One foot in the closet
I’ve just finished watching the latest episode of Skins, in which Naomi wrangles with the confusing feelings of being pursued by two males and a female: gay twin, Emily. She continues to deny she is attracted to Emily and that she is “not a minge-muncher” but a “cock cruncher”, despite having kissed Emily twice and having taken things to the next level with her on a woodland camping trip. When we last saw her, it seems she has accepted her feelings for Emily at last after her experiences with the males were less than exciting (but that’s subject to change of course).
This bittersweet story of teens coming to terms with their new-found sexuality seems somehow to be an age-old story. In the previous incarnation of the programme, the main gay character was already out and sorted and had very few issues from anyone at all (but for his best friend’s devoutly religious family). Perhaps this is a better story to tell these days. Definitely more fitting to the world of Skins where the 17-year olds live a life of seemingly idyllic freedom, heavy drug use and promiscuous sex without consequences. Ideally it should be that simple for people to be open about their sexuality without anybody having any issue with it. Perhaps it even is like that for some (or perhaps it isn’t and they don’t care anyway), but personally I relate more to the angst.
All those films about teens with confusing feelings discovering their sexuality and coming out (e.g. Beautiful Thing, All Over Me, But I’m a Cheerleader) or occasionally living their lives as happy gay or bi kids (Better Than Chocolate, The Incredibly True Story of Two Girls In Love), and all the storylines in soap operas and American TV shows about the subject – perhaps it’s the fact that I have seen this type of storyline so much more often that makes me think it’s more accurate to my experience, because certainly none of that ever happened to me. I didn’t have a same-sex partner during my teen years. I never got any grief for it at all because I never put the information out there. I knew I was bisexual and I even came out as bisexual at 15 to one best friend, but as far as anything more than that – nothing. Perhaps I just associate with all the angst and feelings of being misunderstood, but surely that’s something most teenagers go through?
Despite having supposedly come out, I still remained largely closeted for a long time despite knowing about things like BCN and BiCon. I suppose what I’m trying to say is, my pride has always been mixed with liberal doses of shame, or at least cowardice. I think this why I am writing this, because recent events have made me realise once again that however much I deny it, I still have at least a toe still in that bloody closet, 15 years after first leaving it.
On paper it looks quite good: I came out at 15 as bisexual, am part of the UK bi scene, attend my local bi group, march at pride marches, go to BiCon… I am out as bisexual to all my friends, some of my family, a few colleagues and the whole of the internet. If anyone asks, I tell them I’m bi. It all looks very proud. So how come most of my colleagues don’t know I’m bi? How come I feel ‘the fear’ when questions get too personal, and maybe I even blush? How come at 16, 17, 18, 19…I was back in the miserable closet again? How come close members of my family don’t even know and I find the idea of telling them so hard?
Who am I fooling? I’m not proud at all. I hide behind the fact that I’m single to let people make up their own minds about me, and if they assume I’m straight that’s their problem, right? I use non-gender-specific pronouns to generally discuss my love-life. Most of the time I do that naturally because when I say “they”, “people”, “anyone”, I do mean exactly that. But when it comes down to that moment when I need to specifically mention a same-sex partner/attraction, I still skirt around the words. I rely on telling a few people that I’m bi, or people seeing “interested in women & men” on my Facebook profile, and expect that this information will be somehow spread around like juicy gossip, freeing me up to be, supposedly, open about my sexuality as if everyone already knows.
It seems to me this is a funny sort of pride – one that avoids confrontation, embarrassment, awkward questions, and any sort of opportunity to tell people about bisexuality and why it’s important for us to be out and visible. It’s so easy to be out in bi circles, obviously. I feel there is a certain amount of “prouder than thou” somehow – a pride about being proud and always out working for the cause. At BiCon it seems every bisexual there has been out for years and years and has the most wonderful, idyllic, multi-partnered, gender-neutral, politically activist lifestyle, though I’m sure that’s not the accurate. Being at BiCon gives people the opportunity to be who they want to be, and when all is said and done, to be who they really are. For some people it’s easier to carry that outside of Planet BiCon. People without the need to present as anything else on a day to day basis, or whose job allows them to be as politically active as they wish. Even this sounds like an excuse to me. There shouldn’t be any reason why we can’t, legally, be out as bi.
The point is, those who can be out and visibly bi and who will challenge people back when faced with prejudice, are the ones who make the difference to how bisexuals are seen. Without them, those annoying storylines painting bisexuals as untrustworthy / promiscuous / fickle / perverted will just carry on forever. This is what is important, not what other people think, not what gossip will be said when I leave the room, and not how people’s perceptions of me may change when they know who I am and who I have always been.
Perhaps this mixture of pride and shame I feel is just another thing that’s not clear cut in my life. When I am out there marching for bisexual pride, I feel much more proud; when I deliberately don’t say something about my sexuality when I know full well I would have if it had been about someone of the opposite sex, I feel more shameful. But even when I am full of pride, I know I will still put off coming out to those awkward few people for another day, and even when I am full of disappointed shame at myself, underneath I am still burning with pride at being bisexual, which I truly, truly love.
This article originally appeared in BCN magazine issue 95, April 2009.