‘Homosexual Tendencies’: A Coming Out Saga

‘Homosexual Tendencies’: A Coming Out Saga

Illustration by Dorothy Hoeft

Most coming out stories don’t require a second act, in which the person coming out has to do it again two years later. Normally, people want to have the bare minimum number of awkward interactions, and treat it like ripping off a Band-Aid: as quick and painless as possible, even though the adhesive pulls out all the tiny, sensitive hairs.

My coming out story, however, needed multiple attempts — not because my family couldn’t handle it, but because of the misunderstandings regarding sexual orientation and stigmas attached to them in our society, as well as a lack of communication on the topic of bisexuality.

According to the 2016 “Where We Are On TV Report” by GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), of the 895 broadcast primetime characters, 4.8% identify as LGBTQ. Bisexual representation has risen to 33%, as 21 of those characters identify as bisexual (16 women and 5 men). The representation has increased dramatically in comparison to previous years, such as in 2012 (when I first came out), when only 2.9% of characters identified as LGBT. While the numbers show improvement, the representation of these bisexual characters still stick to harmful tropes that stigmatize bisexual people: “untrustworthy, lacking a sense of morality, and/or as duplicitous manipulators,” according to the GLAAD report.

“Creators overwhelmingly choose to portray bisexuality as a villainous trait rather than a lived identity. This trend of inaccurate portrayals undermines how people understand bisexuality, which has real life consequences for bi people and their wellbeing,” wrote Alexander Bolles, senior strategist, GLAAD and bisexual advocate.

In my five years of being out, I have been told that my sexuality is “just a phase” or that I’m “experimenting.” I have been asked multiple times by men on Tinder if I would be interested in three-ways and have been told by men that they could never date a bisexual woman for fear of her being unfaithful. I have been told by society that bisexuality is just a ploy to get a man’s attention, that I have to “choose a side eventually,” and that lesbians may not take a chance on me because I’m really just straight.

Illustration by Dorothy Hoeft

All of these associations come from the mainstream media’s portrayal of bisexuality. Amy Zimmerman, Entertainment Correspondent for The Daily Beast, explains this perfectly in her article: “It Ain’t Easy Being Bisexual on TV.”

“Our mainstream media reinforces the notion that bisexuality is either a fun, voluntary act of experimentation or a mere myth through two tried and true tactics: misrepresenting and oversimplifying bisexual characters until they are either punchlines or wet dream fodder, or simply refusing to portray bisexual characters in the first place.”

When I first came out in 2012 I didn’t have a frame of reference for bisexuality, and even if I had, statistically the representation would still have been stereotypical and problematic. I grew up under the assumption that I had to be straight because I had always been interested in males. But growing up as a femme cisfemale in a primarily conservative community, nobody — not even myself — knew that I was secretly falling for the feminine wiles warned about since the day Eve seduced Adam into taking the apple in the Garden of Eden. My first hint probably should have been when I had the overwhelming urge to kiss a female friend of mine during the middle of casual conversation.

It wasn’t until I was 16 that I began to open myself to the idea that those thoughts weren’t “weird” and needed to be brushed off, but rather should be embraced because why limit myself to one attractive gender, when I could be with all of them?

As I was coming to terms with my sexuality, I became confident enough to tell a gay friend of mine about my self-discovery. The timing could have been better, as my family and family friends had all gotten together for our annual camping trip at Richardson Park, but I needed to tell somebody. Hiding in our family trailer and, making sure nobody was around, I called my friend and told him everything. Unfortunately for me, there was a lack of insulation between the trailer walls and the outside world, and my younger brother overheard my conversation. He then took it upon himself to tell my mother, who was in official camping mode, meaning she had a nice beer buzz going and zero desire to have an intense, personal conversation about her teenage daughter’s sexuality — but, being the mom she is, she did.

The only thing more awkward than coming out is being outed before you were even remotely ready to be out.

My parents both sat down to have a conversation with me, that went along the lines of: Until you wake up in the arms of a man and a woman, can you really know how you feel? While this is now a question I easily refute, my younger self didn’t have the words. After that conversation, none of us ever brought up my sexuality again. I had assumed the worst was behind me. I was headed toward college, I was hopeful to have an opportunity to explore all of my options.

“Our mainstream media reinforces the notion that bisexuality is either a fun, voluntary act of experimentation or a mere myth through two tried and true tactics: misrepresenting and oversimplifying bisexual characters until they are either punchlines or wet dream fodder, or simply refusing to portray bisexual characters in the first place.”

Officially identifying as bisexual to the new friends I had met, I wasn’t concerned telling my mother about a lunch date I had planned later that week with a cute, queer girl from one of my classes. As I chattered on about how I was both excited and nervous, she broke in with the question, “Why are you so nervous? It’s just lunch.” This “just lunch,” I told her, was going to be my first casual date with a woman. The phone went silent. My self-doubt started to creep in and I felt like I was sixteen again. I told her that we had already had this conversation, but in her eyes this was new information.

Though the phone call ended shortly after that, the conversation about my sexuality did not. My mother and I continued to have open dialogues where she expressed her concern for my life being harder as a bisexual woman if I pursued a relationship outside of the heteronorm, and how people wouldn’t take my sexuality seriously. While I couldn’t promise her the world would treat me fairly or respectfully,  I told her I wasn’t going to hide any longer. We even talked more about the women I was seeing or speaking to on dating apps. Eventually, my father asked her if I had “homosexual tendencies,” and my mother had to clarify for him again as well, seeing as he missed my second coming out. While our conversations about it are less frequent, I know he won’t care if I marry a girl one day.

With the lack of positive bisexual representations in the media, and few “out” bisexuals in the public eye, I want to go into my journalism career being open and honest about who I really am. I hope this honesty can help other LGBTQA people accept and love who they are too, and that I can use my journalism to highlight these marginalized and often unrecognized voices.

At this point, most of the people in my life know that I’m bisexual, but there are still some family members and high school acquaintances who don’t. So, to Grandpa Barry and Grandma Sonia, Aunt Dawn and Uncle Richard, Aunt Laura and Dakota, Uncle John, and anyone from Elmira High School who could be reading this: We need to talk.

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