Meet Estelle. Estelle is in the Closet.
Meet Estelle. Estelle is bi. Estelle is in the closet.
“Abandonment.” I asked Estelle to describe her fear of coming out bi in one sentence and she gave me a single word. I felt the weight of the word as she spoke it and it sent a shockwave of force upon me. The fear of abandonment. Being left in ruins to your own end. A sad and terrible feeling, and for some an awful reality. It’s true that some families will abandon their children, siblings, parents, etc. when they come out as someone in the LGBT community. But for a bi person who can and does experience stigmatization from not only the straight people of the world but also the gay and lesbian communities, it is a fear that can be paralyzing when one considers the thought of even whispering their secret to a familial loved one. She elaborated, “I have a lot of conservative friends and family. While part of me is like ‘I think things will go over okay,’ the other part is like, ‘You don’t know’ and also there are all those stories about people getting axed out of families because they came out. So, better safe than sorry.”
Estelle told me she’s aware of the large community of bi folk online but is only beginning to participate in forums and groups. “I’m still trying to get a voice. So, it’s a work in progress,” she explained. She said when it comes to the gay, lesbian, straight, and ace communities online she feels she’s “just starting to find people” in those communities and “people [she’s] interacted with [online] seem okay with [her bisexuality],” but she only has a small circle by which to gauge people’s perceptions. She shared how she has LGBT groups online where the majority of the members are also affiliated with her religion and that they are helpful to her for maintaining a healthy mindset about her sexuality.
Estelle doesn’t often describe her sexuality and she doesn’t often feel the need to use labels. “I do identify as bi,” she clarified. “It’s just that I don’t really feel the need to elaborate, like, for me ‘bi’ covers it. Maybe that’s part of growing up in a conservative community that lampoons people who have elaborate labels, so for me ‘bi’ is a big label in and of itself.” I related to this completely. I also came from a large community of conservative folk and I was one of those very people who used to mock the use of labels for a person’s sexuality. Until I needed to find my community; to find others like me. It was then that I was glad that the bi label existed.
“I would say like 90% I’ve come to terms,” Estelle responded when asked if she’d fully embraced her bisexuality. “There’s still that 10% in my head that in church, it’s always like “If you’re bi you can choose, so just choose men. And while I largely dismiss that, there’s still a part of me that’s like ‘Wellllllllllll?’. You know, ‘cos I’m still coming to terms.”
I asked Estelle about her first experience with recognizing bi behavior within herself. “The first real moment,” she said remembering an event from a couple years ago, “was kind of a funny story. My straight roommates were talking about how they liked to check out guy’s butts. I didn’t see the appeal and I was like, ‘Okay. What makes a good butt?’ and they’re like ‘You just know it when you see it.’ I’m like ‘Okay. Fine’ and I was walking on campus one day and I see a real nice butt and it’s great and I like it and then I realize it belonged to one of my old roommates and I was mortified.” She laughed and continued to explain, “I was like, ‘Omigosh!’ I went to my roommates and I’m like, ‘Sooooo… with your butt thing, do you ever do that to girl butts?’ and they’re like ‘No.’ I was like, ‘Oh? Okay.’ So, that got me thinking maybe, maybe there was something to stuff like that, that had been happening.” She continued to talk about how when she was younger she just wasn’t interested in anybody, sexually or romantically, and how she only recently blossomed into being bi. Estelle admitted, “I liked Star Wars. I liked books. I didn’t see why we had to talk about boys. So, I was a little slow to the punch in general.”
Estelle shared that she did come out to her parents a year ago. “I came out,” she announced. “They said ‘Well, prove that you are sexually attracted to women’ and I thought ‘Well, that’s a weird, weird thing. I don’t think I’ve been sexually turned on by anybody.’ And I said that, and they’re like ‘Oh. Well, you’re not. You’re just confused.’ and kind of nudged me back into the closet and I have been not ready to come out again.” She also came out to a cousin recently, who just assumes she’s a lesbian. And she’s kind of letting her because every time she comes out, Estelle revealed “People do this thing where they say, ‘Oh, well you can just choose,’ and then they don’t think critically about the issue and that’s that. Which has been the most discouraging thing. So, I’m like ‘Well, I mean, I don’t know. You’re shoving some really lame dudes at me and there are some really great chicks.” Estelle continued to explain that society has a way of telling her she has to choose. Between men and women and between labeling herself as a lesbian or as a straight woman. “That’s been hard. The ‘choice’ part of it.” We then talked about polyamory. And then about how we continue to be bi in every relationship we are in. And also about asexuality and how some bi people also identify on the ace spectrum. She continued to voice her apprehension about using labels, a result of growing up in her tightly knit religious world that belittles them and people’s differences.
She also talked about her apprehension about going to LGBT events and bars. She said she doesn’t drink and she doesn’t want to go alone as a country girl. She did intern in a city known for being more liberal and accepting of the LGBT community, but didn’t come out there, but was impressed by the amount of people who were out and open about their sexuality. She talked about how she has a new girlfriend and about her excitement about bringing her home to meet her parents, even if she introduces her to them as just a friend.
And then there’s Estelle’s apprehension about coming out completely. “I think it’s honestly about me being serious with… I mean, maybe I’ll come out. It just feels like it would be easier if I was serious in a same-gender relationship and be like ‘Hi! I have proof now!’” Estelle giggled about the thrill of coming out and the ridiculousness of feeling like she needs to show proof. “Which is the callous way to go,” she concluded. I disagreed. “Not necessarily,” I countered. Estelle agreed and continued on about how if someone in her family came out first, then it would be even easier for her to come out next. She could say to that family member, “Hey! You’re not on your own! You got support!”
“I don’t know where I saw it but basically: ‘Be.’,” is the maxim Estelle uses to live her life and how she regards the joy and comfort she feels towards being bi. “Because this is me also coming to terms with religion and [you hear] people saying [about bisexuality] ‘I see this as a God-given gift because you are able to love more people easily’. Oh, yeah. I like that.”
That is Estelle’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.