Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Coming Out Bi

Warning: long post.

I have a question for you: how did you know you were straight? Better yet, when did you know you were straight? When you were chasing boys around the playground in first grade? Your first crush when you were nine? When your body hit puberty and you got strange-but-not-unwelcome feelings at the sight of one of your peers?

Most straight people have never thought about that question before. Most of my gay friends know exactly when they knew they weren't straight. Some have known as long as they can remember. They have stories of childhood crushes. Others spent years trying to be straight before realizing why it never felt right.

I didn't recognize myself as a sexual being until late junior high. A highly independent person, romantic relationships had no appeal to me before puberty. Most of my childhood, I wrote stories with no romance at all. The first story I ever wrote was about a handmaiden who rescues her princess, marries the gal off to the prince, and lives the rest of her life happily ever after.

When puberty finally brought all of those romantic inclinations, I didn't know what to do about them and stuffed them away. I spent the first three years of teenagehood fixated on one person and trying my best not to think much about it.

Then I had a best friend who was a guy, who wooed me without my realizing it at first, and whom I eventually dated. I started learning it was okay to feel this way about someone. That knowing every inch of their face by heart, being able to read their body language across a room, looking forward to glimpsing them in the halls--all that was normal.

After that relationship, which coincided with reaching a healthy place emotionally and spiritually, I became more free about the feelings inside me. Dating, snogging, and breaking up gave me a realistic perspective, finally, on how the whole liking-someone thing worked. It wasn't something to be afraid of. It didn't control me. It felt good to love and be loved, and that was okay. I didn't have to be uptight.

It's a darn good thing I was happy and healthy, because I was in for a shock. The next person I fell for was a girl.

I spent months trying to justify my attraction to another girl. But, like the crushes I'd had before, it felt good and inscrutable and bubbly. I couldn't stop thinking about her, and those thoughts filled me with joy like any love-filled poem will tell you. I memorized the way she smiled, the way she rolled her eyes, the way she flicked her hair when she was thinking. I would do anything for her. I just wanted to be around her. I realized, with horror, that I was in love.

There are some things that turn your whole world upside down. This was one of them.

I had been taught all my life that homosexuality was sinful and wrong. I also heard somewhere that it was a choice, but I was darn sure now that it wasn't. I was educated about homosexuality: my parents were always really good about sex education and explained how gay and lesbian sex worked. Beyond that, though, I just knew there was some sort of gay culture and gay pride and stuff, and it involved rainbows.

But I knew that the wonderful God I knew, the one who had saved me from myself and stopped me from suicide a year before, the one I talked to all the time and had a great relationship with--that God was not going to be okay with this. I knew that I couldn't tell anyone.

As I discovered with my first crush, keeping the feelings inside doesn't make them go away. When you fall for someone, you can't simply stop thinking about them. Any time I saw her, my heart sped up. Her smile made me happy; her laughter made me ache. If I tried to treat her as just a friend, I couldn't, because she'd follow me into my dreams at night and let me kiss her in dreamland.

I had a friend who was a part of the Gay-Straight Alliance and would always invite me. Despite my burning curiosity, all I could do was give him a scornful no. I knew if I went, people would see me for what I was. People would know...I was a lesbian.

God put two things in my life during that time that I desperately needed.

The first was a person: a coworker at my first high school job. Sean (NHRN) and I manned a flower booth together, selling plant products on commission. Sean was the sweetest guy ever, and also a gay Christian.

Working with him was a blast. We became good friends, and when sales were slow, we talked about life. Sean believed that acting on his homosexuality was the sinful thing. He had a boyfriend of several years that he was living with, but felt that God wanted him to be celibate. His plan was to move out. But it was a plan and a process, because he loved his boyfriend and wanted to break up in the least hurtful way possible.

Sean taught me a lot about God and love and being gay. He taught me, first off, how normal we queers actually are. We live normal lives. We love the same way straight people do. Everything is the same except for the gender of who we love. He lived with grace and joy. However I felt about my attraction to girls, he put me at ease with myself.

I remember thinking one day about how Sean loved God and was trying his best, like me, to show it. Even if he died tomorrow, I thought--still living with his boyfriend, still trying to make sense of his life--I knew I'd see him in the kingdom of God. That thought would later come to have a profound effect on me.

The second thing that came into my life was an anthology of the best fantasy writers of our time. Legends II yielded a wonderful story by Diana Gabaldon called Lord John and the Succubus.

Lord John is an officer in Her Majesty's army in the 1700s, trying to ease tensions between his men and their Austrian allies. Rumors of a succubus--a female demon who seduces men and kills them--start flying around, when a man is found murdered in a compromising position. While sorting things out, Lord John can't help laughing because the succubus-lady has no chance with him. Lord John is gay, and in fact hiding an attraction for the officer who's helping him root out the succubus.

