Coming Out

Thursday, 2008-06-26; 04:03:00

My personal story

I don’t really know how to start with this entry. It’s something that I’ve wanted to write about for a while, now, but it’s still kind of weird to talk about. I guess there’s really only one place to begin.

I’m bisexual.

Heh, it’s kind of funny; my impression when I think about coming out stories, in general, is someone coming out as gay, not bisexual. I guess it’s not something that’s as prevalent in the mainstream social consciousness, so it probably doesn’t get as much attention. Of course, it carries many of the same implications and difficulties as coming out as gay.

Looking back on the past few years or so, I guess I started being attracted to guys in the second year of my undergraduate college career. I remember a guy friend of my sophomore year roommate who came to visit for a party one night, and I liked looking at him. During my junior year, there were a few gay guys living in the house; I distinctly remember wondering what it would be like to be gay and to have a relationship with the more flamboyant of the bunch. And in the first year of grad school, I took an art class and for the first time consciously realized that I was physically attracted to one of the guys in the class.

(Actually, I also remember having an IM conversation with an online friend who was also gay. I told him that I liked looking at guys, but not because I was attracted to them, but because they had some characteristic that I admired that I wanted to have as well. That conversation must have happened in high school, though, because I fell out of touch with this online friend during college. In hindsight, it seems that I’ve been attracted to guys for a longer period of time than I thought.)

You have to realize, throughout college I was also struggling with women as well. I had my first crush on a girl during my first year as an undergrad, and first experienced real rejection when she told me she didn’t reciprocate the feeling. (That was the first time I cried over somebody, too.) I had a crush on another girl during sophomore year, whom I decided not to tell since she was a friend. Junior year, I met another girl with whom I tried the traditional ask-out-on-a-date method rather than my tried-and-true be-silent-and-get-a-crush-and-then-profess-your-love method that had worked out so well for me in the past. It turned out she had a boyfriend already, so I ended up developing a secret crush on her anyway, which ended in some really awkward moments later on when I told her. (Yes, I was rejected by her, too.) Amusingly, it turns out she knew pretty much all along, and didn’t say anything even though it was obvious to her.

My track record with women was pretty much a string of failures. Being the computer nerdy type, I never really developed the social skills that it seems that everyone has that are required to successfully carry out the ask-out-on-a-date method of getting into a relationship. I still don’t think I really have those skills. I’m probably severely understating my social ability here, ‘cause I can cope pretty well these days with most social situations, but I still feel very uncomfortable at certain times. Aside from meeting potential people to date through friends, how does one start up a conversation with a random person that you’re attracted to? It’s a completely foreign concept to me. Or how about in social situations when you’re trying to join an existing conversation? Going up to a group and just standing and listening, especially if it’s a group of people you normally don’t associate with (say, at a geology conference, or even just a night at the local bar) seems like it would be perceived as hovering and rude. Or how about when you’re at a party where people are mingling, and the people that you’re talking to disperse? Is it OK to stand by yourself? It just seems weird to watch what other people are doing for a while until someone comes up and starts up a conversation.

But I digress. The point is that it’s not exactly easy to start even realizing that you have boy issues to deal with when you’re still trying to learn the ropes with girls.

So it was the first year of grad school when I really admitted to myself that I liked guys. It was kind of exciting to admit it to myself, really. It’s not very often that you find out something new about yourself. Plus, I could go ahead and look at guys and know what was going on inside my head. A revelation, I know.

But then the question became: well, then what about all those girls that you liked? Was I deluding myself, having feelings that weren’t actually my own, but that were partially manufactured by society’s view of what is considered “normal” and magnified by my own desires for a relationship? It also occurred to me that maybe being attracted to guys was a side effect of not having any success with women, and that I was trying to artificially extend the boundaries of the people with whom I was willing to have a relationship to increase my odds of success. (Is this a common thought that occurs to people during this internal coming out period?) I seem to have a fixation on guys at the moment, but I’m pretty sure that’s just because it’s new.

