I’ve never spoken to anyone in the LGBTQQTSetc. community who has just one coming out story. Friends and immediate family are almost always separate, then extended family, then casual acquaintances. There’s a pop culture emphasis on one over the rest – the tearful “Mom, Dad… I’m attracted to people of the same gender identity as mine.” or “Friends, please address me using this particular set of pronouns.” or even “Best friend, these are the feelings I have for you.” The people I know, though, are perpetually coming out.
I never felt the need to “come out,” really. I have always been pretty open about my attraction to women – from the time I rolled my eyes when Dulcea from the first Power Rangers movie kissed Adam on the cheek when I was seven, I never thought anything was *wrong* because I was equally attracted to men.
I never made a formal “YES, I AM ATTRACTED TO PEOPLE IN SPITE OF GENDER” announcement because I assumed everyone was the same. The way boys in my class talked about hockey players fooled me for years. A friend of mine – raised a girl but who would much later start HRT to change that – would often use the boy’s bathroom in elementary school. I only thought it was gross because I assumed there was pee everywhere. My first Sex-Ed teacher was openly gay, so it was always about PEOPLE being sexually involved instead of a man and woman. I thought Betty and Veronica were each too good for Archie and should just hang out with each other. My most formative musical years were spent listening to strong female voices – Jewel and Melissa Etheridge and kd lang and No Doubt in my poppier moments.
It wasn’t until grade 8 that I even CONSIDERED that it may be a bigger deal to other people. A friend of mine came out as a lesbian*, and I was one of the first people they told. I thought, “that’s great!” and my friend disagreed. Their parents were conservative, and they didn’t know how they’d take the news. My friend didn’t know how to deal, and I said I’d help. We only had rudimentary access to the internet, but we listened to music by openly queer musicians and tried to figure out (in theory only) how people have sex if there’s no penis involved. I don’t know if my friend knew I was exploring as much to satisfy my own curiosity as I was to help them find their comfort zone, but I am STILL grateful for it.
*That friend would later come out again as a transgender man, and when I talk about him now I use male pronouns as he requests. However, because he and I explored as curious young girls, I’ve taken the liberty of using ungendered pronouns when detailing his role in my past. I apologize if that’s completely uncool.
In high school, other rumours would swirl about other friends – she likes girls, he’s dating a guy – it was a progressive school in that people weren’t bullied (to my knowledge), but so many students still didn’t come out until after graduation.
My first sexual experience was in grade 11 with a straight friend of mine who, several years later, drunkenly asked me during a university house party why I’d never tried to kiss her. I never mentioned it to anyone until after that.
In grade 12, I lost one of my best friends when she accused me of trying to interfere with the moves she was putting on the boy she liked at one of her birthday parties. She accused me of liking the same boy. I said “No, I don’t care about him. I like YOU.” She flipped out, asked me to leave and only spoke to me again when she asked me not to speak to her. I still think about her sometimes, when I hear Jimmy Eat World or watch Buffy reruns.
And all while this happened, I dated boys. I publicly announced my (very real) crushes on male musicians or guys who worked at the record store or whatever. My dramatic experiences with my female crushes didn’t even make it to my high school LiveJournal, which saw libraries written about everything else. I did, however, always include female celebrity crushes like Jessica Alba circa Dark Angel and Neko Case in my frequent “THESE ARE PICTURES OF HOT FAMOUS PEOPLE!!” posts.
My younger brother figured it out before anyone else in my family, and would tease my Mormon father (whom I saw infrequently then and see even less often now) about my ~unknown sexual preferences~.
The first time I used the word “bisexual” (which is still not the term I am most comfortable using)** to describe myself, it was under MySpace’s “sexual preferences” option. I think that was in 2006. My mother saw it, and, while I can’t speak to her reaction in private, I give her credit with the easiest coming out ever:
We were in her car and she said “When were you going to tell me that you’re bisexual?”
“I didn’t think I needed to.”
“Fair enough,” She shrugged.
**The term “bisexual” implies belief in the rigid gender binary, which is exclusionary of trans* and intersex people. Erasure like that is NOT in line with my views. Bisexuality, however, is the closest term that people outside of the community recognize.
My friends were slowly introduced to the idea and none of them reacted negatively. I doubt most of them were even surprised. I was even nominated for “Most Gay For Girls” in the joke awards thread of the Sloan message board three years running. I lost all three times, but it truly WAS a pleasure just to be nominated.
When I started dating my first long-term boyfriend, I came out to him and he said “That’s cool. Just don’t kiss other girls while we’re dating. If you like women as much as you like me, I’d consider that cheating.”
Fair enough, I thought, and we dated for over two and a half years. Over the course of those years, though, I’d look. Constantly. Not at other men, but at a girl in my residence; a young woman in the laundromat; the frontwoman of a local band. I wanted to sleep nestled into a soft, hairless chest. No woman in particular, but the idea of one.
