At age eight, I consciously realized for the first time I liked girls the same way I liked boys.
Nearly everyone who knows me knows this, so it should come as no great shock.
Once I had that epiphany, everything snapped into very clear focus – it explained an awful lot. I just hadn’t specifically realized what I was feeling.
I remember the moment with crystal clarity, even the exact words I said to myself, playing in a sunny meadow on a summer’s day with a large group of other girls and flirting with one, in particular: “I’m acting like she’s a boy!”
I didn’t have any judgments or attachments associated with that realization – it was just an “aha” moment. It didn’t make me uncomfortable or feel ashamed, and I carried on flirting with the girl as before, just with a little more awareness. The concept of gay or straight hadn’t ever been introduced into my world. The feelings weren’t really sexual in nature – it was the same kind of excitement any kid has with someone he or she likes, and that’s the point as it turns out – it’s not really about sex; it’s about love and all the good things that come with it.
In the seventies in my small, Michigan hometown, the word “bisexual” was not something I had ever heard. In fact, I never even knew it was a word until I was in high school.
Prior to learning what bisexual was, I was torn. By the time middle and high school rolled around, I was familiar with what being gay was, and I assumed a person was gay or straight. That was strongly reinforced by the media and by pretty much everyone around me. Anyone giving a sidelong glance to the “wrong” gender instantly had a label slapped on – gay. There wasn’t any wiggle room.
I knew I was attracted to girls, so I thought that must mean I was A Lesbian. I mourned the loss of a future with boys in it. After all, if I liked girls, it followed that I did not like boys, as far as I knew.
This was not a constant, nagging torture for me – it was mostly a benign confusion. I carried on secretly liking girls and openly dating boys. There were precious few openly gay students at my high school – I can think of only two who were not completely in the closet. They were made fun of by a lot of kids, and looking back on their experience, I am really humbled by their courage and strength. I surely didn’t have it then.
As I remember that first “consciously queer” moment, I also remember the feeling of relief that washed over me when I learned it was indeed possible to fall in love with anyone of any gender, and that there was even a name for it. Avenues opened up I didn’t know existed. There was still a huge stigma associated with being gay or bi – AIDS was just ramping up its spread, and homosexuality was not widely accepted in any form apart from two female supermodels making out while men watched.
I’m so thankful queer kids today don’t have quite as much hatred directed at them, but I know it’s still a tough road. There are a lot of positive role models out there, though, along with support groups and a lot more information than there once was. People are still harassed and beaten, but I feel our culture is becoming more accepting with time. And thank goodness.
When I went to college at the University of Michigan, I was exposed for the first time to queer-positive culture. There was an abundance of openly gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans-gendered people, living out and proud and I was stunned.
“Wait,” I said to myself in my endless inner dialogue, “If I acknowledge who I am, I don’t have to be some kind of ridiculous cliche? There’s more than one option here? I can just be a normal person who happens to like men and women pretty much equally?”
I was pleasantly bamboozled.
In my sophomore and junior years at Umich, I went a little Lea Valeria. In her comedic act, she talks about how she compulsively outed herself at every possible opportunity in the beginning:
“I’m sorry, officer, I didn’t know I was speeding AND I’M A DYKE!!”
“Yes, I’ll take a pound of the sliced ham, please, and I’M GAY!!”
I wore pride rings and beads and put the requisite stickers on my car. I worked at a mostly gay club in town. My first website had an entire section devoted to being bi. Pretty much everyone who knew me, knew. I came out to various childhood friends. Aside from one unfortunate reaction from a person I barely knew and my grandfather, everyone either didn’t care or reacted positively.
I came out to my mom in my senior year, and while I never explicitly had The Talk with my dad, I always figured he knew and wasn’t the least bit fazed by it. I knew he’d love me regardless, and at that stage in our relationship, it just seemed unnecessary to talk about it specifically.
As time passed, I learned how to not OMG COME OUT to people. It just came up naturally in the course of conversation. When one makes a point of saying something that might be shocking, it forces the other person to react in some fashion, or to feel he or she should react in some way. Being put on the spot isn’t any fun. If one just lets the subject come up naturally, it makes things easier for everyone, so that’s what I have tended to do for the last fifteen or so years.
Ironically, the only person who ever asked me to censor myself is The Engineir. After we’d been dating awhile, I posted a LiveJournal entry about how we’d met and fallen in love. The entry contains the following paragraph:
“I remember only one other similar occurrence, and it was long, long ago – about 30 years ago, in fact. A moment when I realized something enormous was happening, but I wasn’t sure quite what it was. I was at Girl Scout camp in Harrison, Michigan, and my group was out in a meadow somewhere doing whatever activity we were supposed to be doing. The details have long since faded. What I remember, though, is one of the camp counselors, Chicago, and how I was behaving with her. It gradually dawned on me, “I’m acting like she’s a boy!!” and my little 8-year-old mind was completely floored. I had no concept of gay or straight at that point; I just knew how I felt about boys, and suddenly, there was this girl causing the same thoughts. It was a profound moment of realization for me, and even though I didn’t fully grasp its meaning.”
