Coming Out

Coming Out Stories: A Couple of Closets

The first time I came out about anything was when I was thirteen. I did it over IM to my best friend, because I was a teenager who spent all of my time on my computer. (Some things don’t change.) E was a girl I’d known for five or six years at that point, someone I trusted. I wasn’t sure how she’d take it. As I recall, it went something like this.

K: Just wanted to tell you, I’m bi.

E: Are you sure?

K: Yeah, pretty sure.

E: I mean… are you sure you aren’t just into girls?

K: No, I think I’m bi.

E: Well, I always figured you for a lesbian.

K: No, I’m pretty sure I’m bi.

E: Well, you would know, of course. But I think you’d make a great lesbian!

And that was that.

My parents? Well, I told my mom first. She didn’t really have much to say about it.  Dad – similarly, nothing. I didn’t get the “oh honey, we knew, and we love you” but nothing really bad happened either. Basically, coming out as bisexual for me was not a big deal. Life continued as normal, and the sky didn’t fall. I think part of that has to do with the nature of bisexuality as portrayed by most of culture these days – for my parents, it was not something they needed to confront as they might a daughter who had come out as gay. To this day, I’ve never introduced my parents to any of the women I’ve dated (or the men, really), so it hasn’t really come up more directly.

I was out in college, but again, being bisexual was very rarely something I confronted on a daily basis, or even spoke about very much. I get annoyed when people assume I’m heterosexual, but very rarely will correct them. Even today, I still struggle with remembering that it’s something I should strive to be more forward about and comfortable with.

Recently, at work, I was participating in a conference call with a member of our team who was out of state. We were discussing some potential re-branding for a project, and one of the people on it had suggested “outing outages.” I was just in the process of agreeing with my coworker, who had just pointed out that it could have negative connotations to GLBT people when the guy on the phone says, “well, as the person with the most authority in the room on the topic, I think GLBT people won’t like it.”

I sat in stunned silence as he proceeded to go on to discuss other naming options. Where did this guy get off deciding that he was the authority on GLBT opinion in the room? Did being bisexual eliminate my street cred? Did I have to preface my opinion on the topic with “as someone who isn’t straight…” By the time I had even thought enough to call him on it, we had moved on. I didn’t say anything.

It’s a lot easier to let my sexuality sink into the background, reminding myself that it’s not  “polite” to correct people (and thus not saying anything) than it is to do the coming out song and dance. But it’s not the right thing to do. As someone who can “pass” as straight, I do owe it to myself and to others to make an effort to be out. It’s something I hope I’m getting better at.

Being a skeptic was a little bit different. My parents had no problems with atheism – our family has never been particularly religious. However, the root of my skepticism comes from a childhood of being treated with CAM (complementary and alternative medicine). Homeopathy, acupuncture, reiki, naturopathy – you name it, I’ve tried it.

So my mother saw me becoming skeptical as rejecting a set of beliefs she held dear. Homeopathy was the medicine that cured my asthma when I was younger when conventional medicine failed. I’ve tried to talk to her about it, show her evidence, introduced her to the sources that I’ve used to understand, but it hasn’t worked. She insists that it worked for me and it works for her, and that all of the understanding of how water is molecularly structured won’t change that.

And over the holidays this year, she threw out a phrase that sounded pretty familiar. “I wonder when you’re going to get over this rebellious phase.” I felt like I had been punched in the gut. (Also, a hint: as a bisexual person, I’m especially sensitive to the suggestion that any of my identity is a phase). It’s still heartbreaking to me that she sees something that is now a part of my identity, and in many ways, far more important to me than my sexuality.

During my undergrad, I ran a skeptical and atheist organization. My thesis work was taking a skeptical look at science in the courtroom. Frankly, the introduction to skepticism that I got when I was a freshman was probably the most single influential thing that happened to me. I owe so much of my outlook on life, my leadership skills and my identity to finding a group of peers who looked at the world the same way I did – skeptically.

As many queer folks out there already know, it’s devastating to be told something that is a fundamental part of who you are is a phase or a rebellion. Certainly skepticism is a choice in a way my sexuality will never be, but I still look back at that moment and want to cry.

It doesn’t matter if that part of your identity is your sexuality, your lack of belief or your gender identity. It still deserves the same acceptance and support from those around you.

 

Closet image courtesy of Joy Weese Moll, on Flickr.

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Kendra

Kendra

Kendra Albert is a skeptical, bisexual woman living in Cambridge, Mass. When she's not writing for Queereka, she researches the Internet, plays video games, and cooks delicious things.

12 Comments

  1. January 2, 2012 at 12:56 pm —

    Awesome post!