It seems appropriate to address where I grew up at this point. Being in the San Francisco Bay Area in California, arguably the heart of the modern gay rights movement, and also having grown up in an extremely liberal, tolerant family, I was going through this transition in a pretty safe environment. I had had several gay friends before; I didn’t really hang out with them all the time, but I’d happily participate in dorm events or go to the movies or the beach with these friends. I even have a gay relative in my extended-extended family (i.e.: the tree that includes my maternal grandmother and her siblings).

So it wasn’t as if I had had no contact with gays at all. In fact, my own liberal views on gay marriage were uncannily prescient of my coming out — I have always been staunchly in support of gay marriage rights, and was pretty sickened in 2004 when many of the states in the U.S. passed laws that outlawed gay marriage.

Also, in light of this environment, my questioning was not of the “guilty” variety. It took me a while to accept my bisexuality, not because I was ashamed of it, but because I was genuinely confused as to whether or not I was attracted to guys and whether or not I was attracted to girls at the same time. I’m not going to deny that there wasn’t any societal pressure, because by societal standards, it really is “normal” to be heterosexual, and “abnormal” to be otherwise. But questioning whether I was normal or not doesn’t mean that I felt guilty about it. In fact, as I said before, it was kind of exciting. I don’t like conforming to societal standards anyway.

Then, last year, while I was taking a year’s leave of absence from grad school, I started dating a coworker, a woman. It seems sort of strange to me that I would ask another woman out after 1) having had so many failures with women, and 2) having another gender option available, especially one that only just opened up. We had worked together for about five months before I asked her out, so I had gotten to know her (but not developed a crush) first.

The whole thing lasted about two months. I don’t think I could really even call it a relationship or her my girlfriend, because there were three major obstacles in the first place, one of which was me being bisexual. The whole relationship was already kind of dysfunctional because of the two other obstacles; and when I went away for a few days to a music festival, I decided to pile on to the number of problems in the relationship by revealing to her that I was bi.

Not surprisingly, that didn’t really help things. She’s a very tolerant person, but I imagine it’s not something that’s easy to take when it’s someone that you’re attracted to. Additionally, since she was the first person I came out to about being bi, she wanted to act as a friend, too. So she asked questions about the gay side of me, which included asking about which guys I liked. Answering these questions honestly was a big mistake: at the time, it seemed innocuous, but telling the woman you’re dating about another guy that you also like is akin to telling her that there’s another girl that you might like to date. It put her in a position to be jealous, something that’s entirely human. But in the context of me coming out to her, it not only put her in a position to be jealous, but in a position to feel extremely guilty about being jealous since she was also trying to be considerate about my bisexuality.

Understandably, things came to a head, and she broke off the relationship. Her explanation was that I hadn’t had a relationship with a guy before, and given that fact, she didn’t want to get into a long-term relationship if down the road I couldn’t overcome my curiosity of having a same-sex relationship. At the time I was devastated, because we had had some really good times together, but I was mad that she couldn’t get over the various obstacles to the relationship. Not only that, but for the first time I felt like I was unfairly being punished for being bi.

She was probably right to end the relationship. It’s a fair point that if I haven’t tried things out with guys before and had just come out, I’d probably remain very interested in seeing what it was like.

But the question remains: how does one come out to a potential girlfriend that one is bi? When should you do it? Should you preface the first date with that information in case she’s not OK with it, so that you don’t waste your time? Should you wait to see where things are going, and tell her when it looks like things are going to get steady? Or should you keep it a secret until well into the relationship, so that she’s invested and is more likely to make an effort to be OK with that fact? Telling this information to gay guys, in contrast, doesn’t pose any problem whatsoever, since being bisexual and homosexual are both outside of the norm.

This isn’t just a question of tolerance, of whether people are morally OK with me being bi. When we’re talking relationships, we’re talking health issues. It’s an unfortunate fact that the prevalence of HIV in the gay community, in particular, is higher. I’m pretty sure that a girl with whom I was having sex would be concerned about that, and would probably be a little resentful if I hadn’t told her that before we had had sex.

Personally, I think the information should be definitely divulged before any sex, but not on the first date. The one data point I have for this hypothesis, though, is not encouraging. Probably a better way to do it is to be open about my bisexuality in my circle of friends (which I am), and meet people through these friends so that when I do go out on a date, I know it’ll be with someone who’s already comfortable with it.