Lord John was the first queer character I ever read. He was the first to make me feel like I wasn't totally crazy. Lord John was just like me.

It's hard to explain how I felt back then. I was on the one hand deeply upset about how I felt, but on the other hand I was also simply a girl in love. Loving the opposite sex and loving the same sex feels no different.

I didn't want to be a lesbian: to be wrong, broken. I didn't tell anyone how I felt. But I didn't fight my feelings. I count that as proof of how far God had brought me psychologically that I didn't try to ignore or repress what I was dealing with. I acknowledged and faced my feelings without lying to myself.

Sometimes I let all the feelings out to run around my head, concocting dreams where she and I would live chastely together for the rest of our lives. We wouldn't be gay; we would be old cat ladies who lived together. No harm in that, right? I started to wonder: what constitutes the sinful part of homosexuality? If it's okay for me to secretly feel this way about her (and I can't control whether or not I feel this way), then is it okay for us to hold hands? Hug? Snuggle? It's okay for platonic girlfriends to do those sorts of things...

I never really came to any conclusions. Eventually I developed a crush on a different girl. And then after that, I developed another crush...on a guy.

Now I was thoroughly confused. Was I gay or straight? Maybe the lesbian thing had been a phase.

I got to college and entered a phase of questioning and thinking about everything I knew. My world was expanded, my spirituality expanded; college was a wonderful place of growth for me. But I never did much growing in the area of sexuality because I never opened up to anyone. I told a person or two, but I always called it "my lesbian phases" and said it was over. And then I'd fall in love with a girl again...

In college I went back and forth. Flip-flopping between girls and guys. I made a lot more friends along the LGBTQ spectrum, and started to understand it better. A lesbian roommate and several asexual classmates helped me come to accept it more and more in others. But never in myself. I wanted to be straight so that nothing would be wrong with me. Every time I came out of a "phase" and liked a guy again, it just proved more to me that I wasn't a lesbian. I just didn't know what I was.

I confess, I voted against gay marriage in the first election I was eligible for. My default mode approaching queerness was to go conservative.

You'd think that by this point, I might have done some probing and figured out what was right and wrong. Maybe if I were a lesbian, with no crushes on guys, I would have faced the reality of my sexuality sooner. But since I didn't know what I was, I didn't bother looking into what the Bible actually said, what gay culture was actually like, or what behavior the church should have towards same-sex couples.

I knew I was biased. I was afraid that in the shifting sands of my sexuality, I would find shifting sands everywhere else, too. If my beliefs about right and wrong and whether it's right to deny civil rights to someone who doesn't believe what you do--if all that changed, I'd have nothing to hold onto. How do you find truth when the terms of reality keep changing?

For those of you who just answered that question with "God," I agree with you. But remember, I wasn't talking about my sexuality with anyone, even God. I knew what he thought of homosexuality (I thought). What would God think of that graphic lesbian sex dream I had? I was afraid--afraid that I would lose my relationship with the one person who loved me unconditionally.

Well, at one point I was so fed up with not knowing if I was gay or straight and with some of the dudes in my life who wouldn't stop causing drama that I began dating a guy who I didn't really have feelings for. Somehow the relationship lasted a year, and I learned a lot, including that love and attraction are necessary to keep things going, even though hard work and self-sacrifice can get you a long way.

Then I fell in love with someone who I thought was absolutely perfect. Intelligent, nerdy, absolutely hilarious, and good at taking care of people. It was a big, mushy, attraction-filled crush.

This other person liked me back a whole lot. Things got really serious. And because he was a dude and I'm a dudette, there were no cultural barriers to our committing to love one another for the rest of our lives in a public ceremony, which we did two and a half years ago.

D'aww, we're so cute.

I want you to understand something really important at this point in the story: I didn't fall for Nic because he's a dude. I didn't fall for him because I refused to fall for women and was desperately trying to make myself straight. I married him because I love him for who he is. I take the promise to love and to cherish very seriously.

It was finally settled: I was straight. I was with a dude for the rest of my life. Phew. My love is unsinful.

I guess it's because I felt secure in my sexuality that, at long last, I started exploring what I believed about it.

I revised my idea that same sex love was sinful because it was inherently different from opposite sex love. In my experience, they were exactly the same. I already knew what the church has slowly realized: having same sex attraction and desires isn't a choice, or something you can change, or a result of a bad father, or anything else. I looked into the biology and found interesting stuff about genetics, mother-child hormones, and brain chemistry.

Those of us who loved someone of our own gender were born this way. That was a relief. I guess I had nagging thoughts that I had done something wrong that made me gay.

