For those not in the know, today is Bi Visibility Day...and with that, I decided to talk a bit about my bisexuality as it's a topic that I have occasionally addressed in this blog but not necessarily head on. I mean, I did a whole schtick about it and talked about the linguistics of it, and reviewed an amazing book on the subject, but have never really done more than that. So buckle up to hear how I got here.
I've read enough stories of coming out, had a great many friends come out to me, and witnessed a good deal of coming out stories to understand that there's a significant amount of them that have similar trajectories but for many of us, that is not the case. My own story has familiar threads but woven from many different coming out stories.
Some bisexuals have always known this aspect of their identity, but I, like others, discovered my bisexuality. Heterosexuals tend to never have to discover or even question their heterosexuality, that's what we mean when we talk about heteronormative practices. It's an assumption of presence (heterosexuality) and few are given or encouraged to challenge that assumption. But bisexuals like me often stumble upon it, realizing that a part of one's self has been hidden from one's self.
I grew up in a heteronormative society. I liked and was socially accepted in my interest in females. I knew attraction to males was openly shunned in our society. Any attraction to males that I experienced could and was quickly disregarded as random thoughts but nothing serious or to be investigated because I had a clear attraction to women. I could be either gay or straight; not both.
Bi-Ways to DiscoveryFor the first twenty of so years of my life; that was easier than digging deeper into those occasional thoughts wherein I found myself intrigued by (never attracted, right?) men or the handful of homoerotic sexual fantasies I experienced. But like many others, college gave me an opportunity to expand my understanding and lens in many ways. It brought me into contact with a great many other students, staff, and campus leaders who were not straight. Beyond normalizing what had been taboo and punishable in high school, I was also learning much from my course of study as it introduced me to the many different types of marginalized people within history and society (history major, keep in mind). The most profound idea that college introduced me to that helped me to eventually claim my identity as a bisexual was that non-heteronormative identities varied greatly and were perfectly acceptable means of self and sexual expression.
After college, I found myself working at a large seller of Christian goods. Many people found their way there as part of their spiritual journey or felt that they were doing God's work (I'm not sure capitalizing off everything biblically related is really what Jesus would do--but that's between them and their maker). A significant percentage of them were either conservative, fundamentalist, or both, which meant the wrath and judgment of God hovered about two feet over each and every conversation. For me, it was a job that I liked in terms of the work I was doing but not necessarily one that I was inspired by in terms of the content we were shucking. But it would be while working at this job that I fully realized my bisexuality.
Maybe that makes sense; maybe the spirit moved me in the right direction. A significant part of my job did not necessarily entail a lot of mental energy. It was computer work that could be done without much thinking and therefore I could listen to audiobooks and audio programs while working. We all know that I'm an audiobook fanatic so that is often how I filled my days. But it was the early days of Audible and one of my favorite shows/podcasts that they had was In Bed With Susie Bright.
Learning Bi MyselfSusie Bright is a writer, editor, podcaster, activist, bisexual, polyamorist, rockstar. You can read more about her elsewhere but I was listening to her weekly podcast and being introduced to a wide variety of people, books, ideas, etc over the course of several years while working at that first professional job out of college. Between her words, her interviews, follow-up exploration on the topics she introduced, I found myself delving deep into the worlds of gender, sex, and sexuality. So there I sat in my cubicle, listening and expanding my mind on these topics while surrounded by people who loved to cast stones.
I can give a lot of credit to a lot of different people for helping me get there, but Susie Bright's podcast was probably the game changer for me. She was the first bisexual that I can recall who didn't offer one sole form of bisexuality or put parameters around what it should look like. Her driving message about bisexuality is that it comes in myriad forms and that it (like much of sexuality) has a fluidity to it that is self-determined and understood. I think that's a key thing I appreciated and found liberating about moving away from the heterosexuality box was escaping the overwhelming conformity it presented, repressing sexual exploration beyond a dogmatic insistence of male as defacto lead and female as de facto follower. (That's not to say that alternatives and variety doesn't exist in the heterosexual world, but that the emphasis of the male/female dynamic described above is that which is promoted).
In addition to her sage advice, I continued to expand my knowledge of sex, gender, and sexuality with books, websites, documentaries, and courses. I voraciously consumed these pieces of information and lens both because I was interested in this area in an academic and a personal sense. I came back to the topic time and again in an associate degree I was pursuing after college (in criminal justice) and in the graduate degree that followed in American Studies.
Each piece of learning helped me to reflect about my past and present experiences and attractions to males. It first helped me to reposition those past memories and fantasies as not inexplicable and alienated actions but as something that was part of me. This encouraged me to think more about why and how these occurred and were there other times to which such emotions and feelings were aroused in others besides females.
