Posted on February 28 2021
It took me twenty-three years to come to terms with my sexuality.
It took me another year to begin telling people. I expected backlash from many corners, especially after I had cut my hair in a style that was popular at the time and my mother had told me I looked like a… I’m not going to write the word here, but suffice to say it didn’t make me think that she would be accepting of my sexuality. Nor did I expect support from my step-father, who had watched the clouds gathering on Mardi Gras day and made a comment about lightning striking down those who were marching. I was terrified of what might happen once my secret got out, and had it not been for the support of my girlfriend—and the fact that I couldn’t keep her a secret—I might have never come out.
I tried to be strategic, and to focus on my friends. I knew some wouldn’t be supportive (like the one who attended a church that continues to be well-known for their homophobic views), but that most of them wouldn’t care. The first person I told said exactly what I needed to hear: “There is nothing you could tell me about yourself that would ever make me think any less of you.” We talked for hours and I stayed the night; her house was a safe haven where I had time to think things through.
The second person I told in a quiet corner during a Halloween party, dressed in garish costumes while a horror movie blared from the television screen. My voice failed me, and with shaking hands I typed a message to her on my phone: “I’m kinda seeing someone, and she lives interstate.” Her response was so blasé that I had to check she’d read it correctly. She had, and it didn’t matter to her.
I had no hesitations about the third person I told. We’d known each other since we were five, been ‘married’ when we were six, attended the same schools, even studied the same course at university and gone into the same field of work. He had come out himself the year before, so I expected him to be supportive. And he was. He was ecstatic for me… right up until the point that he referred to me as a lesbian.
“I don’t think I’m a lesbian. I mean, I prefer girls, but I have been attracted to some guys, so I guess I’m bi.”
“Oh, honey. No.” He shook his head as he took my hands in his, the picture of the mentor preparing to pass on his wisdom. “That’s just your fear talking. You can’t sit on the fence like that. You need to pick a side and stick to it.”
This conversation, my first experience of intra-group discrimination, left me feeling confused and invalidated. Maybe I wasn’t bi. He obviously knew what he was talking about, since he was already out while I was still stuck with one foot firmly in the closet. Maybe if he was right then my mother was as well, and I only thought I liked girls because of the music I listened to.
I spoke to a friend about it, the one I saw as an authority on all things to do with women who love women. She disagreed with his assessment. “You’re definitely bi. I mean, you can’t be a full lesbian. You wear dresses and take ballet classes!”
This was the point in my life when I most needed the support of my community. Instead, they let me down, throwing me further into the turmoil of self-doubt. For a group of people who have experienced—and continue to experience—so much discrimination, you would think that we would want to be as open and welcoming as possible. Instead, our community often seems to be inundated with examples of discrimination, gate-keeping, and shaming.
There are those who believe you can only identify as a lesbian if you’ve never slept with a man. Those who will actively avoid dating bisexual women because they “can’t be trusted”. Dating profiles that specify “no Asians or fatties”. Groups that deny access to trans people. Non-binary people who are judged to be “too masc” or “too femme” to belong. People who believe you can only define your sexuality by your current relationship status. A constant battle over who is the most valid because they experience the least privilege.
I questioned myself when I decided to write this article. I thought for sure that this was a non-issue, something that people had long since moved past. I didn’t need to lecture anyone, and it wasn’t my place anyway. Then I opened a popular video app on my phone, and the first video I saw was of a person telling bi girls that it’s “on them” if they “choose” to date men. Another showed a person who had decided their pronouns were she/her worrying about people saying they were too femme to be non-binary.
This is still an issue, and it’s everyone’s responsibility to speak up about it.
As a group, we have experienced enough discrimination. Enough hardship. Enough hiding. Enough shame. We need to do better.
A person’s sexual and gender identity belongs to no-one but themselves, and that identity can change over time, due to their situation, their understanding, or just the fact that gender and sexuality are wide, fluid, beautiful spectrums. Why limit our understanding of who we are by constantly placing restrictions on who gets to belong?
My understanding of my own sexuality and gender is constantly evolving. Bisexual, pansexual, lesbian, pan-romantic, poly, queer, sapphic, femme, cis, non-binary? I’m still figuring it out, and the fact that I’ve been in a monogamous relationship with that same girlfriend who helped me come out thirteen years ago bears no relevance to that. Who I am is not defined by my relationship—but it does help immensely to be with someone who is open and supportive of my constant search for identity.
The first of March marks Zero Discrimination Day, a day set aside to remind us that we should constantly strive for all peoples to be seen as equal before the law—and in practice in our societies. This year, let’s use it as a reminder for ourselves to do better. To accept into our community anyone who feels they belong. To lift up others in our community instead of shunning them. To judge people based on who they are, not just who they identify as.
Please. Do better.
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