November 1998

orange on the horizon

I was sitting inside at work some weeks ago, people bustling around me hectically trying to do a store inventory. I handed off a piece of paper and asked someone to go out back behind the building to check the counts on pallets of bricks, and she told me that it was dark out. It was only eight-thirty. Despite the rising level of insanity around me, I paused for a minute with the realization that the days have grown shorter. The sun sets earlier now, and I've noticed brown crinkled leaves splayed out under some of the trees in the side yard. That image has stuck with me now for a while, a memory which means that summer's closing up shop on us once again, calling for us to bring our purchases to the front of the store right when we were just finding the coveted toy section we'd been so eagerly questing after. It's the end of one cycle and the beginning of another. It's amazing how unnoticed major changes like that can go when you're not paying attention.

when did the air turn cool?

Let's jump right to a topic statement this time, a la Basic English proper essay structure: How do you handle being a bisexual in a heterosexual relationship? Specifically, when do you come out? And when you do, what do you say? How do you keep the relationship from falling apart like week-old pumpkin pie or exploding like frozen Pepsi? I was first inspired to meditate on the subject when this summer I developed a crush on a girl at work (we'll call her Orange) and, for the billionth time, I wondered about coming out to her. We were friends, but because of where I lived I wasn't as vocal about my orientation as I am at school.

The upper thumb area of Michigan is hardly a teeming anthill of gay pride activity. Our workplace didn't make matters any easier. You can't just jump right out and announce that you're queer at a place that sells to contractors and construction companies and other manly-man establishments, a ripe cornucopia of homophobia. Plus, when you're walking atop 12-foot orange H-frame shelving precariously investigating UPC and SKU numbers, you don't often find yourself saying "there's twenty-five double-hung left-handed Larson doors up here and, oh by the way, I'm queer." No no-- coming out demands a certain amount of intimacy, some time set aside in respect of the subject.

As every out queer will tell you, setting aside that time is like trying to find an open teller at the DMV. Some of my friends argued that maybe it's best to get into a relationship before bringing it up rather than announcing it right off the bat, when you're still on the cusp of friendship. Those people would tell me not to worry about it and worry first about getting on a good, friendly, personal basis first. When you're getting to know someone, there's an intuitive progression from small talk and pleasantries to talking about personal matters. There's a certain level that you achieve when you start talking about past relationships, about hopes and dreams, and then some of the more embarrassing and discomforting things in your life.

Is this when you should come out, when it gets personal? If you wait until that point, that almost seems equivalent to hiding it, to saying that your homosexual feelings are a secret, a dark secret, that you have to admit or reveal, doesn't it?. For example, another girl whom I worked with-- we'll call her Brown to keep up with our autumn-colored symbolism-- is by her own definition sheltered and very (VERY!) religiously oriented. I waited for quite a few months to come out to her, after working closely with her for weeks. And in the end she told me that I was a good friend and she couldn't ditch me because of something like that. She isn't completely accepting though, but we're working on that. In her case, it was probably better that I waited for a while, let her get to know me before her preconceived stereotypes leapt into action building a wall between us.. Is this kind of waiting period good in a relationship though?

why do the leaves fall?

It really seems like a complex balancing act. Coming out too soon could mean spoiling everything because of some otherwise cool person's knee-jerk prejudice. I know (and dated) several people who grew into acceptance over time because they cared and were open minded, and because who I was dispelled any negative stereotypes they had. (Which, incidentally, throws to the wind the idea that if a person doesn't accept you from the start then they're "just not being right" for you.) But then on the other hand, coming out too late could destroy the trust that you and your partner have cultivated by making your partner think that you've been hiding important things like this from them, and that you might be hiding even more. It's throws a firecracker into the person that your mate has come to think of you as.

It's because of this bond of trust and honesty that develops in a relationship that makes coming out to the person you're dating even harder to do than change the TV channel when the Home Shopping Network is advertising the Pocket Fisherman. (I mean c'mon-- it's the Pocket Fisherman!!) The opinion of your boyfriend or girlfriend carries a lot of weight with you, and hurting him or her is the last thing you ever want to do. It's an important step, something to be thought through ahead of time. But, sooner or later, it's something that HAS to be discussed. So then let's jump ahead now and imagine that we've gathered the gumption to do just that.