So by this time, I came to better understand that I was in fact bisexual and began to identify as such in certain contexts (e.g. dating) and among certain people. It took over 20 years for me to realize it, given the culture we live in and the mutability of attraction that occurred in me (and I would imagine other bisexual males in our culture). For me, which is so damn fitting for me that I laugh every time I think about it is, is that it took books and learning for me to better understand it. That is, as someone who has spent so much of his life in education as a student, instructor, and professional staff member --as a self-proclaimed nerd as it were, I found my way to bisexuality by reading books and articles, writing about sexuality, and taking courses both directly and indirectly related to it.
The Phased Coming OutIt's a strange thing to come out in your 20s as bisexual (ok, it was strange for me). I did it in phases because, well, coming out as bisexual is complicated or maybe it is made complicated by others as a result of a mixture of ignorance on what bisexuality is or biphobia, which like homophobia can be found prevalently within our culture. Making a statement about one's sexuality, especially when it conflicts with one's previously evident sexual interactions, can often be met with skepticism. Inevitably, as many nonheterosexuals, queer, and trans people know, when one comes out, there is always an expectation of evidence to validate the claim. For bisexuals, this means evidence of cross-dating, for gay and lesbian folk, it means having a same-sex partner, and for transpeople, it can mean having the surgery (regardless of whether the transperson has any intention of any of the surgeries related to transitioning).
But I did it in phases because there were some people that it was going to be more relevant to than others and quite frankly, I didn't want to have conversations with people that I felt would be circular, cause me frustration or where I would be misunderstood. So while I would be open about my bisexuality in relationships, with nonheterosexual friends, I was more selective about the circle of people I shared my identity with beyond that--at least in much of my 20s.
There were other reasons for this as well. For chunks of my 20s, I worked with youth, particularly after school daycare, summer camp, and residential teens. With all but one of these places (a residential home specifically for LGBTQ teens), I did not openly speak about my identity because they did not feel like safe places to acknowledge such things. Bi-phobia does exist; I've seen people's visceral reaction to someone who does not choose either/or but both. We as humans are often comfortable with category and bisexuality crosses categories. I had no interest in dealing with such bigotry why working because it had nothing to do with the work I was doing.
However, once I was working at a residential program for LGBTQ teens, I realized, especially for the teens who often lacked positive and localized (as opposed to national or iconic) role models with which to look to and realize or appreciate different ways in which sexuality is expressed and how it is not the sole definer of our experiences. From there, I became much more open about my bisexuality professionally, but working in academia, there is certainly a bit more acceptance of that (not a universal, but working in academia in Massachusetts, it is more so). Sometime in 2012, I switched this blog from its original name (the Hitchhiking Adjunct) to its present name, By Any Other Nerd. And sometime shortly thereafter, I identified as bisexual in my About page. At different times, I have included this or not, depending on the changes I've made to my about pages and other additional pages.
Coming out to my family was an outward to inward approach. I came out first to my two cousins who also were also not heterosexual. What was nice about one of these relationships is that it was a cousin whom I had not been particularly close with throughout much of my life and now, in our thirties, she's one of the closest family members I have. As for the other cousin, I don't know. She had disconnected from the family years previously for reasons I can understand in general but never specifically the disconnect from me. Reaching out to her and coming out to her, I thought might bring us closer her but all I got was silence.
Coming out to my immediate family didn't formally happened until I did my first stand-up routine which focused on being bisexual. Of course, I warned them ahead of time what the focus of my routine was and thus came out to them in the later part of my thirties. Coming out nearly 15 years after I knew may sound as if I was hiding from them. It is more a matter of I had issue with bringing it up unless there was reason to. If I had dated any guy long enough to "bring home", I would have had the conversation. But in the absence of "proof", I didn't trust my family to actually understand it or appreciate what it was that I was sharing with them. So, it took a while for the circumstances to make it evident.
Parting ThoughtsNowadays, I'm more open to dropping the B-word where it's relevant in a discussion or in a given moment. I'm less hesitant to talk about it openly in nearly all space, but of course, that's context. I don't know if I would carry the same confidence were I in different region or area of the country or the world. But I do my best to talk about it without over-talking about it as I realize many non-heteronormative people don't get this opportunity. If I can increase normality of nonheteronormative identities through being more open, then it behooves me to do so.
I recognize that for a variety of reasons, coming out for me was not as challenging or life-threatening as it can be for others. For that, I am grateful and recognize the privilege associated with my cultural, social, class standings that allow for that. But I think it's worth considering for all of us to stop and think what it means for people to feel necessary to "come out." In many cases, it's a result of the assumptions of culture that are put upon the person to which they must reject. It requires the person to have to claim the space of "I am not who you're assuming." And that can be an awfully hard space to navigate, especially in a culture that still has very strong notions about boys and girls, men and women (and the strict adherence to an artificial gender/sex binary therein).
I'll probably have more posts about this subject in the months and years to come but for those who are discovering this for the first time, I'm assuming this changes nothing. For those that were already in the know, I hope this provides some further understanding about who I am. And for those that are grappling with your own identity or coming to understand it, I am sending you kind thoughts and hopes that you will be able to navigate to a place where you and your loved ones are comfortable with who you are.
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