I’m a late adopter of celebrating the annual National Coming Out Day in October, but two years ago, after moving back to Chicago and ending a relationship, it seemed like a good time to “wave at the people.”
I wrote this as a Facebook post in October of 2018: “Hi, I'm bi. Happy National Coming Out Day. Oh and if this is the first you're hearing about it, I thought you knew already but oh well, welcome to my world.” It resulted in a group of the “thumbs up”-style likes, and a few friends saying, “Hey, me too!” Cheers all around, handshakes, whoop de doo. I continued posting my pithy and sometimes cranky comments on other people’s memes, and the world continued to turn.
Last year, for 2019’s National Coming Out Day, I did it again:
“Oh hey there! I forgot to chime in for #NationalComingOutDay. Hi, as many of you already know, I'm bi. If you didn't know, it's probably because you never asked 🙂Yep, pretty sure I've always been this way. Have a great weekend!”
I was careful to use a smiley face emoji when letting people know “Yep, pretty sure I’ve always been this way,” because I wanted to convey positivity. It’s great. It’s a positive thing. Being bisexual is great. I can date anyone, regardless (or perhaps in spite of) gender. Being middle-aged and single means that I’ve learned to hate all people, regardless (or perhaps in spite of) gender, but that’s my upcoming post for National Bitter Old Hag Day.
Coming out online or in person doesn’t make me as nervous as it once did, because I’ve done it hundreds of times at this point. My first time coming out to a family member wasn’t even my idea: my friends and I were dancing at Berlin nightclub one night in 1994 when suddenly the DJ announced, “Hey, if you don’t want to be videotaped, get off the dance floor in the next few minutes. There’s an Oprah Show crew that is going to film us dancing.” I was just slightly underage with a fake ID (sorry Berlin bouncers!) but I stayed on the floor bopping around.
I didn’t think anything about it until about six months later, when I was visiting my grandparents and my grandma and I spotted me, doing a terrible Running Man, in a video montage accompanying an Oprah episode on “Men on the Down Low.” I had just pretty much figured out what bisexuality was and that it probably applied to me—I had just slowly started dating women and trans people. My grandmother basically looked over and said, “Men—don’t let them touch you,” as sort of a safety precaution against rape, I guessed. I thought she was more concerned about the nightclubbing in general than the idea of me being in a gay nightclub, and she didn’t even understand the possibility that I was gay or bi. I understood her more, years later, when I finally had come out to a variety of other family members. One of my aunts told me that my grandmother was already in the know and didn’t seem to care.
Coming out isn’t a one-time thing. It’s a gradual process without a timeline. And it’s something that one does over and over again. I’ve been employed at places where coming out could have had serious repercussions for my employment (and by the way, the Supreme Court just ruled on this: they agree that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act bars discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. Take that, Cracker Barrel!). But we come out at work, to family, and in other situations so we can be authentically ourselves. Countless people have had the physical manifestations of illness that can happen as a result of the stress of a double life: your body can literally break down when it experiences fear, PTSD, rage, and anxiety for too long. Coming out can be a tool to save our inner and outer selves.
I’m 45 years old as I write this and while I like the sentiment of writer Dan Savage’s It Gets Better project, I would be remiss in my duties as a middle-aged person if I didn’t qualify that sometimes it doesn’t. Even when you do come out, sometimes people just don’t get it. Their own judgement and preconceptions about what it means to be an LGBTQ person might get in your way. And for bisexual, pansexual, and some queer people, you might have to deal with everyone’s preconceived notions, including lesbians, gays, and other queer people.
Some of the input I received from people I know after my Facebook statement last year (which I considered pretty innocuous—as I said before, I’ve been out and think of myself as pretty out to anyone who’s wondering):
“I didn’t know you liked boys at all until you said something.” —Straight friend who met me and my then-boyfriend at the same time.
“Is that why you broke up?” —The mom of an ex, to the ex . . . who is still my friend and reassured his mom that there were so many other reasons, mostly my fault (gee thanks) but not related to my sexuality.
“Are you ever going to date women again?” —A lesbian friend, after I started seeing a straight guy.
I still responded with love, even though I’ve answered some of this before, and even though I feel like some of these people have surely heard the answers before. It’s certainly not my job to be their only teacher, even if I’m their only bisexual friend. But they are people I know, and it’s important to me that they gain understanding so we can continue to love and respect each other.
By coming out, we are visible. Our visibility as LGBTQ people is incredibly important as the world deals with public space that is increasingly contested, with movement that is increasingly policed, with the reality of what being in a pandemic and having limitations on gathering can mean. This is especially important in a world where bars that cater to mostly bisexual women and lesbians are few and far between. Of course, the community doesn’t necessarily require a bar to meet and gather—we always have great social and advocacy groups (like Affinity and Brave Space Alliance) and party nights and clubs. But when I was first checking things out as a teenager in the late 80s and early 90s, lesbian bars and other women’s spaces that existed at the time were places that I knew I could go to just talk with like-minded people, and feel like myself. And again, sorry for fooling you, bouncers and bar staff! That was a great fake ID.
We all know that regardless of the “re-opening phase” we’re in, it’s going to be hard to gather together in a world without a COVID-19 vaccine. So for those of us who have the privilege of being out and open, it’s imperative that we remind others and ourselves of who and what we are. LGBTQ visibility is going to mean a lot more without gathering spaces. It’s up to us to be as open as possible, to answer our friends’ sometimes misguided questions, to put that photo of our spouse or lover on our lock screen, to show people who aren’t ready to come out yet that there’s a whole world of us out there, just on the other side of this video conference or mask. We need to assert ourselves so we don’t lose ourselves or our rights in the midst of this world that is rapidly changing. v