It was two in the morning at an all-girls theater camp sleepover, right after my freshman year of high school. The five of us were sitting around on our sleeping bags in the living room, talking about everything from bras to tampons to guys, and our romantic interests.
The conversation lulled, and "I think I might be bisexual." Gina said.
"Me too!" we all exclaimed.
It was the first time I had admitted out loud that I might not be straight. I had suspected my queerness since eighth grade, but had always pushed it out of my mind. I mean, of course it was fine of other people wanted to be gay, but I didn't like girls. Oh no, I was perfectly straight. In order to further prove this to my subconscious, I had fallen into an intense three-year crush on my best friend, a guy named Alex who had no romantic interest in me. I always figured I would figure myself out later, considering I was, for practical purposes, straight, for the moment.
Even though I was deeply in love with Alex, by the time I was at this sleepover, I had grudgingly admitted to myself that I was probably bisexual. The rest of that night consisted of us first scrabbling for time to talk, and then going around and taking turns to say what had come to mind while everyone else was talking. It felt wonderful that there were other people that also understood what I was going through. As I was sitting there, listening to Gina talk about one of her girl friends, I thought, Yes, but you aren't a lesbian, and smothered the thought in my mind. Of course I liked guys. Did this whole painful crush on Alex mean anything at all?
Whether or not it did, I spent a lot of that summer both pining over Alex and starting to get used to both me and bisexual being in the same sentence. Just after starting my sophomore year, I found Oasis and joined it, after a few weeks of shyly and reverently reading the posters that were so nonchalant and public about being gay. It took me another few weeks to start posting my confusion and frustration with being questioning, and for the majority of my sophomore year, I was a pretty active member of Oasis. I was glad I could sort through my feelings and learn about gayness in a comfortable environment, but I was depressed and lonely for a lot of the year. I cut myself off from my friends, not seeing anyone outside of school for most of the school year. I didn't feel like I had anyone I could safely talk to. Gina and my other close friend, Veronica, who had been at the sleepover turned out to be straight. They were supportive, but I didn't want to expose my denial and confusion about being queer. Or overstay my welcome of being listened to. No one else knew, except for my long-distance friends.
The first time I really came out to someone—meaning not over IM or in a group—was over the Thanksgiving weekend of my sophomore year. My cousin Lilian was visiting, and we had become instantly close over the vacation, despite not having seen each other for years. She kept on asking what was going on with me, and I kept on not having the courage to tell her.
One night, when we were walking back from the gas station where Lilian bought cigarettes, I told her, "Well, actually, there is something that I've been thinking a lot about lately. You see, I think I might be bisexual."
She seemed pleasedly surprised. "Oh really? Me, too."
"Oh, cool." We listened for a few moments to our feet grating wetly on the pavement.
"Actually, I thought I was a man for a while when I was in high school. That was pretty weird."
I had actually come out to someone, and they didn't eat me alive! They actually believed me. What's more, they were bi, too. Was the whole world gay?
For most of my sophomore year, I was frantically questioning, testing my attraction to girls against my attraction to guys, and running a crazy loop of an argument in my head. My friend who lived halfway across the country from me told me I should really tell my parents, but in no way was I ready.
Probably the best gauge of my acceptance and attraction was who I wanted to dance with when I went contra dancing (it's a type of folk dancing kind of like square dancing except a lot cooler and way funner). Contra dancing isn't a specifically romantic atmosphere—people dance for fun, and then if they find someone they're attracted to, so much the better. But by asking someone to dance, it's not like you are asking them on a date or anything. For guy-and-girl couples of comparable ages, there is an assumption of mutual checking-out, but it's only an undercurrent and not serious. When I first started contra dancing in the beginning of my sophomore year, I danced only with guys, but I did notice some girls too, and I thought, "I love being bisexual!" Later in the year, I started to become frustrated with my only-male partners, as I really wanted to dance with girls, but I didn't do anything about it.
Then there was the week in late December when I had a crush explosion. I fell in love with half my high school, guy or girl. I got really worried that I would get stuck like this and that no one would ever fall in love with me, but the next week when I got back to school my crush totals fell back to normal levels. That was when I first started to accept my sexuality.
That January, my cousin Jamie came to visit. We bonded intensely a lot like Lilian and I had. When on a walk, Jamie asked me what the three biggest things going on in my life were, and I told her my crush on Alex, my parents fighting, and… I said I guessed I didn't really have anything else big going on.
"You sure?" she asked with a don't-lie-to-me look on her face.
"Yeah… well, maybe… I mean, I'm not sure if I really want to say right now." Jamie let it go.
As we turned back towards home because it had started to snow and we were freezing, she asked, "What was the third thing?"
"Well…" I stalled for a few minutes, then let it out in a rush. "I think I might be bisexual, or maybe even a lesbian, which is strange, because I'm in love with Alex."
For a few minutes, the only sound was the snow crunching under our boots.
"I was confused about that too, for a while, until I realized that labels weren't helping me at all. Don't worry about finding a label. Just go with how you feel. Have you ever been in a romantic relationship?"
Sympathetic noises from Jamie. "That helps, too, to figure things out."
