Part of it, I’m sure, is just a natural inclination for privacy. I don’t really tell anybody anything about myself unless they ask, and sometimes not even then. This just joins a long list of major stuff I never voluntarily talk about, like my religion and my writing and the meth lab in my basement. It's a Batman-like level of guardedness that drives my mother crazy.
But, of course, there’s also a fear here that doesn’t exist with the other “essentials” in my life. There’s the ancient fear of rejection, that nagging angst that, yes, I’ve been lucky so far, but this is the time I’m finally going to get burned. I’ve fallen in with some amazing friends over the past few years, many of whom, I’m sure, are better than I deserve. But the great irony of deep, dark secrets is that the people who are most likely to accept you anyway are also the ones you’re most afraid to lose by telling. I can come out to a stranger in a bar with a quick pun and a high five, but when it comes to telling someone I’ve known for months or years, suddenly all my soaring confidence comes crashing down around me.
Which is why I’m writing this. Not out of any narcissistic Gen Y obsession with oversharing or even any tortured-artist need to be understood (okay…maybe a little), but out of a, frankly, selfish desire not to have to go through that ordeal anymore. Life is too short to be lived with this kind of fear. I’m tired of waiting for perfect circumstances that are never going to happen. I’m tired of wondering who I can trust. And I am tired of the taste of dead confessions on my tongue. Coming out in the real world, you’re at the mercy of the uncontrollable. But these words, this blank page, this is my turf. And I’ll do my truth-telling here.
So, to the very many of you who I haven’t yet had the courage or opportunity to tell in person, and the very few of you who didn’t see it coming anyway, consider this my confession: I am happily and hopelessly bi.
I’ve known this for myself for about two years, but I’ve suspected it for much longer. Sexuality, despite its name, affects so much more than who you sleep with. I could tell something was sideways long before I even had my first crush. But you don’t really pay attention to the signs when you’re young, and I was used to being different anyway. I was already the only black girl in my class, fuzzy-headed and ashy-kneed and painfully self-conscious. And like most young creative types, I was just a little off by nature, too, way too caught up in my own world to know how to navigate this one. I mean, I spent the majority of the fourth grade trying to turn myself into a killer whale. The fact that I also liked contact sports and muscle cars and putting furniture together with my dad was never the weirdest thing about me.
It didn’t help that I wanted very, very much to be straight. Not because I thought there was anything wrong with the alternative, but because I was exhausted at the thought of adding that kind of complication to my life. At one point I literally thought, I don't have time to be gay. And the Black Kid banner was heavy enough; I was in zero hurry to pick up another. Plus, the two didn’t feel very compatible. This was long before famous people of color like Frank Ocean, Robin Roberts, Jason Collins, and Laverne Cox were out and proud. Black culture was, and still is, particularly homophobic. I could already imagine what my relatives back in LA would think--Damn, guess we sent Charlotte out there with all those white folks and now she doesn’t eat meat and wears wizard hats in public and thinks she’s into girls. I had more than a few homophobic white friends as well. Kansas is fun like that.
But, most condemningly, I was sure on a marrow-deep level that if people knew I was queer, or even questioning, it would kill dead any dream I had of writing for children—priority number one. And in no universe was I going to jack with that by experimenting with girls or joining Queers and Allies or even confiding in my best friends. These bones were buried.
In short, I was ignorant—about the nature of sexuality, about LGBT culture, about pretty much everything outside the repressed, homophobic bubble that is the Midwest. And I was scared.
My clarity came. I’ve had the very good fortune over the past few years to travel widely (at least by my standards)—Boston, Los Angeles, London, New York—and it was these experiences, more than anything, that finally peeled away the film that had been clouding my vision for so long. There exist places on this planet where being gay is very much a non-issue, if not 100% accepted then certainly at least visible to the point of being unremarkable, and this simple reality blew my mind. The gays have staked out a whole neighborhood. What? The gays are holding hands in public. What? The gays are running Scholastic. Whaaat? And nobody’s rioting? Nobody’s even staring? Where’s the Westboro Baptist Church? Why did nobody tell me?
[A good example of this unexpected, almost disconcerting apathy is the contrast of reactions I’ve gotten when I come out to people. If it’s a Kansas friend, it’s almost always a big deal, even if they’re cool with it: hugs, gasps, excited squees, twenty-minute debriefing sessions. If it’s a friend from a big city, it barely even registers on their give-a-damn meter: “Cool.” “Whatever.” “Okay.” *shrug* Five seconds later we’re talking about the weather. Or rather, they’re talking about the weather and I’m trying not to look like a doomsday prepper who just realized his apocalypse isn’t going to happen.]
