Bi Ambassador Dilemma: Scenes From Forever Coming Out
I came out as bi when I was 17, and I’ve been coming out ever since. I usually mention this fact about myself twice a week. And 9 times out of 10, I am met with questions. Many, many questions.
I like to call this situation the Bi Ambassador Dilemma. Since bis are still fighting for (non-fetishized) representation, not everyone in the mainstream talks to a bi person about their experiences. I am an absurdly open person, but sometimes I am just not in the mood to be an educator. But I also know if I don’t give a “good impression,” the people I meet could take their negative interaction with me and unfairly paint the whole orientation. As such, I’ve struggled with whether I wanted to be a representative every time I mention my sexuality. So I’ve tried different approaches over the years – with varying results.
Below are just a few very personal, sometimes embarrassing, vignettes with how I dealt with the Bi Ambassador Dilemma.
I am 20.
“I mean, look at us. We’re the gay zoo.”
The panel of LGBTQIA college students sit on stage, and the queer girl’s comment sends titters through the lecture hall. For an hour now in my Human Sexuality class, these volunteers patiently answered all of our questions – no matter how personal. My professors – a husband-and-wife team – are great at teaching important factors of the human sexual experience. Consent, forms of intimacy and arousal, and breaking down roots of romantic/sexual ideals are all thoroughly, compassionately taught. But all the lessons are from a heteronormative viewpoint.
Hence this one day of talking about queer sexuality.
The queer girl’s comment on stage lightens up the end of a rant, answering if she has any frustrations. She is pissed non-straight sex only gets one day in the entire semester, and bitter the professors aren’t there to support the students as they field questions.
In short, she feels trotted out.
I laugh at her joke, but as a newly out bi girl, I don’t feel or understand the full weight of her anger and resentment.
I am 18.
I come out to a close family member. On September 11th. Yes, that September 11th.
We are driving home, and she is nearly hysterical at the news, seeming to search for something good for her mind to seize on. In my teenage mind, I somehow (dumbly) think telling her I’m bi will calm her down from a frantic situation – or at least divert her attention for a while. It does, but she follows up with a slew of questions. I am ready to answer theoretical questions, but not personal ones about my non-existent sex life. She lays on my bed, her legs balanced up on my vintage headboard, rattling off questions as they fly through her mind. I answer as patiently as I know how. I don’t have all the answers, but I do manage to distract her from the national tragedy.
For a full hour and a half.
I am 27.
“Oh, thank God,” I think. “He’s just as cute as his profile picture.”
I am on a promising date with a lanky Australian with tortured-poet makeout hair. We meet at my favorite diner and I smile as my dinner is laid in front of me. I drink in his accent’s long vowels and his dazzling smile.
“So,” he grins as he stabs a french fry into some ranch dressing. “Your profile said you’re bi. What’s that like?”
I smile back and play with my straw, ready to be a bi ambassador this time around. I come out every single time I’m dating someone new. It’s important for me to be transparent about my orientation from the get-go to clear up any confusion. By turns debunking one theory and adding nuance to another, sometimes it ends up monopolizing a conversation. But we have just spent twenty minutes talking about him, so I guess it is my turn. He seems accepting. By his own description in his username as a “militant atheist,” I figure he will probably have an open mind. We can go over the FAQs and move on.
But that’s not what happens. He is charming to a fault, and charms me out of more and more information. But only about me being bi. Nothing about my passions, my dreams, or even basic date stuff like work or where I’m from. It’s not until we hug goodbye I realize he only asked me out because he was curious about my orientation.
Oh my God. I have become the gay zoo.
“At least he picked up the check,” I mutter to myself, paying for both my jerk chicken and my time.
I walk home feeling played. I start questioning the wisdom of coming out in early dating conversations. Doubt rattles through my body as I feel like instead of normalizing my sexuality, I would be going into hiding again.
I shake off the notion as I walk under the sycamore trees. No. I can work on different ways of introducing being bi, but I refuse to hide this crucial part of my heart. The sooner I talk about it, the sooner I can shake off lookie-loos like this guy. The sooner I find the person of heart and mettle I want.
I kick some leaves out of the way as I walk. Still. Sometimes I just want to have dinner with a cute guy and feel accepted.
Note to self: in the future, approach anyone who describes themselves as “militant” anything with extreme caution.
I am 29.
My friends and I are on break from shooting a webseries I wrote where I play the lead. The show is based in part on my life as an actor, in part on my Ally McBeal-like flights of fancy. We are only halfway through production, but a co-star of mine (also a writer) is already talking about the second season. He muses aloud between bites of Tombstone pizza I baked for the shoestring crew. He just learned I am bi in passing a few weeks ago.
“I think we have a good romantic arc for your character for this season,” he says after swallowing a bite of pepperoni. “But I think next season she should have a same-sex interest.”
I blink. “What?”
His eyes light up. “Yeah! You could set up a love triangle where -”
“NO.” I am firm. “Not everything in my life is part of this show.”
“But you’re so open about it and -”
“I said no.” My shoulders drop from hunching up in confrontation. “Sorry. But that part of my life is really personal, and I don’t want this story to enter around that.” To smooth things over, I offer to refill his soda.
Looking back on this moment, I wish I had decided to even entertain the idea. But at this point in time, I am so sick of answering a litany of questions about my orientation I am burned out. The idea of making the character bi is wearying to even think about. And I do not want the bi factor to be a reason the webseries could get pigeonholed. If this project gets real traction, I do not want to get asked by journalists over and over about my sexuality. I don’t want my orientation to get exploited.
And, honestly, I am not ready to talk about my love life and attractions on this incredibly public, digital level. I am not that brave …. yet.
Most of these are extreme examples. But they are strong memories that stayed with me throughout the years.
I hold a lot of empathy for those who ask me questions about being bi, because there is a lot to cover. But sometimes I feel like I am answering questions about being left-handed over and over and over again. Did I always know I was left-handed? Have I ever just tried being right-handed? What’s it like going through a world that’s designed for right-handed people? Do a lot of lefties exist?
Imagine getting asked the same litany of questions each week. One needs patience, and a way to stifle the frustration. But I always have a choice.
And that, more than anything else, is what I have pulled from the Bi Ambassador Dilemma. I am grateful to be in a place where I can teach others – or at least give them a glimpse into another way of living and loving. But I am not obligated to tell people about my experience. Sometimes I’m too tired and ask for a raincheck. Sometimes I just don’t have the heart-space to talk about it in depth. Sometimes I just don’t have the time.
I have made incredible mistakes (see above) during my decades of tenure. And I’m sure I’ll make more in the future, too. But there is no one way to talk about what’s in my heart, or about my experience. Just like there is no one way to be bi. And that is totally okay.
Because I run this zoo.