Meet Heather. Heather Is In The Closet.
Meet Heather. Heather is bi. Heather is in the closet.
I asked Heather to describe her fear of coming out as bi in one sentence. Heather explained, “I would say it’s probably not being seen for who I am, but being seen for what the stereotypes are out there.” She elaborated, “As far as, like, how people when they hear ‘bisexual’ there’s a lot of negative assumptions already, like ‘They’re not monogamous.’ and things like that. I grew up biracial, so I’m black and white, and because my skin looks black, people would look at me and assume things about me based on what they thought. So, me coming out and saying I’m bisexual there’s this fear of being perceived not for who I am, but for the stereotypes, and what people perceive bisexuality to be.”
Heather is in her early thirties and she is continuing to further her education and would someday like to get involved in or create an organization or discussion group for bi people in her area, but she finds it difficult to navigate this world while still in the closet. She said, “I’m currently in my Masters Program for Counseling, and doing it in Marriage and Family Therapy, but when it comes to ‘How do we treat or how do we approach clients who are LGBT?’ a lot of people pull religion in saying they couldn’t do it and we talk about ethics, so it gets into a lot of preconceived ideas about sexuality in relation to religion and stuff and so I’m sitting through class trying to debate without exposing myself at the same time. It’s really challenging sometimes ’cause I’m like, ‘Yeah. No, not everyone is based on what you think you’ve read’, so there are plenty of people who are bisexual in long term monogamous relationships, y’know? It’s not that they’re not completely out of the closet or they haven’t decided which they wanted to be, or y’know, it’s a fear of like, maybe there’s no one come out all the way, and I’m like ‘No, it’s possible to love both genders and races and whatever else you want to say. I can go on with a list of what it’s like to be able to love people.”
But, for Heather, it isn’t entirely without excitement. That thrill of being secretly bi drives her work. She notes, “So, the school program (I’m finishing up all my course work now. I’m about to enter my internship.) has really brought a lot of this to the forefront for me. So, it’s been quite challenging some days and other days I’m like ‘I’ll take on the world!’.”
Heather said she doesn’t feel like the straight, gay, or lesbian communities quite have her back when it comes to wholly accepting her being bi. She said, “You know what’s funny is I don’t think they do. I feel like it’s one of those… I feel like we live in a dualistic society, like, you’re either one race, like, you’re either white or black or you’re either straight or you’re gay and there’s a flexibility in our thinking but it’s not where I’d expect it to be.”
As some bi people do, Heather defines her sexuality as sexually fluid, and also uses that term as a label. “I don’t fall in love with biology or gender, I fall in love with people. So, when people ask I’m like, ‘It’s a person!’ Like, it’s what they’re made of that makes me fall for them. It doesn’t matter if they’re male, female. Trans. It doesn’t matter to me. It’s the person standing in front of me.”
Heather only just recently came to terms with her bisexuality within the last year and a half. She recounted the events leading up to her discovery, “I went to a counselor because I had a dream about this same girl for ten years. I almost felt haunted by it because I wasn’t trying to accept the fact that we had had this spark that we had had, and I kept trying to run away from it and I just felt like I couldn’t run anymore. So, when I was sitting with my counselor, explaining all of this, and why I’ve come into to therapy, and kind of what I was wanting to work on, by the second session she just looked at me and she’s like, ‘I’m just gonna say it for you. I’m gonna bet: you’re bisexual.’ Because I’m married right now and I have a husband and a child, and like, I can’t keep having this dream. It was really complicated and when she said that, it did, it ripped a deep part out, like a huge deep band-aid that I had buried so deep and it exposed something that was so raw and vulnerable inside me, I just cried. And I cried and cried. I didn’t say anything else and I left that session not knowing if I was going to go back and be like, ‘No, no, no, this has to get stuffed back in.’ I spent my whole life pushing this away. And to have it out felt so like I had no control, but yet for it being pushed in for so long I still had no control. It was still there. It was still present. And it was exhausting to have to keep running. And for the first moment I guess I kind of felt free. In that car ride home as I drove back to my house where my husband was at, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s out!’ Like, it felt light and heavy at the same time. But, since then I’ve been on a road to ‘it is who I am’ and once I got past that first panic, 24 hours of ‘Is this gonna be okay?’, ‘Is this going to work?’, I was like, ‘It’s just who I am.’ It really pushed the threshold of me being able to embrace my full authenticity of who I am and it’s only empowered me and it’s impacted those around me.”
