Do You Have To Be SO Out, Though?

4/20/2018

istock/javitrapero

I love road trips. Even the little ones – anything that lasts over an hour (when I’m not caught in traffic) seems to unburden people of their day-to-day concerns. Maybe it’s the changing scenery, or the feeling of moving somewhere, but something about not always looking at a conversation partner lends itself to deeper topics.

I have a friend so dear to me that she comes home with me to my family’s Thanksgiving most years. (She’s English.) We were zooming down the freeway back from the holiday, and after dissecting the weekend’s events and spontaneous singalongs, we got into heavier conversations. We started talking about subjects we get passionate about.

We jokingly asked what we think the other goes on and on about. Her response for me was almost immediate: “The bi community. At least for the last few years.”

At first, I felt a defensive bile creep up my throat.  But then I took a (figurative) step back and thought about what she said and my reaction. She hadn’t said it in an annoyed tone – just factual. Then I thought – why should I get defensive about such a statement?

I thought back on the various volumes my voice had held about being bi during my life. I have been silent and meek in moments, others times shouting at the level of a carnival barker. But it all had a direct correlation with acceptance within myself and my community I surrounded myself with.

When I was growing up, I saw my family accept gay people but my schoolmates throw around slurs as easily as they flung cafeteria pizzas, like frisbees, in a food fight. It didn’t feel like my little doubting voice had any place in there. And I had moments where I felt silenced about my attractions by people I looked up to and loved. So, while I knew that I liked women, I didn’t have the language to lay a strong foundation for my voice until high school.

Then I started attending a Unitarian youth group. Throughout most of my senior year, most of the girls in that group talked about their boyfriends and their same-sex attractions in the same sentence. It was because of their groundwork I knew I wasn’t alone. It was because of them that I finally said, in a small voice quaking with fear, that I … was … bi.

I gained a shred of confidence from that day – I talked about being bi when I knew I was safe with these friends or in other crowds of mostly bi people. But I wouldn’t talk about it extensively. If I brought up being bi with people partway into some conversation, they were quick to erase it, saying they made out with women in clubs, too, and it was no big deal.

Then, finally, a few years ago I joined amBi. I mustered up my courage and went to a dinner on New Year’s Eve. It was only three other people or so, but it was good to meet others in a large town like Los Angeles that mostly fetishized my orientation – if they paid any attention to it at all. I started going to more amBi events and volunteering, even hosting one or two myself.

A lot of musings about the bi experience started rolling around in my head, the jar of thought marbles now tipped over, since I knew I had a tribe of people who would understand. I wanted to publish them somewhere to support my growing self-acceptance. I wanted to have an easy source to point people to, so I wouldn’t have to keep explaining myself and defending my sexuality.

Then, not even a year ago, I got a chance to attend my first Pride. I had signed up to help with the amBi booth, and got to talking with the editor of this website. She said they were always looking for new writers, and I mentioned in passing I was interested.

And now, here I am. The eight-year-old girl who could barely whisper “wow” about a woman, without getting shunned, has now penned a novel and writes for one of the biggest bi sites in the world.

Back in the car, these events all flashed in front of my mind’s eye as we descended into the San Fernando Valley. I quickly explained to my friend it took me almost twenty-five years to get to the point where I could preach about my orientation. And I told her why.

And because she is a wonderful person, she nodded, smiled, and understood. And in that moment, I was grateful for her and my amBi tribe all over again.

~~~

Since all of these events happened, some people still sneer as they ask me, “Do you have to be so out?” And the answer is yes: I do. I have too much momentum now. And I’ve dealt with too much erasure, discrimination, and just plain B.S. to quietly wait my turn to speak. But if they ever want a list, here’s why:

Now I’m out because my voice was so hard-won.

And I’m out because others can’t be, or don’t feel comfortable talking about it yet. I want them to see someone out in the sunshine, proud of being exactly who they are.

I’m out so others can see it’s okay to talk about it. And I’m happy to talk to them about their journey.

And I’m out to fight for the rights and issues that help our specific community.

I’m out so I can make art that maybe some kid wrestling with her identity can see she’s not alone, that her struggle is valid.

And I’m out to be seen, to make sure I keep getting seen and heard, no matter how much the world wants to dismiss me or shove me back in the closet.

So I’ll keep being out. And I’ll keep being annoyingly vocal about it. Because there’s just too much at stake for me to muzzle myself.

Just count your lucky stars I’m not using my theatre voice. Yet.

Jennie Roberson
Jennie Roberson is a comedic actress and screenwriter currently living in Los Angeles. She just finished her first novel (a bi coming-of-age tale, naturally) and hopes to share it with the world soon. When she's not busy binging on Star Trek or dreaming of her future cat army, you can find her occasional thoughts between mountains of re-tweets at her Twitter handle, @JennieRoberson.