    I think it’s great to challenge the dominant narrative that coming out is always a challenging and arduous process. In some ways, that narrative could even serve as a barrier by frightening young people into staying in the closet. Some people are lucky enough to live with supportive families and peer groups in which coming out as LGBTQ isn’t such a big deal… and hopefully more and more people will find themselves in this situation over time.

    On the other hand, there has been very little attention on “coming out” as atheist/skeptic. We’re still one of the most despised groups in America (http://atheism.about.com/od/atheistbigotryprejudice/a/AtheistSurveys.htm). By speaking up and telling our stories, maybe we can change some of those opinions about us.

  2. January 2, 2012 at 1:14 pm —

    Thanks for sharing that, Kendra. =)

  3. […] post is a continuation of an article posted on Skepchick […]

  4. January 2, 2012 at 2:50 pm —

    I had no problems at all coming out as trans to my family, though admittedly, my parents were dead by the time I came out to my brothers. The closest I’ve come to coming out to my parents was coming out to an aunt, who has been utterly fabulous about it.

    Coming out as atheist to my mom, though? Whoo boy! That didn’t go well. She was a rock-ribbed Catholic and my brothers and I got the full treatment as kids. When I told her I didn’t believe in god, it was almost like I punched her in the gut. We never spoke of it again.

  5. January 2, 2012 at 3:59 pm —

    I wish my parents were a little more understanding. I came out bisexual to them and man, you think that they just found out that the world was going to end. Coming out to friends was always easy though. I’m genderqueer, too, so the bisexual thing isn’t such a surprise.
    I prefer to use just the word ‘queer’ for both my gender and sexuality.
    Coming out as an Atheist is something that I haven’t done yet to my family. I just turned skeptical (Neopagan to Atheist)several months ago and right now I have a lot on my plate so I haven’t mentioned it to them.

    • January 2, 2012 at 4:24 pm —

      Wow. You must have a lot to process. I almost envy you (re: your conversion). 🙂

    • January 2, 2012 at 11:05 pm —

      Wow, not only am I also bi/pansexual, but also genderqueer and a Pagan-to-atheist. *fistbump*

      They handled the bi thing okay, but they just don’t begin to get the genderqueer thing on my side.

      Good luck.

  6. January 2, 2012 at 4:23 pm —

    Great post, Kendra! 🙂 I can relate re: the skeptical ‘phase’. It’s really frustrating to have anything you’re passionate about deemed a phase. My own family are a bunch of closed-minded bigots who have on more than one occasion told me that I’m going to hell for my position on things. So yeah, sympathy. 🙁

  7. January 2, 2012 at 5:28 pm —

    Luckily, I didn’t have to come out as an atheist; my whole family is, all the way back to my grandparents. Coming out as bisexual wasn’t much of a big deal to them; I think they might think it’s just a “phase,” but at least they haven’t said anything to that effect.

    Coming out as poly, though…whoo boy. My mom thinks I’m going to die of AIDS. Every time the subject comes up, she cries. I’ve just stopped talking about it with them. I haven’t told them about my girlfriend, who is transgender and married, because I’m pretty sure it would just confuse them.

    Closets within closets. =/

  8. January 2, 2012 at 6:59 pm —

    Funny. I have a friend that figured I was bi. I’ve had two conversations with him that went more or less the way yours did, but in the opposite direction.

  9. January 3, 2012 at 5:48 pm —

    It’s funny, but me coming out as a non-believer was met more harshly by my father than being gay (he was totally cool with it). My mom on the other hand was heavily entrenched into Catholic Guilt until all the scandals of child abuse started happening and she started to question just how right a church that allowed that to happen could be on homosexuality.

  10. January 8, 2012 at 9:36 pm —

    On the atheist side: I’m pretty lucky; my parents are atheists and Australia is generally pretty chilled about atheism (just don’t be Muslim). Pretty much all my friends are atheists, or maybe agnostic or pagan. The only thing has been my fundie grandmother. She stopped talking to me about Jesus some time ago, and it’s a very awkward/upsetting point either way. Also I spotted a very hateful anti-gay book at her place yesterday. Heartbreaking. Yet she still talks to me, just not about *that*. Can’t wait til I have a kid soon with my partner to bring these issues to the fore.

    Coming out as a lesbian in general? OUCH. My father, as with many, thinks it’s basically the same as “All Men Must Die”, so their aggression is frightening. Dealing with society has not been particularly easy, though it’s easier than it was fifteen years ago.

    Not that skepticism is the same as atheism, but that’s been fairly okay for me too in Australia. My bachelor degree majored in what was pretty much skepticism (history & philosophy of science) & we had a pet fundie to keep us all amused. As a skeptical woman however, I’ve gotten some pushback, as it’s seen as quite masculine a position. And rebellious, as as a woman I don’t quite know my own mind.

    Thanks for the article!

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