The point is, for the first time in my life I had found places where I fit in. In fact, I couldn’t have stood out in Boston or New York if I wanted to. I’m sure for some people that’s a source of endless frustration, but for me, it was the most exquisite relief. It felt like the malignant eye of Sauron had finally turned away.
Unfortunately, though, this word also comes with a lot of baggage. Media representation is not exactly accurate or favorable, sticking for the most part to drunk girls making out. If you’re bi, this says, you probably have no self-control. Or, alternatively, you’re just trolling: there’s an underlying suspicion that true bisexuality doesn’t exist. I’m kind of okay with this because it puts me in the same category as werewolves and other mythical creatures, but it can get problematic when you want people to take you seriously. A lot of straight people assume you’re acting out. A lot of gay people assume you’re confused. And a lot of people, gay and straight, admit they just don't "get it." Everyone’s waiting for you to either really come out of the closet…or grow up.
Which is why, to wrap up this marathon of a blog post, I’m going to try and explain my own experience with this identity as best I can. And I’m going to use cute stock photos of baby animals to help.
See, confused people often try to compare bisexuality to culinary taste. They say it’s impossible for someone who’s bi to be happy in a monogamous relationship because it’d be like someone who likes both vanilla and chocolate ice cream choosing to give up one or the other for the rest of their lives. Eventually, these people argue, you’d give into the constant temptation, or, if you didn’t, you’d have some serious bitterness to work through, and who wants to settle down with that?
This is, respectfully, a stupid metaphor. No one can resist ice cream of any kind for long. Also, men and women are a lot more complex than food. For me, it makes more sense to think of it in terms of pet preference. Most people are dog people, a lot of people are cat people, and a few people, (like me, literally and as far as this analogy is concerned), like both. The dog person who owns the pure-bred toy poodle is about fifty light-years away from the dog person who goes in for the half-wolf attack machine, but they’re still both solidly in Camp Canine and if you squint you can see the underlying similarities between them. It’s the same with cat people. Some stereotypes about them probably come to mind, but we all know by now that a cat person can really look like anything (!), and the only thing any two cat people have to have in common is that they either own a cat or would be happy to.
Cat person? Same story. Maybe you can see the appeal of dogs in an abstract sort of way, or maybe, if you’re being honest, the idea of owning a dog is your worst nightmare. But you, of all people, aren’t going to judge anyone. Live and let live—right?
Unless you’re bi, in which case no one knows what to do with you. What, you like cats AND dogs? That’s jacked up you have to pick. I have to pick one to KEEP. I can still like both. Oh wait you bought a cat. So you picked cats. I OWN a cat. I still think dogs are cute. Just like, if you own a dog, you still think other dogs are cute. That doesn’t mean you’re going to abandon the pet you committed to or be any less happy with it. But that’s different. No it’s not. Yes it is I don’t get it how can you ever be happy with just a cat if you like dogs too? BECAUSE I LOVE MY CAT THAT MUCH. So can I start calling you a cat person?
But if you’re in a happy relationship, there’s no compromise at all. Are you more tempted to switch from your favorite TV show if you have 100 channels instead of 50? Man, I really want to watch the season finale of The Walking Dead but it’s killing me that I’ve never seen anything on the Game Show Network yet. No, because that’s not how it works. Maybe you spend a little more time surfing, but once you find something you like, you see it through.
And yet, there are still questions, doubts, and a general unwillingness to accept that bisexuality is a thing:
If you like cats so much how come I’ve only ever seen you with dogs?
Okay I get cat people, but I don’t get people who like both. Like they’re completely different animals make up your mind.
But you look like a dog person.
You don’t actually think dogs are cute. You just THINK you think dogs are cute. We’ll find you a cat that’ll make you forget dogs even exist, I promise.
She’s one of those girls who like came to all our cat enthusiast parties but then ended up buying a dog. What a whore.
*I pet a cat, and I liked it. Hope my bulldog don’t mind.*
And so on. Of course, there's nothing wrong with genuine curiosity. It took me twenty years to accept this identity; I'm sure I can give other people five minutes. That's the other reason I'm doing this. It’s a little surreal trying to explain something that is, for me, as inevitable and invisible as gravity, but I can see now it’s important to try. Bi is as different from gay as gay is from straight, and, I would argue, more different from either than they are from each other. I don’t know what it’s like to be indifferent to half the human race. I have trouble even imagining that. And if a bookworm like me can’t figure out how to step into someone else’s shoes, I know the confusion must be even worse coming the other way. That's not what I want for my relationships. Not when they matter to me as much as they do. As others have said before and better, there’s nothing more dangerous to peace on any scale than unchecked ignorance. We have to communicate. We have to be honest. We have to work for it.
And, so, here I am. Telling my truth. I’m bi.
And, much more importantly, I’m single. ;)