We broke up because I was unhappy with everything in my life. A small part of that was that there were SO MANY WOMEN around me and I felt guilty even talking to them. But while I was single for six months, I didn’t make a move on anyone. Every girl who’d expressed an interest in me while I was dating a dude suddenly backed off and was no longer interested. I guess I’d been a safe outlet for their own curiosity.
When I started dating my next boyfriend, he understood a little better. It was a “save the last dance for me” situation, where we could both flirt with whomever without guilt, but if I wanted to kiss anyone else, he wanted to know. I kissed his best friend (a woman) a lot. She dedicated Katy Perry songs at karaoke to me pretty often, if you know what I mean. It got to the point where I was calling him “my beard with a beard.” Ultimately, though, that didn’t work out because he and I just didn’t enjoy spending time with each other.
I immediately met a lovely young woman and we started dating. She’s still probably one of the prettiest, funniest girls I’ve ever met. I liked being seen with her and kissing her and I would travel every day to the other side of the city to watch movies and be in her comedy sketches and for two months I was SO HAPPY because I liked her and so I guess I must be a lesbian! But she had aspects of her life that prevented us from being in a relationship, and so did I. Mine were, basically, that I felt too much pressure to be gayer. I didn’t feel comfortable talking about men I found attractive, because she couldn’t relate. My mother said I was purposely making my life harder for myself to prove a point. I still don’t think that’s exactly true, but being as gay as I was expected was more work than being ~true to myself~ was supposed to be.
Then Sean came back into my life. I’d met him in first year university and a download of my twitter archive confirms that it was love at first sight. But we’d both been seeing other people and it never worked out. I was still dating my ladyfriend in summer 2011 when he messaged me and asked me out to dinner. As we got to know each other again, he learned about (and was cool with) my attraction to men and women. He even told me he had a similar sexual identity. He was fine with something non-exclusive, and that made me like him even more.
When my grandmother passed away at the end of August, my grandfather, cousin and I flew out to Scotland to pay our respects. I knew that when I returned to Canada, I would choose either Sean or my ladyfriend. I talked to my cousin about it (effectively coming out to her), and she (being a good Christian girl) was uncomfortable and said I should probably go with Sean.
When I returned to Toronto, I was 90% sure of my choice. I went to visit her and bring her the British chocolate I’d bought her. She mocked me for enjoying Scotland (she’s English, accent and everything) and started in on the stereotypes. I ended things, and ran (cinematic movie style) to Sean’s work where his shift was just ending.
In the almost two years since then, we (as two queer people in what passes as a heterosexual relationship) have become very comfortable with the role that our same-sex attractions play in how we interact as a couple with other people. We individually can go on same-sex dates but neither of us has any doubt in the world that our love is the number one priority. I don’t feel like anything is missing; I’m politically involved in queer events and causes. I go to roller derby games and don’t feel out of place at the after-party. I dance at Cherry Bomb and give as much money as I can afford to the Dyke March fundraiser and I’m completely comfortable in my sexuality.
A few days ago, my grandfather sent out a mass email about Canada Day in which he said homophobic things about Ontario’s openly gay Premier, Kathleen Wynne.
“HAPPY CANADA DAY,” it read. “In Ontario , with a Lying DYKE as Prime Minister, it is the only thing to make you happy.” (emphasis his)
“Grampa,” I replied.
“It’s completely unacceptable for you to use dyke as pejorative. I sit and ignore the forwards I also disagree with, because those aren’t your words.
This email IS in your words, and they make you sound hateful. You could attack Kathleen Wynne for a dozen other things, but YOU chose to attack her for being a gay woman.
“I identify as queer, and this email makes me feel unwelcome and unaccepted. I thought you had a decent attitude towards gay, bisexual and trans people. Despite all your other prejudices (against people of colour, against other religions, etc.) I hoped that you would be accepting and loving of what makes ME different.
“Also, she’s Premier, not Prime Minister.
“I’m not mad, really I’m not. I just want you to think about the things you say and how they can affect people you love.
“I hope we can talk soon before you fly out to Cuba.
It was the strangest feeling – FINALLY, a classic coming out story to tell.
But his reply, which was long and rambling, showed that he misunderstood.
He thought I meant that Kathleen Wynne isn’t gay, and he spend three paragraphs insisting that she is.
He said that he only knew that I wasn’t going to give him great grandchildren.
He said that he’d love me despite my choices but did I realise that Sean’s a man?
He said that I was raised by my mother to be a girl and to not forget that.
He said that just because I liked women doesn’t mean I’ll end up with someone as good as my mom or grandmother.
I posted on facebook my story, and the comments culminated with a comment from my youngest half-brother, who lives with my dad and whom I see on an annual basis.
A simple “???” from him made me realize that there are still so many people who know me superficially and think I’m a hetero girl in a hetero relationship. I guess that’s what some people call passing privilege, but it makes me feel like I have to come out again every day. My relationship, for all its unconventionality, still looks like the status quo. There are people, like my grandfather, who still take comfort in it. Short of constantly talking about queer issues, and expressing my attraction to women, I don’t know how to fight that.
No one can make me feel bad for loving who I love.