I find it’s easiest to come out as queer and bi with folks I just met — where I have more control over the narrative and peoples’ perceptions of me. It can be awkward to bring up how I identify with people I’ve known for a long time, which is why some family and friends who I know and love well may be hearing this for the first time here (hi!). Particularly in work or family environments, it’s hard to find the right segue into talking about my sexuality. It’s not often that we give ourselves or the people we love much runway to redefine who we are.
But I have been coming out more and more often, and the reactions I’ve gotten are mostly positive. The reception can often feel underwhelming or, at worst, diminishing. My queerness — this part of me that takes up such a massive space in my brain — can feel small and insignificant when its received with a “Huh, okay…” or a nod and a change in conversation. The worst is hearing something like, “I didn’t know that was something you were still doing…” or having friends I’ve come out to continue to refer to me as straight. These reactions give me that sinking feeling many bi folks are familiar with of not being queer enough. At times when I am feeling inadequate or alone, pockets of queer and bi folks on the internet have been a really affirming place for me.
I think often the blasé-ness with which my coming out can be received is because progressive folks (particularly straight progressive folks) feel a duty to normalize queerness, because that’s what an ally does. I think people worry that it would be abnormal or unaccepting to ask respectful questions of someone who’s just come out.
But for me, identifying as queer is just the beginning of a conversation. My queerness is something that’s brought me a lot of joy and a sense of shared community in large part because of how dynamic and multifaceted sexual identity can be. Queerness is so beautiful because it holds space for so many different ways of being. I appreciate how we can embody and celebrate gray-ness and nuance and create pathways for being that are not shown or celebrated enough.
The best response I’ve ever gotten to coming out is when someone asked me, “So what does being queer and bi mean for you?” I think that’s a question we could all use a lot more when people we love share vulnerable parts of themselves. What does _______ mean for you?
Being a queer, bisexual person in a straight-passing relationship has been a tricky space for me to navigate. I’ve known I was queer since before Aaron and I started dating. It’s something we’ve discussed since the earliest days of our relationship, but I wasn’t confident enough in a queer identity to claim it as my own back then. I used to think that I would wait until we broke up to explore and understand my queerness. But that break up seems less and less likely. Picturing future future plans with Aaron gets easier to do as we continue to make one another enormously happy most of the time. The idea of spending a life in a fulfilling, joyful relationship that will probably look pretty straight to most people has been the catalyst for seriously navigating and owning my queerness now. Aaron’s ability to love, support, and communicate with me as I’ve increasingly come out has continued to prove to me that we have something pretty solid and special.
Earlier in our relationship, I worried that coming out would make people question my commitment to Aaron or how happy I was. Conveniently, as I get older, that thing all of my thirty-something friends said would happen has been happening, and each year I care a lot less about what other people think. Being able to look back over the years Aaron and I have spent together and recognize them as the happiest in my life also helps.
But it does feel daunting to think about a lifetime of being perceived as straight when I know I’m queer. I don’t quite know what to make of it yet. I’ll get back to you on it. I take comfort in the idea that it’s not a challenge that’s particular to my relationship with Aaron — that as a bi person, I’d need to continually, consciously assert my identity no matter who I’m with. I very much vibed with bisexual writer Ben Freeland, who wrote that, “Like Schrödinger’s cat, we bisexuals exist in something of a superpositional state, appearing either straight or gay whenever ‘observed’ — i.e. observed doing something gay or something straight. And yet, when nobody is looking, we happily go our own way, occupying both identities at once.”
Something I’ve often bumped up against in my own sense of sexual identity is the idea of being “born this way.” To me, the “born this way” statement assumes that if you were to choose queerness, it would be the wrong choice. You just can’t help it — you were born this way. It’s out of your control. It feels, in some ways, in contradiction to being a person in a straight-passing relationship who must consciously choose again and again to come out as queer. The way I actualize my queerness necessitates choice.
“Born this way” also assumes that you need to have a lifetime history of queerness to really be queer. For me, it took moving away from the place I grew up in to give myself permission to understand my sexuality on my own terms. I think it’s like that for lots of people. If “born this way” is a good and affirming thing for you, I want it to continue to be that. If you’re someone like me who has wondered if you’re really queer because you can’t think back to an early childhood crush on someone of the same sex, I want to affirm that there’s another person like you out there who still feels at home in a queer identity.
I went back and forth a lot on writing and publishing a coming out piece. It’s a vulnerable thing to do — to put this affirmation of my sexual identity out there in a concrete way — no matter how small the audience for it is. I’m a strong believer that sexuality and gender is fluid, and a lot of times I wonder what the point of labels is when we’re on spectrums of all sorts. Bisexual does feel insufficient in its assumption that there’s a gender binary at all, so I prefer the modern way the definition has grown to encompass attraction to all genders. My sexual identity is subject to and will most likely change again over time. I believe most folks are at least a little bit queer inside, and we’re all better for it.
But I also believe that the more I’ve come out, the better my life has gotten. I say that knowing that won’t be true for lots of people, and that I have all sorts of other identity-based privilege (especially my straight-appearing relationship) that make that so. With all that acknowledged, coming out has still been a fundamentally good thing in my life. (And, lucky me, I’ll get to do it again and again and again many times after this.) I think as women, we learn that naming and claiming our own desire is not important. That it’s secondary to men’s pleasure or that it’s something we shouldn’t think or talk about too much. Coming out has helped me feel more tapped in to who I am and what I want, and has made it easier to be truly present in many parts of my life.
There’s a great Rhea Butcher joke that includes the line, “Labels are what someone else puts on you. Identity is something that, when you find it, feels like a big hug.” (You can listen to her album if you want to get to the punch line.) Being queer and bi feels like a hug. It’s an identity that feels right for who I am right now — that celebrates the wholeness of my own sexuality and desire without detracting from the love I have for my partner and how much joy I take in our life together (a life I hope to keep sharing for a long, long time).
I admire lots of queer women and gender-nonconforming folks. I love hearing about the different pathways of being they have laid out for themselves and for their communities. I look up to bi women like me who are in relationships with straight cis men and still hold tight to their queerness even when it would be more convenient not to. It’s part of what makes me feel more comfortable and confident taking ownership over my identity now. Saying it here feels like something I’m doing not just for myself, but for other people who are questioning themselves or feeling invalid or worried they are not enough as they are.
My hope, like my hope with everything that I write that really means something to me, is that someone will read this and think, “I always felt that way and I thought I was all alone. It’s so good to feel like I’m not.” That feeling is what inspires me to keep writing, and it feels good to take this important chunk of my identity and declare it in this way with that intention.
I’m grateful for some space to claim this identity, and I’m down to answer any respectful questions if you have them.
Shout out to my dear friend Hannah Daly, who gave me some thoughtful editorial support on this piece. You are forever a writer I respect and admire deeply, and a queer friend sent from God herself. <3