of the iceberg I am a female identified rather femme bisexual. That’s my current label. What does that mean to me? For me? I am generally attracted to real women and fictional men. If you are a woman, call me. If you are a man? Call me if you are Benedict Cumberbatch. If you are still a man, but are not Benedict Cumberbatch, never fear. You can totally be a different British actor. Matt Smith, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Daniel Radcliffe…)
Finally, why my coming out mattered? It mattered because I will not, cannot live a lie. Not even one of omission. I need to live an authentic life. I love being part of the LGBT community. Or something bigger than myself. It mattered because as an activist I need to take the same risk as those I stand with and fight with. If they can be brave, so can I. It matters because I want you to see me. All of me.
Anais Nin said, “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.’
I needed to come out.