I had (and have) a very open view about queers and church. Everyone should be allowed and welcome in church; conservative Christians need to stop looking sideways at gays who come with their partners; and the church needs to seek to understand queers better and bridge the gap of hurting between us. I believe we should let queers get involved in our church like we let other flawed people do.

It all came to a head one day as I was praying. I just couldn't pretend anymore that I thought same sex relationships were a sin. I'd recently talked with a friend and his partner, and watching them together, the way they loved each other and made each other better people and acted in all respects just like me and Nic--I saw nothing, absolutely nothing, wrong about it. I saw many things right about it, and many good things coming from their relationship and their pure--yes, their pure gay love.

Crying, I told this to God. I apologized that I couldn't believe the things I was supposed to. And I heard God saying it was okay. That everything was going to be okay. If I just journeyed with him, I'd find him more loving than I'd ever known.

God loved me. That's all I wanted to hear. That's all I have wanted to hear my whole life.

That's when I started searching the Scriptures for answers, this time really paying attention. I berated myself never looking into it before. Every other major issue I'd studied in depth, from women as preachers, to Biblical standards of modesty, to understanding OT violence, to mandates for husbands and wives, to God's take on justice, to the centuries-old debate about hell...

You need to understand that in college, I dove headfirst into intellectual Christianity. My husband and I actually got to know each other in a preaching class learning exegesis. I had access to all the resources I could handle. I'd just never used them before. I'd been too afraid: afraid that I was a horrible person, but equally afraid that I'd have to rethink my traditional beliefs and go head to head with the Christian majority.

With God on my side, fear no longer held me back. I was open to whatever answer I got; I just wanted to know for sure. So my study began.

Something else was happening during this time. I had become an LGBTQ ally, using social media to advocate marriage equality and open church doors. But every time I posted something about gay people not eating children but being normal just like us, I got this little thing inside me. I was talking about "them," but I knew what it was like to be gay, to be afraid to love someone, to feel unwelcome. I knew what it was like to fear God and the church and inevitable rejection. I kept saying "them," but the world didn't know that "them" included me.

I was lying. Ally wasn't the right word for me. Yet I wasn't gay; I proved that when I fell in love and married a man.

Then someone came out to me and gave me a new word: bi.

In high school, the term bisexual referred to girls who slept with anything. They were promiscuous and polyamorous, and their sex lives didn't have anything to do with attraction or orientation.

For the first time, I heard the real definition of bisexual: having attraction for all genders, but still committing to one person. Bi, like gay or straight, means monogamous. Bi people are just as steadfast and loving, just as satisfied by one partner as anyone else. It just means you could end up with any gender.

I could breathe again. I finally had a label for myself that made sense! I've since met many men and women who are bi, some married to women and some married to men. They are normal people and are usually mistaken for gay or straight when they're not single, because of who they're with at the time. It startles people when they mention an ex who isn't of the gender you'd expect.

My search for answers in the Bible had turned linguistic by this point, and I was reading the NT passages in the original Greek so I wouldn't miss a word. I was finding things weren't as simple as people always said.

After a long time, I came to the conclusion that the Bible does not condemn loving and committed same sex marriage. It does condemn same sex lust, as well as the sexual excess of straight people tiring of their partners and seeking out gay relationships because they're exotic. Adultery, gay and straight, is not allowed.

All the little pieces of my life came together at that point and started to make a lot of sense. I wasn't in conflict with myself anymore, no longer trying to hold queerness as a sin while loving and learning from my gay friends. There was one conflict left though: pretending to be a straight ally when really, I'm queer.

My husband knew from the beginning. I told my family, best friends, relatives. But I keep posting about queer rights and queer issues, and I'd be lying if I kept pretending to the world that I'm straight. If you're going to hear what I have to say, you should know where I'm coming from. You should know that I'm bi.

This month, I'm devoting my blog posts to bisexuality. Why I think coming out is important. The full and complete definition of bisexuality, pansexuality, and everything else in the QUILTBAG acronym and under the bi umbrella. A (brief) overview of what I looked at in the Bible. What homophobia, biphobia, and bi-erasure are, why they're harmful, and how we can stop them. Gay affirming churches, non-affirming churches, and various types of celibacy. And answers to other questions I've gotten about bisexuality, queer life, etc.

I wish I didn't have to say this, but I reserve the right to delete comments that are inflammatory, hurtful, or unproductive. If you want to argue the Bible, do so respectfully (and please wait for the post where I address that). Respect other commenters. This applies to people on all sides.

The cat's out of the bag. I can finally display my bi colors with pride! If you take anything away from this post, I hope it's the desire to be honest about who you are. Whether the Thing about you is bad/wrong/sinful or not, you shouldn't have to hide it, ever. Jesus died to make us free.

Word count: way over my usual 1000 word limit.