If we’re going to be together, you must love my whole person.
An estimated 3.5% of Americans (9 million of us) are LGBT, which is quite a lot of people if you think about it, but that statistic only gives part of the picture. In the US, 30% of people under the age of 30 identify along the bisexual spectrum–that’s roughly 1 in 3 people! In the UK, 50% of the same age group identify along the bi spectrum. Clearly, there are a lot more of us than film and television portray. Given that this underrepresentation is sometimes coupled with prejudice, it’s no wonder that the gay experience is often a misunderstood one.
Here, I share what I’ve learned after coming out of the closet.
1. Prejudice complicates relationships.
I’ve learned to openly share my gay inclinations early on when dating a guy because I’ve noticed that there are a lot of straight people who are biphobic. There are many who are more comfortable with gay folks than bi folks. There are also a lot of queers who are biphobic. It’s a lose-lose for bisexuals in many circles.
I’ve also had to stay closeted as a bisexual and identify as a lesbian when loving another woman so she would feel comfortable with my sexual orientation and stay with me. Once, when I came out as bi to a lesbian I’d been dating for almost a year, she said, “I won’t date a dirty bisexual.”
I’ve had the experience of loving someone of the opposite sex but feeling uncomfortable around their best friend because I sensed their Catholic homophobia and even worse–their disappointment with my unwillingness to assimilate to hetero life. I’ve experienced my opposite sex partner’s insecurity and fear that I will at some point leave them for the other sex.
I will always be queer. This will never go away–nor will my attraction to multiple sexes (sex defined in the biological sense) and multiple genders (gender defined as gender identity, of which there are many).
So here I am, gay as the day is long. In a straight-as-hell world.
2. The closet isn’t something that’s easily left behind.
At age fourteen, I had a fulfilling relationship with a boy for a year. It became apparent to me that I wanted to explore sexual and romantic relationships with other girls. But where are the girls who want this, too?
I came out in a very small, white, conservative town in Oregon. I became quite close to the seven other LGBTQIA people I met from age 14-18, and I’m still friends with some of them. There was a lot of listening without judging and other times dragging each other out of the closet. My closest friend was in and out of the closet more times than we can count. She was trying to appease her conservative republican parents and envision a future in which she wasn’t alone–because a lot of the time, being gay can be so lonely.
Coming out, we are afraid to show anyone ourselves for fear of losing our loved ones. There are a number of ways things can go awry after coming out: family relationships can be harmed, and we can be kicked out and disowned, mistreated or abused by our own family, kept out of school, banned from our friends, or sent away to a conversion camp or mental institute.
Because heterosexuality is everything we have been taught, we are essentially born into the closet and remain there until we come out. The closet is a powerful place that resembles safety, yet it is filled with self-deception and depression. Some stay for a little bit, some for all of high school, some into adulthood, and some their entire lives. The generation of my niece and nephew seems to be pulling the hinges off the closet door, hopefully forever. But in most of America–the America recently revealed to be largely red–gay people struggle in the doorway of the closet for years. For me, and I think with other gay people, the door presents itself to me again when I am single. That is why I use gay fashion lingo to identify to others, but hipster fashion has kind of ruined that for us homos.
While in the closet, we become accustomed to living in solitude. Being alone has a certain familiarity. I was bullied at school for my sexual orientation starting at age 13–before I even knew my orientation! A lot of my social cues and templates were morphed around what would keep me safe, not fulfilled or happy, just safe.
3. Your relationships will be challenged by internalized homophobia.
Scoping the social scene to know who is safe to be yourself around and who is not is a very continuous part of growing up gay in a small town, and is a practice I still use today to keep myself in good company and prevent homophobes from being in my circles. I was hanging out with another gay girl and holding her hand at school when I was first called a dyke. I learned relationships can make you a target for hate and violence.
Today, I am okay showing queer affection in public. But I’ve had partners who after years of gay PDA together wouldn’t hold my hand in public because certain days, especially days back at home in California after visits to their family in Arizona, they would feel ashamed for loving someone of the same sex and disturbed that kids could see us. It is hard enough finding someone who you want to raise kids with. It’s even harder when internalized homophobia and biphobia intrude on your relationship.
In the proverbial closet doorway, I glimpse how snazzy I look in the mirror outside the closet. In protect and survive mode a lot, we learn how to adapt very efficiently, socializing with people we might have little in common with because they are safe and help us feel supported in a part of our identity nothing else but gay movies, gay books, gay porn, and sometimes our closet mirror supports. I think many marginalized groups adapt by submersing themselves in media portraying people like them, if they can find it.
