(Even if I am currently in a relationship with a member of the opposite sex.)
I recently joked with a friend that Pride Month is exhausting for me, a bisexual woman whose long-term relationships have predominantly been with men.
“Every damn June, I have to come out again,” I laughed, feigning fatigue. “I’m 47. This has been going on since I was 19. And someone is always surprised. Usually, my mother. Every. Damn. Year.”
All joking aside, it hasn’t really been every year since I was 19 that I’ve come out again. I know this because, at age 47, I am old enough to remember a time when attending anything related to Pride came with serious risks: loss of employment or housing, alienation of family and friends, violence, even death.
In that context, bisexuality was a blessing. If I was holding the hand of a man, I wasn’t suspect.
At 19, I was caught off-guard when I was outed by a newspaper reporter in a front-page story. The ensuing sh*tstorm taught me how dangerous it was to be revealed as anything or anyone other than what you were believed or expected to be.
I’d love to tell you that in response to said sh*tstorm I fought bravely and defiantly to let my freak flag fly.
I was already struggling in a fog of depression at that time, and it was one straw too many for this camel’s back. I backed down. I slunk away. I chose carefully what I shared of my real self with others.
Ultimately, I married a man and had a child.
Was it an effort to conform? Maybe in part. I do know I loved that man. I love him to this day, years after our divorce and his passing. My relationship with our child is the single greatest blessing of my life.
But loving that man didn’t change who I am.
Monogamy is a choice. Sexual orientation isn’t.
Perhaps the strangest part of my journey has been conquering the belief that bisexuality is somehow not a “thing.” For many years, I carried with me the words of a lesbian friend from college who’d insisted that bisexuality was just “a pleasant detour on the way to Lesbianville.”
My relationships with men felt authentic. Was I just in denial?
Then there was the time, in my early 30s, when I told a friend that the date I was going on that evening was with a woman, not a man. Her face puckered as if she’d tasted something sour, and she held up a hand: stop.
“Hey,” she said, “If that’s your kink, fine, but I don’t need to hear about it.”
So. Not a friend, after all.
But her words wormed their way into my brain.
Was it just a kink? Was I taking something that belonged behind a closed bedroom door and bringing it inappropriately out into the light?
The thing I have since realized is that it is not about sex. Because let’s face it, that old joke is spot on:
Q: Is sex dirty?
A: Only if you’re doing it right.
When it comes to sex, folks, there is a reason they call it “bumping uglies,” and it’s got nothing to do with the parties involved.
“You and me, baby, ain’t nothing but mammals.” ~ The Bloodhound Gang, “The Bad Touch”
Sexuality, though—sexual orientation, gender identity—these things are intrinsic to our being. And, as the world is finally beginning to recognize and acknowledge, they exist on a continuum—not as polarities on opposite ends of a spectrum.
When I tell you I am bisexual, I am not telling you something about my sex life. I am telling you something about who I am, soul-deep, and how I perceive and interact with the world. Even if, for the rest of my life, I never date a woman again, this would remain true of me: I exist somewhere on the continuum that is not the straight and narrow.
The confusion I felt in my younger years was not because there was something wrong with me; it was because I saw no one modeling a life to which I felt I could authentically relate and aspire. (Well, perhaps not exactly no one—my fondness for David Bowie and Annie Lennox, in all their glorious androgyny, makes a bit more sense in hindsight.)
Even among my lovely lesbian friends, though, I wasn’t fully at home because I wasn’t fully in their camp. It would have been great if I had been. My short hair, fondness for men’s fashion, and the number of times I’d seen Indigo Girls and Melissa Etheridge live would have required less explaining. But no. My train to Lesbianville had gotten stuck somewhere along the tracks, and there I sat, ogling Bryan Ferry and Isabella Rossellini in equal measure, wondering how the hell I ended up with this damn ticket to nowhere.
Perhaps the best thing about getting older has been gaining comfort with what is, accepting rather than endlessly questioning, following the flow of my life wherever it may lead.
I am who and what and how I am. And as long as I strive each day to be kind and put my best out into the world, all the rest is just fine.
From where I sit here in middle age, comfortable at last in my skin (and at the risk of aging myself beyond my years), I must tell you young people who are so brave and out and brilliantly effecting positive change in our world just how much you impress me. My inner English major will likely screw up gender pronouns in conversation with you now and then, but you will correct me, and that warms my heart and gives me hope. You know who you are, and in this world that has long sought to make you silent and invisible, you have the courage to insist on respect.
I wish I could go back and tell my 19-year-old self that one day, in my lifetime, Pride Month would be so widely celebrated that straight folks would bring their kids to parades and corporations would fall all over themselves to sponsor and advertise their support, leaving nearly every magazine published in the month of June awash in rainbow flags. Sure, it is pandering—but it is progress, too.
We who live in places where progress is happening must remember that there are far too many who still stand to lose jobs, housing, family, friends, and even their very lives for simply being who they are. The truth is that queer folks are not defying the norm. We are making the world cognizant that the “norm” is a lie. And no one likes to learn that what they thought was true is false.
Visibility is key. I have seen hearts soften and opinions change in my own family when relatives realized that people they know and love are not—and have never been—straight.
Nope, Ma, sorry—Aunt Gladys and Auntie Sally are not just roommates.
And so, if you see me as a nice, silver-haired, middle-aged, heterosexual lady, allow me to offer this post—with a wink and a smile and just the tiniest trace of exhaustion—to set you, well…straight.
Happy Pride Month to all.