Pride season or otherwise, I love a good queer story. It’s a central theme in the LGBTQIA+ experience – every “a-ha!” moment, turning point, faux pas, you name it – if it’s a tale of the queer journey, I am here for it.
Much of the work I have done in both my professions and passions has been focused around powerful storytelling. Some of this stems from having particularly talented English teachers in high school who not only valued open-mindedness and validation, but also created multiple opportunities for us to express ourselves; also, admittedly, some of this was rooted in being a diehard theater kid, the ultimate source of the big, bright expression of This Is Who I Am™.
Fast forward a few years, my career in education has expanded internationally, the wonder of intercultural competencies has added a depth to the stories of people from vastly different backgrounds – learning about each other’s cultures allows us to learn about our own, etc. The camaraderie and understanding that blooms from this kind of storytelling was (and is) endlessly meaningful and fascinating, and be it in boardrooms or backyards, I was committed to this work wholeheartedly.
While it is wonderful to feel gloriously well-equipped in the communication skills department, I assure you that all it takes is one piece of powerful perspective to hold a mirror up to the stories you are not telling yourself, or others. In my case, it was a workshop facilitator at the Australia/New Zealand Bi+ Conference, who said to our group, “Bisexual people are unique in that they often need to come out to their own partners, in addition to the people around them.” This makes sense - regardless of the gender of our partner, an unseen part of our identity is rooted in the potential to be attracted to people of other genders. Coming out to a partner might be optional, I thought to myself – and cue the wave of realization that every time I chose (as many bi+ people do) to withhold my sexual identity, a story was left incomplete.
However, I didn’t necessarily feel like I’d ever been consciously dishonest with myself or others close to me. My experiences and relationships were truthful, and I didn’t feel like I had the weight of a massive secret dragging behind me throughout my adolescence and early adulthood. So what was the issue? Upon reflection, I realized I’d always told an honest story, but not in its entirety. For example:
I am 15, and I proudly participate and support my peers in my high school’s queer-inclusive theater program. I am an ally, and I love the expressiveness this space allows for – this is true, but it is not the whole story.
I am 17, and a close friend and I agree to not discuss politics or the LGBTQIA+ community, because we know we disagree on these topics, and we want to be able to stay friends. The queer community is important to me, but so is he. This is true, but it is not the whole story.
I am 22, living in New York City, and I google lesbian bars and drag shows in the area. It is a cultural staple of New York that I want the opportunity to support and experience. Again, this is true, but it is not the whole story.
I’m 26, and I attend the Women’s March. I have been learning about feminism and the power of women (and marginalized genders) working together, supporting one another, fighting for each other. I am invested in showing up for the women in my life, and I recognize the fierce love I have for them, their voices, their work. True. And incomplete.
So why not the whole story? How could I support the vibrant lives of people on stage, of characters in books, of my friends, my students, my coworkers, but limit my own? Currently, I recognize that this answer lies in the experiences that many, many people in the Bi+ community face, often relating to not feeling “enough” of the identity itself to believe that it has a place in the plot.
Yes, I was a high school theater kid who might have recognized she was maybe attracted to girls, but I also had a really amazing boyfriend who I very much wanted to be with, so who was I to bring the infamous “bi-curious” into the conversation? Why jump on the bandwagon of “girls just experimenting” when I could exist peacefully and un-judged in my happy ally role? I still got to wear the sequins, didn’t I?
Why jeopardize my friendships with conservative-leaning people by asserting a personal experience that I didn’t actually actively pursue? I wasn’t dating a girl (and thus not a real bi, am I right?), so it was easier to omit that from the discussion about leaving politics/queerness off the table.
“Omit” is a key word here. I omitted my bisexuality from conversation because I didn’t want to hear about how pumped a cis guy was to have a shot at a threesome; I was afraid female friends of mine would feel uncomfortable, suspicious, or awkward spending time together; and generally I lived a pretty cruisy (read: privileged) existence in my white, thin, femme body, in hetero-appearing relationships. I omitted because it felt safer, and required less effort. Heteronormativity benefits from this omission, hence bi-erasure.
Recently, I was struck by a comment I heard from a sex educator/therapist online – she said she often will have female clients (married to men) ask if they should even come out as bisexual if they don’t plan on divorcing their husbands. While I am not married, I can fully empathize with this question – is there space in this traditional story for my bisexuality? Is there room for it here, or does it only complicate things? Is it unnecessary?
Three years ago, I’m not sure what I would have said to that. Two years ago, I attended my first Gay and Lesbian (and BI, thank you very much) Mardi Gras in Sydney, alone, wearing a rainbow feather boa and rainbow sunglasses with my plain t-shirt and shorts. I guess I was going for the ambiguous vibe – she might be queer, she might not be? I took photos with the furries and the condom vendor’s Instagram glitter room and the occasional drag queen, so I was a present, active participant in the queer festivities. I brought a bi flag, but it mostly stayed folded up. I have two photos with it, both taken by strangers. The outline of a fuller story, a rough draft, if you will.
This year I marched in the parade with the Bi+ Visibility float, fully jeweled-up and sparkly, the loudest and out-est I’ve ever been. I saw people like me and read stories like mine, and even after the world went into lockdown, I turned to online communities for more. I told more of my own story, slowly and sometimes in bits and pieces.
So what I would say now to those who aren’t sure if/where their bisexuality fits into the narrative? It is your narrative. There is space in this world for your gorgeous, complex, uncertain, suspenseful story in its glorious entirely. It doesn’t have to be loud, or turned into a musical, or enshrined in classic literature, but it gets to be true. Even if it’s unfinished, it gets to be recognized. Even if right now you only tell it to yourself, it gets to be whole.
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