4. Mistreatment of queer people has affected the way I navigate friendships.
A lot of socializing is a kind of muscle memory. Which means the microagressions from homophobic places inside others must be muscles too, if they don’t mindfully examine and choose behavior until they have different muscles to call on. Still today I feel like I stick out like a sore thumb in a room full of straight people. I feel uncomfortable as hell at a straight party, at times objectified by women and isolated from men. When my hair is long and I happen to look more hetero, however, I feel objectified by men and isolated from women. With straight couples I feel okay because at least no one is hitting on me. Oh wait–except for the notoriously persistent male who wants me to have a threesome with him and his girlfriend because we’re friends anyway so why can’t our friendship by a gateway to his threesome fantasy?
When straight friends of mine came out as queer, I have been blamed (by parents and partners) or looked at as partially responsible. This is a weird outcome of friendships, and it can happen with anyone who hasn’t had a lot of gay friends. When I make a new a friend, I never know if that will happen. I’m a gay test for straight women. Like a pregnancy test, I help them feel secure as they are or change their life forever. I just wanted someone to bake cookies with!
5. A gay breakup is a breakup–but being gay and single can be a minefield.
I’ve learned not to feel pressured to make a romance successful because I’m a gay example to people. LGBTQI people break up just like they get together as do straight people. What is most important is my happiness and wellness.
In high school, I was spending insane amounts of time on the internet where I found my first girlfriend with whom I developed a multi-year relationship. Eventually, the geographic distance became too much, and college was calling me to stay on the West Coast, so we broke up. It happens.
I had another long monogamous relationship with a woman in my twenties. We were so in love and had the most mind-blowing intimate relationship. We had a lot of incompatibilities, however. Her conservative background (and internalized homophobia) and mental illness plagued our relationship, and it eventually ended.
But in between my gay relationships, I had these terrible experiences trying to fit into the straight relationship model by being involved with male best friends. Because heterosexuality is everywhere, and, for most people, it feels natural, I wanted it to be easy for me, too. And parts of me strongly still wish I could be happy with a man who is already in my life and just make my future work the way “everyone” else’s does.
6. Being gay may shift your idea of who is family.
I’ve learned being gay does not reduce the family expectations of a relationship even though the lesbian dating pool is relatively tiny.
I’ve learned when there are two queers of the same sex in one social circle, there is not a magic fated love forming. It’s simple probability at play.
I am very sincere and take friendships with a big heart and great importance. In high school, my Aunt and Mom stopped talking when my Mom found out she and her family are the homophobic type of right wing Christians. It was scary to know someone like that could be in my own family. My Mom is gay (very late bloomer), I’m gay and genderqueer, one of my brothers and my niece are queer. I’m lucky to have “fam” in the fam. My Grandmother and Aunt, plus her family, all believe homosexuality is a sin. Grandma made that “religious abuse” apparent to me after I came out to her around age 23. We don’t have a relationship anymore, accept through prayer, apparently, because she prays for her “sinner” granddaughter.
Friends are a lot of queer people’s surrogate family members.
The risk in coming out included some people in my family refusing to accept me, and those people will not remain in my life. My family shrunk after I came out, and even more after my Mom came out. But it also grew with nieces and nephews and my Mom’s partner. What’s sad is I know that part of the family loves me but their presence in my life would be hurtful. Love can really hurt. I never imagined I would have an adult life without Grandma or my Aunt or cousins. I’m honestly grateful Grandpa died before I came out to them, so I can have only fond memories with him. You never know who is going to hurt you, so I really work to make the best of every relationship close to my heart.
7. You never have to settle.
I didn’t imagine an end goal of marriage in my teenage years because it was illegal. Imagining future romantic partners without marriage is very difficult. I internalized a lot of homophobia. I am so glad today gay marriage is legal across the entire country, and I did not think marriage equality would be achieved when I came out 13 years ago. The gay rights movement, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and the Obama administration have helped me feel more welcomed in this nation and more confident in accepting myself as a bisexual woman. Most of all, the gay rights movement has encouraged me to be confident in standing up against prejudice in my relationships.
Furthermore, being gay has taught me to not take love and commitment for granted. I’m strongly against “settling” for someone. Despite the challenges of being gay and the hurdles to finding the right person, I’ll never forget that I deserve the very best in my committed relationships.
Also by Alyse: What a Native American Healer Taught Me about Forgiveness
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