Passing as Straight — Without Really Trying

Crow’s Feet Writing Prompt #8

Kate Bracy
Crow’s Feet

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Photo by Womanizer Toys on Unsplash

For the first thirty years of my life I was straight. I dated (and married) men. In high school I was crushing on the boys with the best of them. My ambitions were pretty much identical to most of my friends’ — gonna grow up and marry a guy and have babies and be a teacher and (boomer girl) fight for women’s rights and equality. And I did those things. All of them and a few more. I marched to end the war in Vietnam, was married twice, had a beautiful daughter, became a teacher, and then a nurse, moved to a city where there were people of different colors and who spoke different languages. I had it all. I did the things that mattered most to me. I was happy.

When I was thirty, my world was split to its core when I realized I was in love with a woman. Married at the time, I struggled with overwhelming limerence. I did not know any lesbian women. I did not know any gay men. Or at least none that were out. My beloved person and I looked at each other and said, “What now?” There were no instruction books on this. There were no sitcoms or web pages. Wikipedia was decades away.

The answer came clear as a bell. “We make it up as we go.”

After some thought, and a look at our alternatives, we liked our odds.

So for the last thirty-eight years, we have done exactly that. We have made it up as we go. When it was safe, we came out. Carefully. Then a little more boldly. Then matter-of-factly. We’ve been lucky enough to live in places where people can mostly be who they are. And we have mostly passed as straight to the untrained eye.

In the early days, all we had heard about was the “gay lifestyle.” This was an interesting term. Was it something to be avoided? Pursued? Was it promiscuous (that seemed to be part of the implication…) or was it just sinful and horrible, ending in some uncomfortable death? We were both nurses. We didn’t see anything in our lifestyle that might put us in the way of a terrible end unless it was being shot by some crazy Jesus guy like the ones who carried signs that said “Jesus Hates Fags” at gay rights rallies, which we did not attend. Whatever this “gay lifestyle” was, we still liked our odds.

The answer came clear as a bell. “We make it up as we go.”

Our own lifestyle was totally outrageous. We went to work, we paid a mortgage, and we stayed home most nights. I had a second beautiful daughter, and we raised all our children through college and beyond. We got advanced degrees. We cared about each other, we fought sometimes, and we created a life for ourselves.

We made it up as we went.

In the beginning, (mid-eighties) we cautiously came out to our closest circles. That was a mixed bag. Anyone with whom we were going to spend significant time was a candidate. It was pretty confusing. We learned a lot.

We sought friends in the “lesbian community,” going to events and reading books about radical feminism. We sat through awkward dinners with lesbian couples. But somehow we seemed to make everyone uncomfortable with our choice of each other. No one quite knew what to do with us. I found that I was not militant enough for my lesbian friends and not conventional enough for my straight friends. No one had a mental box where I/we fit rather neatly, and that kept everyone just a little on edge. I read an article about being bisexual by Jen Clausen in the early nineties called, “My Interesting Condition,” which made me feel less alone. Our relationship status became strictly “need to know.”

And it’s not like there were understanding, sophisticated professionals to guide us. (Once, at an urgent care where I went for a bladder infection, I told the doctor that my partner was a woman, so he ordered an HIV test along with the urinalysis. Huh? I didn’t know this until I reported to the lab.)

I found that I was not militant enough for my lesbian friends and not conventional enough for my straight friends.

Not having a conventional label makes people uncomfortable. So in the grand old American tradition of punishing people who make us uncomfortable, bisexual people are among the most likely to be scorned, ignored, and vilified. We do not fit into anyone’s tidy boxes (sorry, punsters) and since uncomfortable = angry = someone-has-to-pay-for-my-discomfort, people want to make us bad or invisible. When we refuse to be invisible, we are that much badder.

People can assume what they like, and mostly they like to assume what makes them comfortable: That I’m straight. They are always a little surprised to learn otherwise. Sometimes I write about this, as I did here.

Maybe we are outliers. Or maybe we are just ahead of the curve. As one of our friends put it, “You were gay before it was chic.”

Is it chic? I’ll never know. I’m making it up as I go. I’m not looking at how other people do this.

There’s more info now. There’s a growing world of people who defy categories. There is an actual professional journal devoted to bisexuality. There is this lovely Medium article by Rachel Krantz where she interviews Jen Winston, who offers Julia Serrano’s definition of bisexuality, “in other words, the ‘bi’ in bisexual does not merely refer to the types of people that I am sexual with, but to the facts that both the straight and queer worlds view me in two very different ways, depending on who I happen to be partnered with at any given moment.”

I can roll with that. Two worlds each of which sees me differently, depending on my relationship. It certainly captures my lived experience.

I accept that I am no longer straight by most people’s definition. That is their dilemma, not mine. I still crush on the guys a bit, but I mind my manners. I told my wife that if either Henry Louis Gates Jr. or Benedict Cumberbatch calls me to ask for a date, I’m going. She said, “Fine.” (She likes her odds.)

Two hands shown, one reaching down from above, one reaching up from below, just about to clasp.
Photo by Austin Kehmeier on Unsplash

Here’s what I propose, as an old person who lives a quiet life with her CO (Cherished One): First, we get the need to label out of our system. Let’s name all the possible genders, sexual orientations, and mating continua that we need in order to categorize everyone in the species. There! That’s done. Then the scholars can duke it out over the nuances of the definitions.

Instead of “name it to blame it,” let’s “reflect and accept.”

Once we have all the possibilities named, numbered, and assigned: Let’s forget them all. Let’s look at each other as fellow travelers on the planet. Let’s love those who want to be loved by us, and let’s allow others to do the same. Instead of “name it to blame it,” let’s “reflect and accept.” We can think about what it is to be human and accept it in a broad and glorious display of forms.

With open hearts, let’s make it up as we go.

I like our odds.

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