It’s too late baby

29 07 2012

I used to be straight—that’s important to acknowledge.

I wasn’t repressing or in denial or running away from myself; before the age of 40, I was straight. After  40, not so much.

When I lived in Albuquerque I used to take my dirty clothes to a laundry a couple of blocks away. I got to know one of the women who ran the joint (damn, what’s her name? I can picture her, long dark hair, broad face, broad shoulders), and we’d talk while my clothes tumbled and I think we may have even gone out for beers a few time. She was a lesbian, was surprised I was not a lesbian, and stated with some confidence that I must therefore be bi.

You’re bi; you are. You know it. She wasn’t bullying or unkind, and said it with a fair amount of humor, but she meant it, too. I allowed for the possibility—I had plenty o’ friends who were lesbian, had lived with lesbians, had even had crushes on women—but it was an intellectual allowance, nothing more. Even my crushes were more emotional than anything else; I didn’t swoon at the thought of these women, and I certainly didn’t want to get naked with them.

I swooned around men. Not all men, not even most men, but if there was any swooning to be done, it was in the presence of a man.

So how to explain the switch? And it did feel as if a switch had been flipped: one moment, straight, the next moment, Holy cow!

I’ve mentioned before my friend M. thought this switch might have been related to a recent burst of creativity: I was still a bit dazed at having completed a draft of my first novel (that would be The Unexpected Neighbor, link on the sidebar) when prior to writing it I didn’t know that I could write it, had been in New York for less than a year, and my life was kinda shitty but not in a shitty way (if you know what I mean, which I’m not sure I do).

Anyway.

She thought I was opening myself up in ways I hadn’t before, and that this new interest in women was all a part of that. I still don’t know that I accept that, but since I don’t have any better story, I figured I might as well use M’s.

That I don’t have a better story, however, does get in the way of coming out to the folks who knew me when I was straight. Stating that I’m bisexual to new friends isn’t a big deal—there’s nothing to explain—but how to explain to old friends that before I was this and now I’m that?

Perhaps the problem is that I feel the need to explain, but wouldn’t you? And if your friend told you that she was this and now she’s that, wouldn’t you want to know?

Actually, when I put it like that, it’s not a dilemma, not really: One of things friends do is hash over what’s going on with ourselves, so this would just be another ingredient in the hash.

No, the dilemma is in dealing with the skepticism that I was ever not bisexual, or that I’m saying I’m bisexual because I’m unwilling to come out all of the way as a lesbian.

I know, I know: tough shit, people will believe what they want to believe. But given that among my many agonies is that regarding what to tell those close to me about me, if I am to reveal something, then I want it understood that I am revealing something true about myself.

What is true may change, but it still matters, and the truth is, I used to be straight, and now I’m not. Don’t know why, don’t know how, but there it is.

There it is.

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Come out, come out wherever you are

26 07 2012

I’m half-out as a bisexual.

Andrew Sullivan has been banging away at the fact that the late Sally Ride chose not to come out as a lesbian while she lived, and getting a fair amount of push-back from readers; he’s holding firm.

My first reaction to his original column was What a dick.

I read his column every day and link to it with some regularity, so I’m not unfamiliar with his habit of making everything about him. (It’s annoying, but it’s his blog, and, frankly, I’m probably even more guilty of the Me! Me! M-Fucking-E ME! approach to blogging. So.)

Anyway, that initial reaction was along the lines of He really doesn’t get how hard it is for women in male-dominated fields; sexism piled with homophobia might have been too much. I modified that reaction somewhat as I considered that she could have come out after she left the space program, could have come out in the past few years, and that maybe it would have been better had she been as out to the general public as she apparently was with intimates.

Still, I think Sullivan does discount both the dynamics of sexism and temperamental differences regarding revelations about one’s private life. He implies that she labored in the closet, and that now we know that her real lesson to young lesbans was and is: duck and cover.

But we don’t, in fact, know that this was her lesson. Just because she wasn’t out in a dramatically public way doesn’t have to mean that her “real” lesson was “hide away”. There is, after all, a difference between discretion and shame.

As unfair as I think Sullivan is in his autopsy of Ride’s relationship to her public persona—he didn’t know her, didn’t know her motives—I do nonetheless have to wonder about my own half-outing.

I could be cute, I suppose, and say that as a bisexual I could only be half-out, but what I really mean is that I’m out to some (all of my friends in New York & some of my colleagues, some of my non-New York friends), not to others (family, students), generally ambiguous in reference to any (hypothetical, sigh) partners, and will answer truthfully if asked directly by someone who I don’t think is crossing any lines in the query.

Who I don’t think is crossing any lines: This is the kicker, isn’t it? What if a student would ask? A boss? Would that person be crossing a line?

Or should I be the one who crosses the line by coming out to, say, my students and everyone I work with? I have no fear of discrimination at work, and no great worries of adverse reactions from my students, but I haven’t come out fully at the office or in the classroom* in part because I don’t think it’s any of their business. I like my privacy, and I don’t think openness in some areas of my life requires me to display every aspect of my life.

(*There’s also the matter of the appropriateness of revealing personal information in the classroom. I do offer bits from my life if they’re relevant to the subject at hand, so it’s not out of the question that my own sexuality would be relevant in some discussions; just coming out a propos of nothing—Hi, I’m your professor and I’m bisexual!—would manifestly not be the way to go.)

But—and here is where Sullivan and everyone else who argues for the urgency of coming out makes sense to me—by not saying anything, I allow others to draw false inferences of my sexuality, a falseness under which I may duck and cover and which has social implications. I am uneasy, still, with the inferences others may draw if I come out as bisexual, even as I am also uneasy with the assumption by others that I’m straight.

My reasons for not slamming that closet door behind me, then, has less to do with social opprobrium than my own fear of the personal reactions to a personal revelation. I don’t think anyone in my family would really care all that much, or, to be honest, really be surprised—any surprise might be that I’m bisexual and not a lesbian—nor do I think that the few friends who I haven’t told would care much, either; if they would, their distress would likely center on how long it took me to tell them, not what I told them.

And, of course, that it’s been a number of years since I’ve become bisexual only makes the conversation now even more awkward: Why didn’t you say something earlier?

Sigh.

I struggle with what to reveal and what to tuck away in so many things; unlike almost every other of those things, however, this one is not just about me.