Out and Proud: Why Dictating the Terms of Queer Visibility is Problematic
Writing this piece about my personal journey as a bisexual woman feels very unnatural to me. Usually, the subject of my blogs and essays are Black liberatory ideology and the Black liberatory work that has preceded my own. There have been times when my writings have had a clear womanist or queer lense, but never have I written explicitly about my own, personal experience; neither as a Black woman nor as a bisexual person. Admittedly, the fiction I publish contain snippets of my own life and experience, but I have never explicitly claimed them, as it isn’t the tradition of fictional work to rob readers of the freedom to own fictional stories and apply their own or imagined identities and experiences to the plots and characters that are represented.
My identity is my identity and I allow my work and writing to speak for themselves. That has always been the case, but never a problem before now. I rarely write about my relationship with my own Blackness and people accept, without question, that I’m Black. They see it on me. They feel it on me. They know it to be true. Similarly, I rarely write about my relationship with my own bisexuality and, though I’m in a very public relationship with a woman, this part of my identity is still questioned.
This experience has led me to reflect upon the pressure both imposed upon and imposed by queer folk to perform their sexual or romantic orientation.
When I was six years old, I played “house” with other little girls. This game was very popular in early elementary but, usually, in make believe world, little girls played “Mommy” and little boys played “Daddy.” In my pretend household, either two girl-gendered children pretended to be “Mommy” or one took on the traditionally masculine role of “Daddy.”
I say this to convey that same gender relationships have always felt natural to me. At the same time, that expression of my own sexuality through childhood games was not enough for me to be seen by those around me as queer.
When I was thirteen and in the eighth grade, I had my first boyfriend. At the climax of our nine month romance, we shared one kiss. I enjoyed it, as sloppy and indicative of our inexperience as it was.
Since then, romantic relationships with those gendered opposite me have also felt natural. Though it was only one kiss in comparison to many days of “let’s play house”, the behavior was enough for those around me to assume that I was attracted to the opposite sex.
To be fair, there were not many opportunities for my family to observe me engaging in, what they would consider, queer or homosexual activity. I was a homeschooled girl with extremely protective parents. Dating was, technically, not allowed. Usually, neither was general socializing or the type of interactions that are pretty typical of most childhood experiences. Needless to say, I kept all of my ideas about dating and relationships from my parents.
At 15, I was emancipated. My parents’ rules no longer shaped or inhibited my experiences. I didn’t leave home on good terms and my relationship with them was strained for about two years. When I say my relationship with them was strained, I mean that they didn’t speak to me at all.
During that time, I carried on what would turn into a four year relationship with a boy I now consider my first love. I had my first few romantic experiences with girls. I experienced emotional abuse and toxic codependency for the first time. I also realized, after years of feeling drawn to other girls, that I was bisexual.
Naturally my parents knew of none of this. Isolation, privacy, and even secrecy are not uncommon facets of the child runaway experience. So, unsurprisingly, my immediate family knew very little about my life. My boyfriend, who was my only real friend or family at the time, did know all about my romantic and sexual identity. Beyond conversations with him, there was little space to express it.
When I got to college, I was anxious to carve out space for myself. The toxic relationship I’d begun in High School came to an end as my Sophomore year began. I dated. Alot. But, I was pretty sexually repressed. Black female children who leave home early are usually stereotyped and stigmatized as damaged, promiscuous, and uncouth. If we’re being honest, Black female children, in general, are largely stereotyped in the same way. At the time, I felt it important to disprove those stereotypes to my immediate community. I joined the debate team. I didn’t associate with girls who presented as “wild”, “fast”, or “ghetto.” And, most importantly (or so I thought), I didn’t give it up. I felt that the one sexual relationship I’d had was justified because, after all, we were in love. I thought I’d marry him. We were together for four years. I looked for moral justifications prior to every sexual experience after that and, if I couldn’t find them, sex didn’t happen. The most significant of those justifications was a loving relationship in which marriage was the goal and intention. In college, I didn’t meet Black women with whom that was a possibility, though I sought them out. I tried dating sites and even craigslist, but never experienced success. Usually, the women I encountered wanted to get their feet wet but were certainly not ready to develop deeply intimate romantic relationships with other women.
When I did have sex, I didn’t tell people. Not my parents. Not my best friends. I didn’t discuss my sex life. If I could help it, no one could make the claim that I wasn’t a wholesome young woman.
