Meet Clay. Clay is in the Closet.
Meet Clay. Clay is bi. Clay is in the closet.
Some of the normal fears you would expect from a firefighter would be things such as ‘physically overcome by heat and flame,’ or ‘an inability to rescue people and animals because of obstruction or time,’ or especially ‘a lack of resources to extinguish out-of-control fires’. One doesn’t often think a firefighter would be afraid of someone learning about his bisexuality. But, such is the case with Clay.
He describes himself as “a bisexual guy in a monogamous relationship with a woman”. I asked him to describe his fear of coming out as a bi man in one sentence. His reply: “My fear of coming out would be how it is received; ostracized first by my family and also the people I work with.” He goes on to say that his work fears are valid. He reveals how he lost the chance at a municipal job when his sexuality was revealed in a prerequisite polygraph test. Of course, how could he prove that was the reason he didn’t get the job? There’s almost no way. He continues on about how if people at work did find out about his sexuality and they objected to it, there were many ways they could push him out of his job, ways that wouldn’t be considered illegal discrimination.
Clay spent his life gradually realizing his bisexuality. “I have come to terms with my sexuality. I don’t really have a first experience when I realized I was bi.” He notes, “I just kind of slowly came to the realization of who I am.”
When asked about what discourages him from coming out, he revealed that only two people know, about his sexuality. One of them is his wife. Clay confides, “The biggest discouragement that I have is from being denied a fire department job when it came out in the polygraph. Also my wife has been supportive, however, when she is feeling insecure, the comments that she makes during arguments [are] very discouraging.”
Sometimes online resources can help a bi person find others like them, and gain a sense of familiarity and build a sort of digital bi family with others around the world. He says, “I have just started exploring the online support groups, however there are not very many groups out there. I wish there were more groups for bisexual firefighters. It would be nice to know there are others with the situations that I have. The groups I have found have been accepting but not very active. Bi.org is nice but ‘read only’ and not very interactive.”
Doing things in real life as a bi person who is in the closet can be even more nerve racking. I asked about whether Clay had attended any Pride events, or sought out local bi or LGBT organizations, or even if he had gone out to a bar whose patrons are the LGBT crowd. “I have not been to an LGBT bar or group before. I am sure at some point I will, but haven’t yet. I have just started with the online groups. Some of my reservations about going is my wife’s insecurities as well as concerns about if my coworkers or others in the fire service in my area find out and hold it against me.”
But would he ever come out to those co-workers someday and to his family and other friends? Clay seems hopeful, “There is no doubt that I will come out. I am out to my wife and a friend from high school who is bi herself. More than likely I will be completely out after I retire from the fire service in 10-12 years.”
Despite being married now, it was a delightful surprise to learn about Clay’s past concerning whether or not he had been in a same-gender relationship. Clay says, “Yes, I have been in a same gender relationship before. About 12 years ago I had a relationship that lasted about a month. We broke up because our relationship was based only on sex and I wanted more from a relationship.”
It’s important through all the discouragement and fear while in the closet that there is a light at the end of the tunnel; that whether one comes out or not, there is always the joy one finds at being bi. My final question touches on this. I asked Clay “What about being bi makes you feel the most joy and comfort?”
His replied, “The thing that I like most about being bi is finally knowing who I am. That I can be attracted to someone no matter what their gender is. I find that my attraction is fluid depending on the person, the situation, and what is going on in my life.”
That is Clay’s story.
52% of LGB persons surveyed are bi, according to recent statistic analyses. This ranges from gay and lesbian identified people who also have attractions to other genders, straight identified people who are also attracted to many genders, asexual identified people who sometimes have sexual attraction to men, women, and non-binary folk, and the average person who gives no hint of their sexuality but is generally perceived by others to be straight. This suggests numbers may be higher among the non-LGBT demographics. What can you do to encourage bi people to come out? Do you help facilitate a safe environment for bi people to feel comfortable coming out to you? Do you see the importance of people living as their true selves, to be able to talk openly about the relationships they are in regardless of gender?
In an effort to bring to the public the fears and discouragement of why many bi people choose to remain in the closet, I will be doing this series of interviews with those I call “damp bi” folk. Though just as fluid in their sexuality as any openly bi person, a damp bi is someone who cannot fully embrace their fluidity in their sexuality safely or surely, and therefore are only “slightly wet.” I hope to give readers a sense of encouragement and hope, for those in the closet, and a sense of awareness and insight to those non-bi folks who want to encourage bi people to live their lives openly and proud.