It was a relief to not have to worry about labels. But what would I say when I wanted to tell my friends?
Over the next few months, I started telling more people online, friends from camp that weren't from my town. I was more direct with my friend Veronica about being more attracted to girls than guys. She seemed surprised, despite already knowing I had been questioning, and tried to cover it. "Well, go for girls, then. They're a lot better than guys, anyway."
I still hadn't come out to my parents, though, or anyone from school, barring when "I'm bisexual" slipped out in conversation to my asexual friend Susana, who wouldn't tell anyone anyway. Alex, probably my best friend, didn't know either, and I was aching to tell him. He was deathly ill with liver failure, though, and had been getting sicker all year. I figured I didn't really want to burden him with immaterial worries, and I should have told him in the fall, when he would have been more present to hear it.
In May, as school was ending, I decided to take a leap and come out to a friend from school. Before I had started isolating myself, Daisy had been like a virtual sister, a role model to look up to. I was just starting to grudgingly admit I might have a bit of a crush on her, but I desperately needed someone to talk to, and I naively hoped that she would be able to identify with me. I called her after school one day—she said she had noticed me looking down, and that I could talk to her, you know—and asked if I could talk to her. She said yes, to come right over, and I walked over to her house.
When I got there, she invited me into her room. "So, what's up?"
I stalled for a bit, talking about my parents, and then Alex, and then saying, "But that's not really what's on my mind." And promptly wrapping my arms around my knees and trying not to cry. I was so afraid of what she would say.
"What is it? Sweetie, it's OK to tell me. I'm not going to eat you alive or anything. It's fine."
My gaze got more intense as I held my tears and my fear and my secret in. I felt like crumpling into a ball, but I'd already started to dig myself into this hole. "Well—about Alex…"—Daisy nodded—"My whole crush on Alex is pretty strange, considering I like girls."
Daisy didn't get it at first, and I had to clarify: "I mean, I like like girls."
She went into the whole explaining to me how I must feel. It was a pretty accurate description of how I felt, but I wanted her to be able to give me advice and let me talk, not just work through the same mental processes I already had circled through. Daisy was usually better at talking a lot than at listening, anyway. I guess I also wanted her to say she wasn't straight, either, but as she was quick to clarify, "I've never had crushes on anyone but guys, but I don't have a problem with anyone who does." There went my hoping that she wouldn't guess my crush on her. She said she thought I maybe could be bi, "but—a lesbian? You really liked Alex for a long time, Mousie."
I left feeling straighter—and more confused—than I had in a while. She had offered to spread the word around that "you know, Mouse over there, well she's—bi or gay or whatever." Which I quickly refused, saying please not to spread it around or anything yet. She thought I was ashamed, which I wasn't at all. It would have been easy to let her do that, but I wasn't ready yet. I still hadn't found a label yet, anyway.
Since then, I've been half in and half out of the closet. I came out to my parents in June, the night my mom and I first visited Alex after his liver transplant. I had set up a deadline because the next few weeks of my summer were going to be busy, and I wanted to be out before we went to a family conference at the end of July. I made some convoluted connection in the conversation to how I was confused about being bisexual—it took me about five times of taking in breath to speak before I said it. My mom started asking how many crushes I had had in the past, and if I had any crushes on girls now. I lied and told her I didn't. I didn't want her knowing everything about me at first coming-out. When she said she was 80% straight, 20% gay, I told her I was pretty much the opposite. My dad didn't say anything. Later, after my mother's interrogation, he asked me, "Hun, were you nervous telling us that you're bi?"
"A bit. Are you OK with it?"
Neither of them directly said anything about how it was OK, how they would support me no matter what. It felt like… no reaction. It was weird. I figured that I would get some strong reaction from my parents, not blankness. My mom had said a long time ago that if I was queer, they would be OK with it. I, being eight or something at the time, was like, "OK Mom," and tucked it away into my memory. I knew they were theoretically OK with it, but this blank reaction confused me. I was probably way too nervous and oversensitive about the whole thing anyway. I didn't say anything more to them about it for months. My mom did make some remarks about were-there-any-cute-guys when I went dancing or to camp, and those jibed at my heart, but I didn't say anything.
At writing camp that summer, I came out to both my roommates within a few days—with Anna it was after one of her late-night stories about home.
"Has your gaydar figured out that I'm not straight?" She was often bragging about her amazing gaydar.
"No." She was surprised. I guess quiet, femme girls from Massachusetts didn't attract her gaydar as much as the loud butch girl from South Carolina she talked about so much. "So are you bi or lesbian?"
"Oh, cool. I should really let you talk to my friend Sally from my other writing camp. She's gay, and she wrote this incredibly cool poem where she came out to like the whole audience…"
Ivy's reaction was a bit more subdued. I used the Alex line again—reflecting on the hardships of my sophomore year, expounded by my questioning.
"But I thought you liked Alan. Not that I have a problem with it or anything."
"I'm bi." I clarified.