How do you do it while holding that trust and the whole situation together? I've done it three times now to lovers and potential lovers, and it's never easy. After you've chosen your quiet little spot and let it fly that, "honey, I, um, I, well, I'm, I mean, I... well I'm attracted to both, I mean either, I mean... well I'm bisexual...", after the confused and awkward silence that seems like forever, then the questions start happening. These are the toughest questions, worse than just the coming out questions. The most immediate fear is that you're saying this because you want to date someone of the same sex, that you've already found someone that you're interested in and that you're about to break up with your partner. That one needs to be nipped in the bud right off, preferably during the initial coming out.

It's a completely natural reaction, and you need to keep asserting how you feel to avoid this reaction. Your partner might not feel that they can compete for your affections in that area, and you need to reassure them that they truly do dominate your court. It's very important to stress your true feelings here. It's also important to explain that you are a monogamous person, assuming of course that this is true. If your partner thinks that you're interested in someone else, the fear might not even be that you're leaving them, but that you want someone on the side. A bisexual stereotype is that we can't be satisfied by just one person-- we need to be hitched up with both a man and a woman simultaneously to be happy. So it needs to be explained that this isn't true, and that any kind of sexual feelings are the humble slaves and subservients of love.

Next up is the denial phase. Not the part where someone says "well, you're not really bisexual, you're just confused." No, that's covered under basic coming out tactics. I mean the partner who believes that, because you're with them, the homosexual part of you isn't relevant and therefore shouldn't be talked about or given the light of day in any way, shape, or form. Let's face it, bisexuals are considered queers now too, and not just when we're in homosexual relationships. It's a part of who we are and a kind of identity for those in need of political or social labels. I know a handful of bisexuals who regularly attend the on-campus queer group even though they have opposite-sex partners. But a partner might not understand this. If you continue to go to gay pride rallies, to gay rights demonstrations, and to local queer groups, your partner might feel like they're not enough for you. They expect you to behave heterosexually (heterosexistly?) because you're in a hetero relationship. I've had girlfriends get antsy when we went out with their friends and all ogled at guys together. It ends up being a manifestation of their fear of losing you, and the only cure for this is time and proof. You can explain until your lavender in the face that there's a difference between appreciation and actually wanting what you see; it may not get through. You just need to hang in there and prove that you're not going anywhere.

who makes the sunset orange?

So I guess what this all boils down to is that age old mantra: be true to you. I know it's worked for me. It doesn't matter to me whether I one day settle down with a man or a woman, I'll always be an outspoken and active proponent of queer rights and expressive sexuality. And maybe I'm just lucky, but most of the women I've dated have been supportive in this. The social circles I travel in tend to be mostly made up of straight people, but they're all open minded straight people with firmly rooted beliefs in the equality of all people and that we should all be judged on our own merits, not our labels. Conversely, the older, more straight laced gay community may frown on me being romantically involved with a woman while speaking out for queer rights as a queer person myself. The common rhetoric there is that I'm playing it safe and enjoying heterosexual privilege, so my words don't carry as much weight. But bisexual appearances and stereotypes are a vast topic, and one which I think I'll tackle next month.

I did come out to Orange as a friend, only to learn that it wasn't any kind of problem. She believes that people are born with sexual orientations, and she believes, like I do, that you love people, not genders. Maybe it's just the luck of the draw, but like most of the potential girlfriends I've come out to, it simply didn't matter. Smooth sailing ahead. For now, I can only close by asserting that I'll always be me. The gender of the people I date isn't an issue for me, and thus it can't be an issue in a relationship. If someone really has feelings for you, the real you, the person that you live life as every day, then dealing with the acceptance of bisexuality should only be a bump in the road, a speed bump that makes you slow down and have some deep, personal conversations and revelations, but in the end doesn't send you careening into the ditch or over a cliff.

Peace & Love


Chuck is a 22-year-old bisexual and a Michigan native who, now in his senior year in art college in Georgia, has decided to become a professional stage actor. His email address is bacchus52376@yahoo.com and his website is at http://g-net.net/~bacchus/

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