It didn’t take long after my first major break up for me to commit to another relationship. For two years, I dated John. For the first year, we didn’t have sex. And for the entirety of our relationship, John made it clear that he felt my bisexuality was unbecoming. Good girls weren’t bisexual and he wanted to date a good girl. This stigmatization didn’t discourage me from claiming or acknowledging my orientation. But, I continued to keep details of my sexual and romantic life to myself.
When I was engaged to Jarvis, my fiance of four years, we discussed my bisexuality openly and the few confines of our relationship did not prevent me from developing healthy and open romantic or sexual relationships with women if the opportunity arose. Though I was not as attached to the “wholesome woman” identity I’d fought so hard to develop in college, Jarvis and I were both private people and did not discuss any of the details of our relationship with people outside of it. Our friends and immediate community knew that I was bisexual and that we were open, to an extent. It was no one else’s business. We felt that way then and I still feel that way now.
Today, at 26, I’m in a relationship with a woman and it’s clear to anyone who encounters us, or simply checks out my social media, that I’m gay. Often, people are shocked. Their responses have been overwhelmingly problematic. I think it’d be beneficial to unpack some of them here.
“Why didn’t I know you’re gay?” I’ve never, in my 26 years, had someone approach me and ask why they didn’t know I dated men, why they didn’t know I was engaged, why they didn’t know I’d broken up with a boyfriend. People don’t ask me those questions, but don’t have access to any of that information. I have never been the friend that calls to announce when I’m in a relationship. I’ve never been the friend that calls to announce when that relationship has ended. Up until recently, I’ve never been the friend that discusses her sex life with others. But, now, I am expected to not only be the friend, but the random person who makes the world aware of her sexual and romantic orientation. Am I also required to share that I’m kinky? That I’m a submissive? That I’m a size queen? When I lost my virginity? The idea that it’s only possible that I’m gay if people know it or if there are clear indications is preposterous. It’s impossible for people to know details of my personal life without my demonstration. Demonstration is new to me. Bisexuality is not.
“You present as a straight woman. Are you ashamed to be queer?” What does it mean to present as heterosexual? How is it less offensive to assign heterosexuality to someone because of their dress, their walk, or their talk than it is to assign homosexuality to people for the same things? Queer identity is not monolithic. What I wear is not, necessarily, a reflection of my orientation. But your assumptions are a reflection of your absorption of generalizations about queerness and queer culture.
“Between you and your partner, I can’t tell which of you is ‘the man.’” For people who are so against heteronormativity, you sure do attempt to recreate it alot.
“Which of you is dominant and which of you is submissive?” See above.
“Which of you is masculine and which of you is feminine?” See above.
“How do you have sex?” Again, why does being bisexual mean that I must perform it for or explain it to anyone?
These are questions that I don’t care to answer about my relationship with my partner, who is a woman and that I wouldn’t care to answer if my partner were a man. More importantly, I don’t appreciate the assumption that because I have never publicly answered these questions and do not wear the answer in my gender expression, that I’m closeted.
I acknowledge that I have been influenced by heteronormative culture in many ways. I have internalized sexism and misogyny in many ways. I have absorbed sex-negative culture in many ways. A rejection of my sexual orientation is not among them. Instead, I think that I have experienced general sexual repression. By that I mean sexual repression that is blind to gender and ubiquitous in terms of my personality and expression. I think that, as a person who has experienced a lot of trauma and subsequent victim blaming and stigmatization, I am not prone to sharing the details of my life. Neither of these are necessarily healthy responses to negative stimuli and I’m on a journey to reclaim the impacted parts of myself. I have begun exploring different physical, mental, and spiritual practices to propel me along this path. For now, I feel comfortable with that being a private journey.
I’m choosing, this once, to share my own personal experience in the hopes that people will understand that many factors have contributed to my desire to keep my personal life personal; shame of my sexual orientation not included. Queer identity is non monolithic, but beyond that, it’s important to remember that queer folks are just that; folks. We each come with a boatload of experiences that inform our interactions with the world. Those interactions with the world are not, inherently or simultaneously, interactions with our own queer identities. Those interactions can not be reduced to tropes and stereotypes. They can not be confined to any particular definition of queerness. They can not be categorized. They are unique to each of us and the sooner we learn to acknowledge that fact, the sooner we’ll each be free to exist as we are.
I hope to never write about this again, not because I’m a closet bisexual, but because I write to express myself in ways that I feel necessary, not to prove or validate. That being said, if there is ever again any doubt as to how I am sexually or romantically oriented, remember I said this: I enjoy eating pussy. Moving forward, you can trust that I’m regularly engaged in that very act, even if you don’t witness it yourself.