I write this days after having attended my first Pride parade, where Mother Nature delivered no rainbows, but plenty of rain.
Between peeping at parade floats under the edge of my umbrella and trying to convince myself that no, really, I like being drenched, I couldn’t help but be struck by the sight of so many people from all over the rainbow spectrum all in one place, all celebrating, all enjoying the rare opportunity to be fully themselves while out in public.
Church groups marched alongside local politicians, business owners, and nonprofits, united under the same colors. It was the first time in my rather sheltered life that I’d seen anything quite like it.
“Coming Out” Has Been a Series of Firsts
What I’m not sure all people realize is that coming out – acknowledging your sexual orientation and/or gender identity to yourself and to others – is not a one-time thing. It’s both a continuing process, and a repeated event.
I first came out to myself around the age of fourteen, when I was first starting to take an interest in that taboo topic of sex that people seemed to want so badly to keep me away from. I was just as curious about girls as boys, and endured more than a few crushes on both – except, with the boys I could actually call it a crush. With the girls, I certainly noticed I was fascinated and compelled, but I didn’t immediately recognize those feelings as being attraction.
But then I met her – my first head-over-heels girl crush, spotted coming out of the Spanish classroom the period before my own class. She was one year below me, dark haired and fair skinned with a gorgeous smile and killer curves. I felt drawn to her like a magnet, and started changing my between-class routines so I could make sure to see her. I eventually discovered we had some mutual friends and pounced on the opportunity to be introduced to her, which by that point felt like meeting a celebrity. I’m sure I had stars in my eyes.
If that’s not a sign of a crush, I don’t know what is. It confirmed for me what I suspected in my gut:
Yep, I’m bi.
Of course, I was still definitely interested in boys, and found boyfriends were easier to navigate than crushes on straight girls. I got into a relationship with a boy as a freshman, and eventually wound up marrying him after college. So for much of my adolescence and young adulthood, my bisexuality was kind of a red herring. My boyfriend/husband and close friends all knew and were all fine with it, and I could talk about it pretty freely within that circle, but I didn’t see a point in being any more “out” than that.
Announcing it to the world felt like a bid for attention – and not necessarily the kind of attention I wanted. I was already being bullied at school and didn’t want to give the haters any more ammunition to use against me. I’d seen enough to know how homosexuality would be received by my peers. I did once try to tell my mom, but her initial reaction was to wave it off as a phase and say I was too young to know what I was or what I wanted. That stung enough that I wasn’t in a hurry to try again.
(Aside: If you want to get specific about it, I actually consider myself pansexual – which means attracted to people of any gender identity, including transgender and non-gender-conforming/agender/androgynous. But “pan” isn’t a household term yet, so for simplicity, I also still use the label “bi.”)
While I was getting along passing as heterosexual out in the real world, nearly all my fantasies were about women. I read and wrote smutty fiction and jotted down dreams in my journal. In art class, I drew a lot of female portraits, including nudes. I took an interest in the LGBTQ political movement and argued vehemently for same-sex marriage during our Mock Congress in high school government class. I went to Rainbow Alliance events in college, took a Women’s Studies course and learned about the Kinsey scale, and was … erm… a female college cliche in other ways, too.
So for a long time, the door to my closet was only wedged open, but that side of me remained mostly in the shadows.
My Renaissance Year
My coming out journey took a huge leap forward in 2014. Early that year, I decided to end my marriage to that high school sweetheart (for reasons unrelated to my sexuality, for the record) and we divorced, launching me into a new life as a single, independent woman.
And the dating world was especially new to me. I felt like I was 26 going on 21. Single for the first time in thirteen years – literally, half my life. Single for the first time as an adult instead of a teenager. Single, and, for the first time, free to crush on whomever I wanted. To pursue him, or her.
Or her. The possibility rang out in my mind and filled me with equal parts excitement and trepidation. I mean, on the one hand, finally. FINALLY. On the other hand… what the hell did I know about dating women? I’d gotten pretty good over the years at suppressing any urge to flirt with women, letting any attraction I felt be smothered out by ordinary friendliness. Now I would have to unlearn that, and learn instead to make known the interests I was so accustomed to hiding.