Though secretly empowered by her eureka moment, Heather still feels discouragement at the thought of coming out bi. Part of this comes from Heather living in the southeastern portion of the United States. She’s lived in various states in that region, often called the Bible Belt, and is very active in her Christian church. Besides being in a section of the LGBT community that is perceived as being a minority sexuality (despite bi people making up over half of the LGB population), Heather is also a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often shortened to LDS or “Mormon” church). It is considered a minority Christian church in the South, that is wildly Southern Baptist and Evangelical. Heather explained to me her dilemma, “I have a group of friends who are a part of the Church and then I have a group of friends who aren’t. Depending on who I’m with, depends on what I hear. Those who are part of the Church very much buy into the Church beliefs about, y’know, ‘same-sex attraction is innate, so people are born with that, but as long as you don’t act on it, you’re okay.’ And so a lot of it’s like, ‘They just don’t need to act on it.’ And I was like, ‘You’re telling someone not to be happy. Do you realize that? You’re telling them they can’t love somebody and yet here you are loving and making a family.’ So, it goes down that religious road with them, that it’s a sin, and immoral. So, that’s hard and I don’t know how to navigate that when it comes to myself, but I just take the stance of like, ‘I’m going to play devil’s advocate in every argument here if I can without exposing myself.’ But with those who are non-members, it’s a lot easier. They are more open in a way. Which, I don’t know if that’s my generation and how we’ve been growing up. I feel like the generations are getting more open, so to see that now is different.”
Heather has revealed her sexuality to a few people, including her husband. One such person was a friend who she was assigned to work and live with when she volunteered for missionary work with her church. “She was the second person I came out to,” Heather stated, “and when I finally did she’s like, ‘Oh, gosh. I’ve been waiting for this for years.’ And I was like ‘Why do people assume things?’ And she goes, ‘I know you’re happily married. I was at your wedding. I see all that stuff, but there was something always hidden in you, and I kept wanting to see it. And it’s here.’ And it’s changed her and that’s been neat because she is a part of the Church and she’s fully active and so she’s like my exception to the rule. Either it empowers the relationships that I had and it brings them bigger and strong or they tend to wean off, if someone’s uncomfortable with it. So, that makes it hard because that makes me feel like ‘I’m still me, this is just a part of me. We’ve been these friends for years and so you know this part of me and now we’re not?’ It makes no sense to me. I lost a really close, close friend whose kind of distancing herself. I just don’t understand. We’ve had eight years. We did a lot of things. You were at my wedding and all of these things and now just this one thing just makes it not okay anymore? So, that gets hard for me and that’s where I hesitate sometimes in being like I want to embrace my self fully. But at what cost?” Heather has found some congregations of her church to be negatively judgmental toward the LGBT community, but has recently found a congregation where in the near future it may be safe for her to fully come out.
Heather has attended several Pride festivals in the South over the years, saying “It made me feel alive” and has attended a number of PFLAG events, so little by little she gains encouragement to step outside of that closet door.
Heather got asked the same question I ask everyone at the end of the interview: “What about being bi brings you the most joy and comfort” and her reply was nothing short of inspiring. She said, “It took me a long time to accept that I was biracial. I was either… I didn’t want to be black because of the stereotypes and everything but I didn’t want to be white because of that, and it was this struggle between that when I learned to embrace both I realized that I was like, “I have a gift of so many worlds that I should just take it all. How great is this? That when finally I was all, ‘I’m bisexual. Oh my gosh, I get to love so many people!’”
That is Heather’s story.
52% of LGBT persons surveyed are bi, according to most recent statistical analyses. Many bi people remain slightly wet. 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 present to you a 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”. This series hopes to instill in the reader 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.