Bi Visibility (And Crying in the Flower Garden)
I told her.
For the first time in the 30 years that I’ve been a person, I told another woman that I had feelings for her. As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I wanted to cry, and it wasn’t just because she’s straight. It suddenly hit me what an act act of un-silencing this was for me. I didn’t realize until this moment, the significance of breaking this silence that I’ve held for my whole life. The rule that I didn’t even know I had been following: “Never let a girl know you have feelings for her”.
It was one thing to come out, as I did about a year ago: to tell people in general that I am bi. Now I realize that it’s another thing entirely to admit my specific feelings toward any specific person, something that I had, up until this point, unconsciously inhibited every sign of in thought, word, deed, body language, telepathy, and any other possible form of expression. And somehow I had missed that this repression has been effecting me.
But the next day, I finally got a chance to cry, and 30 years of holding back my true feelings poured out of me. I walked to a flower garden, sat on a bench, and sobbed, while warm rain began to fall on my head. I felt like I could cry cleansing tears forever, while memories flashed through my mind of all the times in my life that I had held my breath, squelched my feelings, tried to make them disappear. From my first female crush in first grade; the girl who looked like sleeping beauty; through the confusing, close friendships of my adolescence; up until this current friendship; and I finally let everything come out.
I understood on a deeper level, how being bi has always been very real for me, that it has effected me deeply, even while I showed no outward signs—especially when I showed no outward signs.
I’ve lived most of my life as someone who appeared, from all accounts, to be straight. I’ve only dated men. I’ve never so much as kissed a woman (that would be a clear violation of the never-let-her-know-you-like-her rule). I’ve never been bullied for being not-straight. I’ve never experienced the social stigmas and harassment involved in dating someone of the same gender.
Because of this, I’ve felt like some kind of imposter in queer spaces. I feel as if I don’t belong, or deserve to belong, in the queer community. But sometimes you don’t need to be harassed, yourself, to internalize the very clear messages that circulate in our society: it is not okay to be attracted to the same gender. You will be punished for it. You’d better hide it.
I am good at hiding.
I usually feel as if my sexuality is not real, even as I talk or write about it. I believe this is part of what is meant by “bi invisibility”. I often feel invisible as a bi person, even to myself. And then I feel guilty for making a big deal about it. I have “straight passing privilege”, after all…so, what am I going on about? Just stick to guys, and you’ll be fine.
Except for all of those tears that came out in the flower garden.
Just because something is hidden doesn’t mean it is not effecting me. In fact, the very act of hiding it is what causes so much damage. It’s this constant sense of “sucking it in”. It’s just another way that I have not been allowed to know who I am, and to have a voice of authority about my own experience.
A few of the times I have dipped my toes into a queer space, I have been dishearted to find that I still felt like I was in the closet, just in the opposite direction…Here, I was afraid that if people found out that I dated guys, they would reject me. Somehow, that was even sadder than the usual urge to hide among straight people.
Here, everyone was celebrating being gay. It was a queer storytelling night. We cheered and cried and clapped for lesbian women, gay men, transgender people.
Not one person stood up and said that they were bi.
I slinked out as soon as it was over, before I could accidentally reveal, in any small talk, that I did not belong.
It was a shocking revelation for me to read about this study, which found that bisexual people have higer rates of depression, anxiety, self-harm, and suicidality than either heterosexual OR homosexual people!!! Holy crap! I guess we must be real, after all! Real enough to feel like hurting ourselves, after holding in our true feelings all our lives. Real enough to feel anxious and depressed about hiding who we are from straight people and gay people alike. I get it.
Maybe that’s why, a month ago, I decided to attended my first Pride event since coming out, dressed like this:
(a young woman, smiling, hands clasped behind her head, with the words “I’m bi! :)” painted on her stomach)
This time, there was no hiding. There was no being mistaken for a lesbian, or for a straight ally. For better or for worse, everybody knew what my deal was, and that was fucking amazing.
Especially before I entered the relative safety of the Pride event, I walked through the center of town this way, and I found myself having my first ever chance to find out, firsthand, what the world thought of me as I actually am.
It wasn’t all good. One after another, I watched people’s faces, as they registered the words on my stomach, and then either became uncomfortable, frowned, and looked away, or smiled, laughed, and, best of all: lit up with joy and cried, “Me too!”
All of these responses were a relief. Even the negative ones let me know that I am real, and that there is a reason I have been hiding all this time. They gave me the chance to stand in the integrity of my truth, regardless of their reactions, and I felt a sense of solidity inside myself, knowing that I would stand up for myself even in the face of rejection and disapproval.
And then, there were people who ran up to me and exclaimed, “Me too!” There was an identical sense of joy, of recognition, of freedom, of celebration. We were seen, we were real, we were here. Even at Pride. We weren’t trying to blend in, to pretend to be gay, to pretend to be straight. In that one moment, we were seen as exactly who we were, and it was spectacular.
My favorite part of this story is that I got a sunburn that day, and when I washed off the face paint, it left a clear “I’m bi!” tan line on my stomach that is still legible to this day. So I guess I am pretty visible, after all.