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.