"Oh, cool." She voiced the typical stereotypes about bisexuals, and I corrected them for her. She then wanted to know what I thought about the scientific research about the importance of a child having a male and female parent figure. With some of my defensive arguments, Ivy concluded that it was alright for gay couples to raise kids as long as there was a godparent of the opposite sex. I would have gone further on this discussion of defending gay parents, but I was a bit too much blank-minded from coming out.
During one class, a girl named Lucy was sitting next to me, and I noticed her rainbow-beaded anklet. I flashed my rainbow bracelet at her, and she moved her ankle. We grinned at each other. Even though Lucy and I are completely different and it never would have worked in a relationship, I felt a thrill of recognition and shared secrecy.
At the last dinner we ate at writing camp, someone said how it wasn't a choice to be gay—he compared it to people choosing to become vampires, which was rather amusing—and Lucy and I jumped on him, followed by our straight-ally friends. I came out to the whole camp at some point in debate, defending bisexuality. "I hate how people give a bad name to bisexuality. Not all of us are gays in denial, bi-curious, or just trying to be cool. And it doesn't have to be exactly equal. Like, I like girls more than guys, but I still like guys, so I'm bi." I was pretty much still treated normally, except for that night when a group of us were all hanging out in a hotel room, a girl stood up, and her back was to me, so I saw her underwear, and she's all, "Eee!" and pulls up her pants. I mumble, "I wasn't looking" at her when she glares at me. Just because I like girls doesn't mean I like you.
I didn't come out to anyone really for the rest of the summer—when I saw my friend who lived out-of-state, she told me not to worry so much about coming out, especially to my family, before I had a girlfriend. That made sense, but I still wanted to tell people so much sometimes that it was hard to hold it in.
When I joined the GSA this fall, I did not hide any comments about my sexual orientation, and coming out to non-school groups has become the norm for me. The one big coming-out was during National Coming Out Week, to Alex.
I had been trying to tell him for months, maybe a year, that I was bi, and I decided that I'd better not let National Coming Out Day go by without him knowing. So when we were on a walk last night, I waited for a lull in the conversation, lost my courage during the first one or two silences, and then finally said what I had been working out in my head while we were talking. I took a deep breath, what would be my last breath in secret in front of my oldest friendship. Then I took another breath. A minute or so passed.
"Alex, I have a question to ask you."
"Yeah?" His face turned towards me, uneventful expectation highlighting the contours of his face in yellow streetlight. Oh, God. Well, I'd started now, and I couldn't stop.
"Well, what would you do if you wanted to dance with girls at a contra dance, but you were afraid they weren't interested?" There. It was out.
"Hmm. I would learn the guy's part. Why? You just want a change of pace?"
"Well, I'm interested in girls."
We walked in the black night, every few seconds stepping into a yellow stripe of street light and then out again.
"You mean romantically interested?" Alex finally asked.
"Huh." I couldn't see his face anymore; it was dark and he was looking at the ground ahead of us.
Though I didn't know what Alex was thinking, I was happy to just have it out. Now the ball was in his court. He asked me about any romantic prospects, and I replied accordingly, and after a bit of catching-up on my crushes, we moved on in our conversation. Unlike my telling him I was crushing on him a year before, this coming-out had no negative repercussions for our friendship.
Since then, Alex feels like he can talk to me about girls again, and I can talk to him about some of my problems surrounding my sexuality. I am glad that I was honest with him. It feels like nothing has really changed in our friendship except that now we can talk about more things in our lives.
Also during last October, I cleared the air with my mom. We were talking on my bed one night, and I started crying, thinking about how I didn't think she accepted me. She pushed me to tell her what was wrong, and I hesitated, feeling too embarrassed. But finally it came out that I felt undermined when she always was asking about if there were cute guys at some dance or party when she knew I liked girls more. And how she or Dad never said that it was OK that I was bi, that they would support me. She held me close and assured me that of course she was fine with it and she was sorry if I thought she hadn't been. As she hugged me goodnight, she told me, "I will love you always and unconditionally, gay, straight, bisexual, whatever you want to be." It was such a relief to know. She said I should talk to Dad about how uncertain I felt, too. I haven't done that yet.
Though I haven't had any huge coming-out events since then, and I'm not openly bi at my school, I've been coming out to pretty much every acquaintance I have outside of school if the topic comes up. I don't believe in shouting "I'm gay!" from the rooftops, though if you feel like it that's a perfectly fine thing to do. Usually I try to have it make sense, and only tell someone if they're talking to me about their sexuality. Looking back, I'm amazed at how many people I've come out to in the past year—maybe seventy-five, not counting Oasis. Though I'm out to people I hardly know via group coming-out, and not out to some of my friends, I could not have imagined myself where I am a year ago. I still have a fair way to go before I'm completely open about it, but then again I'm not sure if telling everyone is prudent, pertinent, or necessary.
Though I've gotten comfortable with the minority-sexual-orientation aspect of my sexuality, I have yet to become used to the rest of it. I'm working on this—probably dating someone will help—and hopefully I will eventually accept all of my sexuality. Coming out with one's sexual orientation is just one step for me in a general process of coming to terms with my sexuality.
Where I live: suburbs of Boston, Massachusetts, USA