Thursday, February 6, 2014

Decades of Being Out as Bisexual

I knew I was bisexual in 1974. I was 14. I heard the word, and the definition, thought, yeah, that's me, though I'd never thought about whether I was straight or not prior to that. This was how I came out to myself. It was as non-traumatic as it could possibly ever be.
I never made any attempt to be closeted, but it would be somewhat inaccurate to say I was truly "out" all these years. This is because being out as bisexual requires a continuous active process - take a break from it for five minutes, and you're no longer so out. Most people assume everyone is straight, unless you are publicly obvious about a same sex relationship, in which case you are assumed gay, and people won't know otherwise until you make it a point to be sure they know, which often requires being inappropriately "in their face" about it.

I think the first time I did anything that could be considered "coming out" was when I mentioned the fact of my bisexuality casually to my best friend when I was 15. It didn't occur to me to be ashamed or feel awkward. She was vaguely fascinated, and asked a few questions. Looking back I realize it was beautifully uneventful, and yet at the time I was surprised it struck her as anything out of the ordinary.

I lived in San Francisco in my 20s and marched in gay rights demonstrations (they were not called LGBT rights demonstrations). I went to gay pride events, hung out in gay neighborhoods, supported gay businesses, saw gay movies, read the gay free-weeklys on a regular basis.

There was a Bisexual Center that had advertised meetings. I always thought about going but never did. I think I considered it a place to go if one had problems with their bisexuality and needed help. I didn't have problems with being bisexual, but did feel a lack of community, and so looking back, I regret having not gone.

I couldn't get past the anger, animosity for men, the separatism, and negative attitudes about sex, that I often encountered in the lesbian community. Yet I, a bisexual woman, felt comfortable in gay male surroundings. I loved the rejoicing of sexuality I saw among gay men, and the celebration of life (ok yes, then there was AIDS and death, and I grieved and freaked out like everyone else.)

Every year at the gay parade I loudly cheered-on the handful of people in the bisexual contingency, while meanwhile feeling that I should maybe feel some sense of being an imposture for attending the gay parade with my opposite sex lover.

A Bisexual Symposium held while I was a student at San Francisco State was where I got my first glimpse of how ugly biphobia could be in the gay world. We were split into discussion groups. A young man in my group was very depressed. He’d always thought he was gay, but suddenly had feelings and desires for his opposite sex best friend. Voicing this to his formerly very supportive gay community, he found he was shunned, ridiculed, and threatened with excommunication.

It was at the Symposium where I first found out about The STUD - a predominantly-gay-male-bar-with-a-slight-bisexual-bent (which I model the bar HUNKS after in my bisexual themed novel, "Love, Sex, and Understanding the Universe"). I went there frequently because it just felt good to be in a place where bisexuality was acknowledged and accepted. The bartender flirted with everyone, including me and my boyfriend.

The first woman I had serious inclinations towards was a bisexual who was both closeted and completely out. She was out as a lesbian. She admitted only to me that she was bisexual. We had heated discussions about this. I felt it was important for her to honestly label herself as bisexual; she said she IDed as lesbian for “political” reasons. It was important, she felt, for everyone to rally around gay rights, that this was what was best for bisexuals too. I felt it was important to ID as bisexual for bisexual political reasons. Saying she was bisexual, she said, would only detract from, water down, the gay rights message. 

This is what bisexuals did for decades, (and many still do) fight for gay rights while denying their own identities, suppressing their own need for recognition. Now, all these years later, I see that while indeed gay rights (often inaccurately referred to as LGBT rights) has made many gains, bisexuals are left standing in the dust. Yes, gains in gay rights have important positive implications for us bisexuals too, but bisexuals have our own, different battles, and while we, often gallantly, stood side by side with our gay and lesbian counterparts fighting homophobia and it's oppressive manifestations, many gays (not all - shout out to those who do stand by us!) have never even bothered to think bisexual specific oppression is worthy of their consideration. I guess it's not entirely their fault when for so long so many bisexuals gladly, voluntarily, subsumed a secondary status. Sadly - and in hindsight, predictably - many gays now feel that acknowledging the battles of their bisexual brothers and sisters  - who were right there with them at gay rights demonstrations - would likely distract from and water-down their new found place in society.

When I was 26, my mother – whom I didn't see very often – came to visit. A woman from my neighborhood stopped by at my garage sale, and when she left, I mentioned to my mom that I’d been attracted to her, and it was ironic that I finally got to talk to her just as I was moving. This was how I came out to my mother. In this fashion, I've always been out as a bisexual. I've never hidden it, I would mentioned it when appropriate in conversation, and I always found a way to offhandedly bring it up to love-interests before we ever had our first kiss.

However, I was in an (open) relationship with a man for, seemingly, eons and people assumed I was straight, never even questioned, suspected, that I could be anything but straight, even as I was always adamantly and openly pro LGBT rights, even when I occasionally went out on dates with "known" lesbians. 

It’s easy to be invisible as a bisexual, way too easy. It’s difficult to be out. Yes, in the usual ways that it’s difficult to be out as a homosexual, but also in so many other ways. On top of the homophobia, you get the biphobia, and the accusations that you are really gay and homophobic. But on top of all of that there is the - often overwhelming - difficulty of the shear super power of bi-invisibility, which you have even though you don’t want it, even when you try to shake it off. Bi-invisibility is like an unwelcome film on your skin that you have to constantly scrub off with abrasive words and actions which so many straights and gays tend to see as a caustic confused haze of immaturity and crazy attention seeking.

So to the request - which prompted me to start writing this blog post – for older bisexuals who were out in the 1970s, to please make their voice heard - I say this: Yes, I've been out since the 1970s, sort of; I always tried to be, and now that I’m unequivocally out, please understand why it comes in the form of figuratively standing on top of a hill and shouting nonstop. This unfortunately is the only way a bisexual can be heard at all.