(While we’re on the topic of sex, I might as well just go ahead and violate the rest of the typical conversational barriers: yes, I have taken it up the ass, and yes, it feels good. And yes, I have given someone else a blow job, and it’s not that bad, either. What can I say? I love the cock, as they say in modern parlance.)

Another interesting thing about coming out was how the information was spread through my circle of friends. Most of them had already known me for a couple years already, but even so, it’s not like I went around and told each one of them personally that I was bi. I “came out” just by asking another guy, whom most of my friends also know and know is gay, out on a date. He told me that he told a few of his friends before we went out, I told a few people that I had asked him out on a date, and then I also specifically told two people that I was bi. (One of my friends asked me point blank if I was gay… that’s a hilarious story for a different time.)

Note the distinction between telling people that I asked a guy out, and specifically telling someone that I’m bi. Consider the game of telephone, where information gets misinterpreted and messed up along the way; a girl who might be interested in me could possibly hear about this, and then decide not to ask me out because she might think I was gay, not bi. Argh, it’s so complicated! I still don’t really know who knows I’m bi, who knows that I asked this guy out, and if anyone thinks I’m gay.

And then there’s the family. Coming out to my mom was easy because I needed a second opinion on my resentment toward the woman with whom I had recently broke up. Coming out to my dad and brother were more amusing, as I just kind of said it while we were riding home from the airport. (These were actually separate ride homes from the airport, the first just being my dad and I, and the second being my bro and I.) I believe my exact words were, “Sooo… there’s something that you need to know… I’m bisexual.”

So far, none of the extended family knows, although I expect that to change at the family reunion that’s coming up this summer. Verdict: I expect most of the adults to be very accepting, except two who might be a little uncomfortable with it. As for the cousins, some of them will probably tease me about it, but this really isn’t anything out of the ordinary, as they’ve always teased me. One of them in particular might have an actual problem with it, and I think a couple of them will probably think I’m “cooler” because of it. Eh, whatever, if they’re not comfortable, they’ll deal.

As for my relatives in Italy, that poses a much bigger problem. Whereas my cousins might merely be uncomfortable with me being bi, I’ve had discussions with my Italian gramma, and she says that she thinks it’s inhuman to be gay. So I’ve pretty much resolved not to tell her. My great aunt and her husband might be more accepting, but I can’t tell them without telling my gramma.

Does this bug me? Not really. Especially in my gramma’s case, she wasn’t really brought up in a tolerant environment where gays were a part of the community: think World War II in Italy. So in a sense, it’s not really her fault. And I think this is true of most people who are intolerant or uncomfortable with others being gay.

It’s actually kind of interesting to observe changes that have occurred with the friends and family to whom I’ve come out. After I had told my mom, she suddenly got a little more sensitive to certain issues. For example, if relatives asked her about me and whether I had a girlfriend, she suddenly felt like she was hiding something if she told them no. My brother, in turn, has always used the word “gay” in its derogatory sense, not because he’s intolerant (on the contrary, he has gay friends too) but because he thinks it’s funny. And it’s very amusing to see that he still continues to use it, even though it’s evident that it could be perceived as a sort of insult. For what it’s worth, I don’t really care if someone uses the word that way.

As for me, I’m a little more open to talking about relationship stuff with my mom because I’ve now discussed my previous issues with her, and because I think she’s concerned about my safety and health a little more since I’ve come out. And when I’m with friends and a girl comments on the attractiveness of a guy, I might approve or disapprove whereas before I wouldn’t really say anything. Actually, before, I probably wouldn’t say anything if a guy made a comment about the “hotness” of a girl, so I guess coming out has gotten me a little more comfortable with myself, too.

One other thing I’ve thought about is societal attitudes towards being gay: society seems to perceive being gay as abnormal, and that it’s a surprise when someone comes out as gay. It’s not actually that far from the truth. If you think about it from an evolutionary perspective, a species that was predominantly gay, or even half-gay half-straight, would need to expend significant resources just to keep the species going. A species is more likely to survive harsher conditions if most of its members produce offspring, something which a gay couple cannot do. It would be a waste to use resources on individuals who won’t produce offspring. So evolution tends to produce those which will be inclined to procreate and mate with another individual of the opposite sex, i.e.: heterosexual.

