Perhaps the most important current issue for bisexuals is overcoming invisibility. This battle requires more out people, which ironically requires more out people — to provide a community for support, information, and camaraderie. It’s important then, that those of us who feel most safe take the lead.
When I look at what steered me to becoming a person who feels secure enough to not only be out but also out loud, I know much of it started before I was born, started with the family I was born into and the community I grew up in. I know too, that when I hit adulthood and began making decisions for my life, my sexual identity always figured into the choices I made – who I associated with, who I got close to, where I went to college, and where I chose to live.
So when I considered the question posed for this issue of Bi Women Quarterly, “How has your geographic location effected your experience of your sexual orientation?” I realized, for me, largely, it’s more of a matter of how being an LGBT person has effected what geographical locations I have chosen to call home.
Growing up with liberal open-minded parents in a diverse community in the Virgin Islands with — what at the time (1960’s) — was a relatively large out population, helped shape me into a teen who had no problem accepting my sexual identity.
Perhaps having this strong foundation helped me understand that I wouldn't be able to tolerate living anywhere that wouldn’t tolerate who I am. Every time I've moved, I've chosen places that were LGBT friendly, and had large out LGBT communities.
Not only did this help make me feel welcome and accepted by the community at large, but also safe enough to not have to be closeted. Additionally, as a bisexual who was in an opposite-sex relationship for a long time, and often assumed to be straight, living in areas with large LGBT populations, also helped make me feel less disconnected from my queerness.
I realize that not everyone always has the luxury to be able to live where they choose. However, I also realize that there were sacrifices that came with the choices I've made. In my mid-twenties, I moved from San Francisco to central Florida to be near family. I’d lived so far from parents and siblings for many years, and missed the connection. But I couldn't stay. I’m sure I could have found an LGBT community in the area if I looked for it, but the fact that I would have had to look for it is enough to explain why I did not feel at home there, even amongst my family. I returned to San Francisco in less than a year.
I currently live deep inside the Bible Belt, in the south, in a state tarnished by its historical intolerance. However, the town I live in is an oasis of respite from all the above. In 2007, Eureka Springs became the first city in Arkansas to offer civil unions for same sex couples, and in 2011 the first to provide health care coverage for the domestic partners of municipal workers. This year, the first same-sex couples to be married in the South and in the Bible Belt, were married in this little Ozark village. Our tiny town of approximately 2,000 celebrates three Diversity Weekends a year.
Currently, this area is having a crisis in regards to an environmental issue. At a hearing on the matter, many talked of the sacrifices they made to live here, having taken major cuts in income, and upward mobility, to be near natural beauty and serenity. On a personal level, living in this small, isolated, town is severely impacting my income and career prospects. Logistically speaking, at this point in my life, it would be incredibly easy for me to move some place where there would be many more opportunities. Ultimately though, it comes down to the fact that this is where I want to be – because here I have tolerance and diversity, nature and community. These are the things that are most important to me.
When choosing where to live, we all weigh the pluses against the minuses. Can I earn a living? Can I maintain sanity? Can I build community? How important is nature? How important is nightlife? How important is being accepted for who I am? What is the housing situation? Etcetera, etcetera. When I do life coaching with bisexuals who want to be out, but feel that where they live, where they work, or whom they rely on, would make this untenable, I help them explore the possibilities of changing these things. Though unfortunately, sometimes there’s limited prospects to alter one’s geographic location, more often people can change where they live to make being out safer and easier; it all comes down to a matter of priorities.