Coming out, for me at least, is not just a process, but a lifelong process. I know that isn't true for everyone, but maybe a few of you reading this can relate. I am a bisexual woman, or, as I like to refer to myself, a byke. However, that said, my sexuality is on a continuum and seems to shift at times. For instance, since my divorce in 1999 I have only been involved with women and haven't been sexually attracted to men. Sometimes I like to call myself sexually disoriented because that seems the most vague, and therefore, the most correct. My sexual orientation doesn't fit neatly into a box and the boundaries are blurry in my mind.
Coming out starts with coming out to one's self. Not always an easy task in this often homophobic society. When I was three or four years old I realized that I was in love with Fonzie. I told my mother and she explained that how I felt about Fonzie was called a crush. A few weeks later I told my mom that I had a crush on actress Kristy McNichol. She explained that this wasn't possible since we were both girls. Instead my mother said that I admired Kristy. That was the first time that I identified my same sex attractions. But did I come out to myself? Hell no! That?s because it was also the first time that I learned that it wasn't OK to be attracted to the same sex.
My senior year of high-school I fell in love with a female classmate. She was the virgin that all the boys wanted, and so did I. Instead of coming out to myself, however, I became homophobic of lesbians and bisexual women. It was just too scary to accept that I might be lesbian or bisexual, so therefore, those people had to be the 'other' in my mind, the freaks. The one time during high-school that a girl came onto me, I kicked her out of my home and ended our friendship. In all honesty, I found her attractive, and that is what scared me the most.
In college I found myself attracted to more and more women. But I kept telling myself that I was 'normal' and that I mostly liked men. I tried to convince myself that my attractions to women were of an intellectual nature and not a sexual one. Finally, a woman that I had been actively flirting with confronted me on this and directly propositioned me. After much angst and talking to the only friend that I felt I could trust with my sexual orientation crisis, I said yes. I realized that I really did want to have sex and/or relationships with both men and women, though not at the same time. (I am a monogamous person. Being attracted to both genders does not always mean promiscuous or polyamorous, but that is a topic for a different article.) For a long time I only told that one friend and he was really supportive. The next year of college I began I began coming out to more people. I became active in the campus lesbian organization. By my senior year I was often referred to as the 'most out lesbian on campus', even though I would say that I was a byke, not a dyke. I even came out to my mother, though no one else in the family has yet been told. In fact, my mother died a few years back, leaving me completely closeted to all of my remaining family.
About a year after I graduated from college I married a man that I had met my senior year. He knew that I was bi from the very beginning. However, I was actively rejected by the lesbian community. I was viewed as a traitor. This was very hurtful and painful for me. My husband also informed me that I was to not come out to any of his family or friends. I had moved halfway across the country for him and knew no one in my new hometown. I shamefully and painfully ran back into the closet.
In 1994 I came out to my best friend after living for over 2.5 years with this secret. My friend was a lesbian but was surprisingly supportive. I began coming out to a very small number of friends, mostly lesbians, that I felt that I could trust with this secret. At this point all of my friends from high-school, college, and graduate school, except for two, know that I am bi. I have even taken a girlfriend to synagogue with me and introduced her as my girlfriend to my rabbi. However, only two friends that I have ever made through my professional life know that I am bi, and none of my family knows either. This has been especially difficult for me since I left my marriage and have been actively dating women. All of my co-workers and family are worried that I am not dating. The truth is that I am, but do not feel comfortable sharing this at work or with my family. Why if it is so difficult do I choose to keep this secret? I don't feel safe. I am afraid that my surviving family will judge me. I am afraid to come out at work because I am afraid of both covert and overt homophobia by both the agency for which I work and the clients that we serve. I can't afford since my divorce to lose the emotional support of my family or the financial support of my job. If I become involved in a long-term relationship with a woman I have sworn to myself that I will come out to both my family and co-workers. I can't keep a person a secret. I have to admit though, that this is a scary prospect about which to think.
I am sitting in my tent at the 25th Annual Michigan Women's Music Festival, writing this article. In all of my life I have never felt so damn queer, so damn proud, and so much at home. I want to scream it off the tent-tops. However, most of the time I let the 6500 other women here think that I am a dyke just like them. So, even in the lesbian community I am closeted. At least, unlike last year, this year I came out in the Jewish Women tent as a byke. And I survived. I think that is progress.
I hope that by the time that I die that I will be totally authentic with everyone important in my life. But until I feel safe enough for that, I hope to accept myself and where I am in this seemingly life-long process of coming out.