Therefore, to say that being gay is “normal” is kind of disingenuous. Gay individuals really are outside the norm. So the whole ordeal with “coming out” is something that’s really unavoidable, because it’s not unreasonable to assume that everyone is heterosexual unless proven otherwise: evolution favors heterosexuality for obvious reasons. It’s interesting if you think about it, though; shouldn’t homosexuality be eradicated by evolution? If homosexuality was genetic, then those genes wouldn’t be propagated to offspring, since gay couples wouldn’t be able to have offspring. (This casts aside the possibility of an individual being bi, and the possibility of gay couples having children that are genetically related to at least one part of the couple through in-vitro fertilization.) On the other hand, homosexuality isn’t purely due to environmental factors, either. There are gay individuals even in environments where there’s access to the opposite sex, and where homosexuality is frowned upon. I say “access to the opposite sex” because in situations where individuals are exclusively of one gender, like prisons, for example, homosexuality emerges out of necessity to satisfy sexual urges.

You can’t really choose to be homosexual or not, either, just like you can’t choose to be heterosexual. If you ask anybody why they are attracted to the gender they’re attracted to, they don’t tell you, “oh, because society told me to” or “because I think girls are prettier than guys”, the answer is “I don’t know, I just do.” (An amusing quote from my brother: “It never really occurred to me to like guys.” My response: “Well to me, it had, and I do.”)

So why does homosexuality continue to persist? There’s the argument that homosexual individuals tend to focus their energies on things other than rearing offspring, as is reflected in a higher proportion of gays in creative fields, enriching the life of the entire species. Or that a mother has a more intense “allergic reaction” with each successive offspring, and in the process secretes some sort of enzyme that causes the fetus to be more likely to be homosexual. This is supposedly bolstered by research that shows that individuals with more elder siblings are more likely to be gay. The body of the mother does this, supposedly, so that the gay child can devote resources to taking care of the parents in their older age.

But where’s the evolutionary benefit? Sure, creative pursuits enrich life and possibly make the species happier as a whole, but this would seem to be an argument that only applies to a species once it gets to the point that it becomes intelligent. Do other animal species with homosexual individuals also have creative pursuits that enrich the species? Probably not. And what good does taking care of the mother do, if she’s already had kids? In the context of evolution, the parents have fulfilled their duties once they’ve finished having kids, so there’d be no benefit to making sure they have a longer life.

But I digress. Getting back to the original point: saying that being gay is “abnormal” is not to say that being gay is “unnatural”. That’s a completely false statement, too. Being gay may be “abnormal”, but it is also “natural”. There are many instances of homosexual behavior in the animal kingdom: Wikipedia has a good overview of homosexuality in animals. And since we happen to be just another species on this planet, it’s not exactly surprising that individuals among our species will also be homosexual, too.

Oh, yeah, and then there’s the recent California Supreme Court ruling that suddenly made gay marriage legal in California. As a resident of California, this affects me. Am I happy about the ruling? Of course; I’m glad that progress is being made on this issue. But I’m not exactly ecstatic about it, either. I mean, I’m 23 for fuck’s sake. I don’t expect to be married for at least another 5 years, and most likely not for another 10. Gay marriage will come eventually. It’s inevitable. If you don’t believe me, simply look at the unavoidable march of progress in the U.S. The women’s movement came first, then the civil rights movement — which helped erase the taboo of the interracial marriage, and now, the gay rights movement. Progressive social issues always become accepted in society eventually. As I said before, it’s really simply a matter of growing up in an environment where you’re exposed to gays, or to interracial marriage. The current generation will be split in their views, but the next generation will by and large have no problem since they grew up with it. And once the current generation dies off, you have (almost) nothing left but tolerance.

So, yeah, the California Supreme Court ruling is cool. But when I’ll be thinking about marriage, a good 10 years of societal change with regards to this issue will probably make the issue relatively tame.

So… yeah! That was a rambling, train-of-consciousness, stream-of-thought path through what I’ve been going through for the past year or so. It feels good to shout this at the internets.

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