I met a woman recently who was close to my age (61) and was just coming out as Bi. Now when I say coming out I mean just barely cracking that closet door. Our conversation was a real eye-opener for me as she was a grown woman who had been hiding for her entire life. She knew who she was. She knew she was bisexual but she was hiding and pretending. All of her relationships had been with men even though she would have sex with women under a veil of secrecy. What truly shocked me is that she thought this was the way all bisexuals of her generation lived their lives. She thought this was standard operating procedure for bisexuals of my generation. She was tremendously surprised to hear my story and learn I had been out for decades.
This really gave me pause as I had come out at 17 in 1975 and felt I was joining a vibrant and focused gay liberation (the verbiage we used then) movement. I did not feel I had to hide. I felt the world was going a seismic sexuality shift and my generation was at the forefront of that exciting moment. To be sure, there were challenges, there were times when I walked down the street holding a girlfriends hand thinking a group of guys outside a bar might hassle us. It happened. We dealt with it. I knew that there were many who did not accept gay men, lesbians, bisexuals….who did not even have non-binary folks, trans folks or genderqueer people on their radar. I cheered for every victory whether it was Harvey Milk winning an election as an openly gay man or Anita Bryant (an anti-gay religious zealot and orange juice spokesmodel) getting a pie in the face. I won’t say every experience of sharing my sexuality was a good one but the positives of being my authentic self far outweighed the negatives.
Here I was having a conversation of someone who had not lived their truth at all and it was humbling. It made me very grateful for the wonderful family and friends who have supported me and my activism all these decades.
In addition to not being out and proud she also had internalized so many biphobic tropes. She felt maybe she was ‘too sexual’ because she desired both men and women (she did not really seem to have a grasp of the concept of non-binary gender identity while I did try to explain it as a genderqueer person myself). She questioned whether she could ever be true to herself as her family would never accept her. She felt unless you were actively having sex with people of multiple genders you could not really call yourself bisexual. She wondered if perhaps she was just going through a phase. It was quite a laundry list of biphobia. For my part, I listened. Her experiences were not my experiences but we shared a sexuality and the least I could do was hear her story.
Now, doing as I do, I also directed her to resources I felt would benefit her in her journey. I jotted them down and encouraged her to make use of whatever resonated with her. I know she is not the only one who has not embraced their identity for fear of losing friends and family. This realization made me unutterably sad.
The last thing I said before we went our separate ways was to suggest she reach out to those in her community who will embrace her, and disregard those who wouldn’t, and finally to realize it is never too late to be who you have always been.