But, the stakes were low. I certainly wasn’t looking to get into anything serious before the divorce paperwork was even final. Rather than be overwhelmed by the sheer newness of this experience, I decided to just jump in and start trying. I started in the shallow end, inviting out a new acquaintance on a hike-and-picnic outing that wasn’t explicitly a date. It didn’t lead to anything with that woman, but it still gave me confidence to keep trying, and to live my life a little more Out.
Not long after that, a rainbow bumper sticker was added to my car.
Life Out of the Closet
My favorite way to come out to someone is to just casually mention it in conversation as if it’s no big deal – because really, it’s not – and then watch my audience for a reaction. It’s sort of an “ask forgiveness, not permission” approach, and it’s generally served me well. I went about it this way on social media by commenting on or sharing articles, memes, and other content related to LGBTQ things, resolving to weed out any haters that were provoked out of the woodwork by my posts, and pleasantly surprised that I ended up not needing to.
And then there were my parents. Neither of them is on Facebook, and besides, I felt that conversation should probably happen in person. I wasn’t really afraid of their reaction; while neither of them had ever vocally expressed much opinion on gay issues, I had the general impression that they were on the right side. It was just an awkward conversation I convinced myself to avoid, under the argument that it was ‘private’ and ‘none of their business’. I came close to saying something a few times, but I could never really find the right opening to mention it, and ended up chickening out.
But then I had another first: my first girlfriend. I met her via a dating app in late November and we had our first date in mid December. We completely hit it off and just gained momentum from there. About four months in, I was going to my folks’ place for dinner and on the drive up, my gut told me “Tonight. Tonight is when you tell them.” I’d successfully talked myself out of that before, but this time it was almost like the decision was made for me.
And funny enough, they gave me several openings. With recent visibility of gay issues in the news and current events, the topic of gay relationships came up once at dinner. I let that opportunity pass, but when it was mentioned again after dinner (this time talking about transgenderism and Bruce Jenner), I was like OKAY, UNIVERSE, I HEAR YOU, and said…”So, since we’re on the topic, now’s as good a time as any to tell you both that I’m dating a woman.”
And despite my pounding heart and beet-red face, it went over as smoothly as I ever could have hoped. Within moments we were on to the next topic – not as an avoidance tactic, but simply because it was so Not a Big Deal, it didn’t even merit a longer discussion or a bigger reaction.
On the drive home, I was a little taken aback at the sense of relief I felt. I hadn’t thought that I was being so affected by keeping it secret from them, didn’t think I’d react so physically, and didn’t expect to feel so different afterwards. Funny enough, they were pretty much the last ones to find out, so barring people I haven’t met yet, this confession sort of capped off my several-year process of Coming Out.
Progress & Process
In this way, my Coming Out journey has been one of remarkable privilege; I’ve heard far too many sad stories of people kicked out of their homes, abandoned by family, rejected, threatened, harassed, and harmed, just for daring to come out. I am lucky to have avoided most of that, so lucky I almost have a sense of ‘survivor’s guilt’ at having not endured the same obstacles that many of my peers have. I am also lucky to be going through this process at this moment in history, with the LGBT civil rights movement arguably at its peak and public opinion in a dramatically different place than it was even ten years ago.
In fact, today, June 26, 2015, I sat down to write this after learning of the Supreme Court’s decision that marriage is a right equally protected for all, under the Constitution. (My mom texted me from vacation when she heard the news.) Within the last few months, Caitlyn Jenner came out, and bigoted business practices in Indiana were smacked down. Last year, state after state legalized gay marriage on their own, an incredible domino effect I never expected to see happen so quickly.
I’m a pretty lousy activist, so I’ve watched all of this from the sidelines more than from the picket lines, but I am in awe at what I have witnessed. ‘Pride’ is a word the gay community has co-opted as its talisman against shame and hatred, and Pride is what I feel right now – not just for my beautifully queer self and my fantastic girlfriend and the rest of our tribe of misfits, but for the country as a whole, no matter what part of the rainbow you fall under.
For me, coming out has been about coming IN to a fuller understanding of myself. I no longer find it acceptable to deem certain parts of my identity as “irrelevant” and I am less afraid of straying from the path that society might have otherwise assumed I would follow. The more I’ve embraced my whole self, including my queerness, the more authentic and healthy I have felt. And that, more than politics, more than public opinion, more than Pride, means the world to me.