Thursday, October 11, 2012

Happy National Coming Out Day!

So, to begin. Hi. I'm bisexual. Some people already knew that. Some may not have. For those that didn't, it's not because I'm purposely keeping it a secret. I've been "out" since high school. But I am by nature a very private person, and for a lot of people, it's not a topic that comes up in conversation very often. It's not something you bring up immediately when you meet someone; and unless I get to know a person very well, or if a related political topic comes up in conversation (which, let's be honest, talking politics with people you've just met is rarely a good idea), it just isn't going to come up.

The fact that I'm bi, but in a long-term relationship with a man, is also part of the issue. If someone were wondering, for whatever reason, about my orientation, and the topic of my fiancé comes up (which is much more likely), then they just assume that I'm straight, and unless they state that assumption outright (and why would they?), then I have no reason to bring up the topic to correct them.

For a long time, I felt kind of bad, almost guilty, about all that. I've read about very light-skinned black people back in the Jim Crow days who would "pass" for white and escape some of the discrimination aimed at black people — it felt like that was what I was doing, even if unintentionally. Here I was, queer as a three dollar bill, but "passing" for straight, getting the undeserved benefit of all that tasty straight white privilege (can you hear the liberal guilt?).

It got worse when people talked about coming out as a political statement, as a necessary step toward equality — come out, they said, let people know you're there, because the more LGBT people someone knows personally, the more likely they are to support LGBT rights. It's harder to "otherize" someone you know personally. That is all true, and it made me feel like I wasn't doing my part to shed light on these issues — to further the cause, as it were.

There was one time, and only one, however, where the topic did arise, and I failed to speak up. There was a related news item on TV - it may have been when Massachusetts first began allowing gay marriage; I'm not sure - and a gay couple was interviewed briefly, talking about how happy they were about having their relationship legally recognized. Another party in the room with me, someone whom I care about deeply, someone who I know for a fact is generally a wonderful, kind, loving person, made a disgusted comment; I don't remember the exact wording, but I know the word "abomination" was involved. I froze. I was, in fact, dating a girl at that time, and was out to most of my friends. A dozen things buzzed through my head, but I didn't say any of them. I was scared. I didn't know what would happen if I said something. I wasn't surprised that this person didn't approve (this person being very conservative and religious, I would have been surprised if they had), but I was startled at the apparent vitriol in the remark, and I didn't say anything. I regretted it later, and still do, truth be told. It was an opportunity lost. But it did teach me that not saying anything is not an acceptable response*, and since then, I have always spoken up.

There is also the question of marriage. In a lot of places, same-sex marriage is still not legally recognized. The fact that the person I'm engaged to is a man means that particular bit of discrimination doesn't directly affect me. Again, looked at from a certain perspective, I'm "passing." There are some straight people who say they refuse to get married until same-sex marriage is legal in all states, because it's supporting a discriminatory system. When I first got engaged, I thought about that. I seriously wondered if I was wrong to want to get married when my friends in same-sex relationships couldn't. Again with the guilt.

Over time, I've come to realize that it is not my fault that people assume things. People will always make assumptions about all sorts of things, because it's easier than asking, and a lot of times, those assumptions will be wrong. (An interesting side note: I was talking with a female friend recently who is also bi, but she is dating a woman, and so of course, everyone assumes that she's a lesbian. Being bisexual leads to a lot of invisibility, from both sides.) Other people's assumptions are not my responsibility. As far as marriage goes, my refusing to get married will not change anything. Marriage is not a business you can boycott to pressure it for change. Yes, there are plenty of people who make money off the "wedding industry," but a) it's not a hegemonous group with a great deal of lobbying power, b) the ones looking at it from a financial perspective already support gay marriage, because yay more business, and the ones that don't generally won't be easily swayed by a boycott, and c) that's getting awfully indirect anyway. Is the system unfair? Yes, of course it is. But I don't have to sacrifice my own happiness in order to work toward greater equality and more happiness for everyone.

My responsibility is to live my life, be true to myself, and do my best to leave things a little better than how I found them. I can't change the world singlehandedly. But when an opportunity arises to do my small part, I take it. So happy Coming Out Day to all my friends, be you queer, straight, or anything in between, and the next time someone says something negative about non-straight people, I hope you'll think of me, your friendly neighborhood bisexual, and maybe question what they're saying, even just a little.

*Of course, this doesn't apply when a person's safety or livelihood is in danger. Luckily, I have never personally had to deal with such a situation.

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