I am happily monogamous with a man. I have a child. And I am bisexual. I will say this for passing: it gives one a lot more opportunities for coming out. In fact, I just came out to a new friend from massage school. You’d think the act — a short sentence, one second, two words: “I’m bisexual” — would get easier over time, and with practice. But to the contrary, I find it harder now than it ever was before.
My first coming out as bisexual — to my first crush, as a freshman in high school, just a few weeks after finally hearing the term and recognizing myself in it — was met with an anticlimactic “Well duh, Arwyn.” Two years later, coming out to my first romantic relationship got me an amused “I know.”
You might say I did not do well in the closet. I was — and am, when I feel safe — a voracious flirt. I never adhered to straight female gender roles, and had Ru Paul pinups in my locker instead of the usual… who was usual to crush on? I never kept track.
“Coming out” in adolescence was, contrary to most other QUILTBAGs’s (Queer Undecided/Unlabeled/Unsure/Unidentified Intersex Lesbian Transgender Bisexual Asexual Gay) experience, ridiculously easy — an exercise in stating the obvious to anyone who spent any time with me. With the arrogance of ignorance and unacknowledged privilege, I scoffed (in the safety of my own cranium, at least, even then however dimly recognizing its privileged origins) at those who found it hard, who dithered and postponed and passed rather than come out and say it — or simply live it.
And now, when the moment comes to say it or lie by omission, I find myself hemming and hawing and dithering, and, yes, sometimes shutting up and just plain passing. And I hate it. What happened to “duh?”
“Duh” is no more, after eleven years with a man (Mr. “I know” himself in fact, my first and only), after leaving high school and college and the groups of friends I came out with. And it really vanished after getting pregnant and having a baby, with a man, in the “usual,” heteronormative way. After all, I am, indubitably, a breeder now, and everyone knows “breeder” means “straight.”
It doesn’t seem to matter in the public eye what other signals I send: having a child with a man makes me straight. After all, this is the Pacific Northwest, and I run with a crunchy crowd: unshaven pits, Birkenstocks year round, having a “partner” instead of a “husband,” and being stridently outspoken for “queer rights” merely marks me as yet another crazy white neo-hippie liberal.
Add to that a social network comprised almost entirely of other women-who-spend-the-day-with-their-kids, the fear of losing straight friends to innocent flirting (not an unreasonable fear, I think, in a culture that equates bisexuality with unquenchable nymphomania, and paints us as seductresses and adulterers when it bothers admitting our existence at all), and I find myself being perceived as straight not just by a heterosexist heteronormative society, but by people who know me. For someone who has been explicitly, outspokenly out for so long, it is a decidedly unexpected and uncomfortable experience.
But the hardest part, the part I cannot figure out how to work around, is that I had always relied on “living out” — being obvious, refusing to pass — as my way of dealing with the issue of any children of mine knowing my sexuality. If it were simply a part of my public identity, a fact that anyone who knows me would know, then the Boychick would grow up knowing it, simply and easily and without any fuss. But the very act of his creation has taken my public identity as an out bisexual from hard to maintain (I’ve spent my entire adult life in a monogamous relationship with a man; it hasn’t been exactly easy for a while) to seemingly impossible. To the extent that I “pass,” that I am understood by others however falsely to be straight, I am confronted with a dilemma where the Boychick is concerned. Being closeted (used here as a verb, of which I am the subject and others the actor) means that I would be forced to decide what and when — and indeed, whether — to tell him.
And who wants to hear about their parents’ sexuality? If not a part of one’s (public) identity, one’s sexuality is a matter of what one wants to do to or with whom, which is not information I can see as entirely appropriate to share with my child. If not understood to be a part of my public identity, any outing of myself to him (“Honey, I’m bisexual”), would necessarily be followed by his asking “What does that mean?” What would I tell him? “Oh nothing, just that sometimes I dream of shagging women, and used to chase the hot queer chicks in high school”? I think not.
I hear some of you wondering “Then why bother telling him? If you’re monogamous with a man, aren’t you basically straight anyway? What does it matter what other people think?” All I can tell you is, it does matter. We are talking about no less than who I am, at my very foundation. I may pass, in this heteronormative society that is so fond of stuffing us in to boxes whether we like them or not, but rather than make my life easy as some may think, passing is excruciatingly painful. It is being forced to agree to a lie I know to be false, a lie about myself. It may seem “unimportant,” or that my sexuality is a mere technicality, but in a thousand ways every day, unseen by those blinkered by straightness, even a monogamous woman is expected to assert her heterosexuality. The straight world surrounds me with its memes, its jokes, its assumptions, its understanding of the world and of female/male relationships: each is just a tiny little prick to my psyche, but they do add up.
I live with enormous heaps of straight-appearing and male-partner privilege. Many queer folk have straight-appearing privilege; consider the femme who is read by all as “straight,” except when out with her girlfriend or at a queer bar. This part fluctuates for me, depending on the day and whether I am with The Man or the Boychick. Male-partner privilege is more about institutional access and social recognition, and is one I always exist with, because my partner is always male.
The fact that I can pass when needed, that I could when my unmarried partner was on death’s door in a rural hospital in the Midwest proclaim myself his fiancée and thus claim access to his bedside and his medical information, is a huge privilege that humbles me, for I know how many do not have it. I do not pretend that the pain of being invisible holds a candle to the daily risks of a life lived as a queer woman with a female partner, or multiple partners, or no partner at all. I do not claim that merely as an also-queer woman that I know what it is to live as a woman in a relationship with a woman. To lay claim to that status is a hubris I strive to avoid — sometimes at the cost of disassociating from my queer identity altogether.
I can speak with lived authority only of my own pains, my own risks, my own queernesses: the pain of being invisible, the risk of either alienating others or dishonoring myself, the queerness of a sexuality half lived… the dilemma of what to do about the Boychick.
The only solution I see, if I cannot live my life obviously (as I once did unthinkingly, without knowing how sweet I had it) — if I cannot not pass — is to come out again, and again, and again. Only now am I seeing the value of practices like National Coming Out Day, for if there is one thing I might claim to know better than my woman-partnered sisters, it is invisibility. I may pass for straight, be seen as a breeder and thereby shoved into a closet again and again every moment of my child’s life, but I don’t have to quietly stay there.