When Mike read the entry, he wanted to show his family (whom I had not met) – but he asked me to take that paragraph out.
Because I was madly in love with him, I didn’t immediately punch him in the face. Instead, I told him if he wanted to sanitize it, he could copy and paste it to them his-own-damn-self and not send them the actual link. I was offended, but willing to let it go. I didn’t know what sort of people his parents might be. As it turns out, they are amazingly cool and awesome folks, and I think Mike underestimated their acceptance of a bi girlfriend. But I honestly do understand where he was coming from – I just don’t approve of it, and I don’t think he’d make that request today.
The reason I bring all this up now is my mother. Lately, I’ve met some important people in her life, several of whom are lesbians. Mom hasn’t ever been judgmental of anyone’s sexual orientation, race, religion or politics (it’s everything else she disapproves of,) and never flinched at my coming out to her. I would occasionally bring girlfriends home to visit with me. At several points, Mom wistfully said she wished she were gay, because men were “so much trouble.” She told me she thought being bisexual was “a more highly-evolved state,” because we can look past the physical hardware and love any person fully. I don’t know if I buy that – it’s just how we’re born; still, I appreciated her acceptance and understanding.
However. When we were talking to one of her friends the other day, though, the friend remarked on a decision she and her life partner had made; “we’re not going to get married until everyone everywhere can do it.” I nodded and mentioned it was something I strongly supported and advocated for.
Mom interjected, “but you’re with a guy now, so it doesn’t really matter for you.”
It took every last ounce of restraint I possess not to launch into everything that was wrong with that statement. Her friend and I exchanged a frazzled but patient glance and nodded to each other, somewhat sadly.
I see this attitude elsewhere. It’s as if settling down with a man has either a.) “absolved” me of my past sins, or b.) taken away my “claim” to being bisexual.
This is infuriating.
Most of the people in my immediate circle understand why, and don’t fall into this sort of thinking in the least. I can only think of a scattered few who might be confused by the concept, and to them I say this:
It was as likely I’d end up with a girl as with a guy. It just so happens I fell head over heads, in permanent fashion, with a dude. That doesn’t mean I don’t still notice pretty women any less than I notice pretty men.
I’ll spare you all the rant about how bisexual people can, indeed, be content with one person/gender for life, just as a gay or straight person can. I think you all already get it. But a person overhears things in our culture, and cannot ignore certain inherent messages.
My friend Hope today posted on Facebook that Target has stopped supporting anti-gay groups because they signed a deal with Lady Gaga. Whoa. I mean, yay for not actively supporting hatred of any sort – but WTF Lady Gaga? Thank you for being openly bi, but partnering with a store that up until now promoted anti-gay agendas? (facepalm)
I find myself wondering if the anti-gay “agenda” is anything like the gay one? Certain conservatives seem to think the gay “agenda” resembles the following:
9:00am – Continental breakfast
10:00am – Body waxing do’s and don’ts for men
10:30am – Flannel – is the comfort worth looking like a lumberjack?
11:30am – Boxed lunch
12:00pm – How to overthrow the government and convert all straight people, everywhere
1:00pm – “The L-Word” and “Queer as Folk” – slowly we take over the media!
3:00pm – Break
3:30pm – How to destroy the American family
4:30pm – Trans-gender surgery – Take it lightly!
5:00pm – Drinks and group sex
Needless to say, no.
Kudos to Facebook for adding “Domestic Partnership” and “Civil Union” to their list of available relationship statuses. Kudos to people who support equal rights for all – no qualifications about race, religion or sexual orientation. Kudos to openly queer people everywhere and to the people who love and support them.
I’ve been pounding out this rant for the last forty-five minutes, and I think I’ve finally gotten everything out of my system that’s been building up.
Rather than going back and editing, I’m going to go to bed – sorry about that. You’re getting it raw.
This is a huge/important/exciting/tragic time in the world, internationally, domestically, everywhere. Freedoms of all manner are being sorted out – some peacefully, some not. Gay rights are often in the headlines, and it affects me and my friends – even if not all of us “look and play the part” anymore. We’re still here, we’re still advocating, we’re still a part of the movement.
I’ll leave you with this. A word of warning, the lyrics contain the f-bomb and strong sexual content – and the song will absolutely get you head-bobbing and chair-dancing. Stuff like this, crazy as it may seem to some, can save kids’ lives, and it makes me happy and grateful.