I remember how I first realized that I wasn’t 100% straight. It was because of an episode of Beverly Hills, 90210. Kelly (Jennie Garth) is trapped in a building that catches fire. She’s trapped with Alison Lash, a lesbian woman that David (Brian Austin Green) mistakenly invited to the house party by posting the event to a lesbian college student website. Sara Melson, the actress playing Alison, captivated me. She still does. But I told no one. I barely allowed myself to acknowledge this. Because I was attracted to men, I chose what I thought was the easier path. I chose to act heteronormative. I had a history of being bullied. I didn’t want one more thing about me that would make me vulnerable. I didn’t know how to be bi. I didn’t have any role models. If it was a necessity to be gay, then I’m sure I would have looked for them. But because I didn’t have to honor this part of me, I decided to shut it down. I decided to ignore a part of myself. I decided to be less than my whole self.
I thought this would be easier, but I found out that it is trading one set of challenges for another. Certainly, it has been easier in that I haven’t been bullied for being bi. I haven’t had to come out to anyone. I haven’t had to find role models. There are a lot of things I haven’t had to do. But not all those “haven’ts” are good. One of those is that I haven’t had community that knew the whole me. I haven’t had relationships that might have helped me learn to love in different, exciting, and new ways. I haven’t found those role models. I haven’t allowed myself to be my whole self – even to myself. I focused so much on being afraid, that I haven’t been excited or proud or curious.
I’ve not had the language of non-binary or agender for very long. I’ve made embarrassing stumbles around trans acceptance. More important than my embarrassment, I’ve signaled that my ignorance meant that I might not be accepting or excited about people finding their whole selves. Yet even without that knowledge, the terminology applied to me as a “woman” has bothered me. I don’t feel wrong in my body. But I don’t like the language. I don’t feel like feminine characteristics or masculine characteristics are a thing that are real for my identity. They are real as social expectations and perceptions, but beyond that they don’t have meaning for me. I don’t have a great way to express this. Not yet. And the reason for that once again is because I’ve been hiding. It’s challenging to express something you won’t let yourself acknowledge or really feel. Being a woman has always been a political act of social significance and solidarity and not a personal act of identification for me. My gender identity isn’t defined by a personal idea of womanhood. I have been influenced – and unfortunately mostly negatively – by the assumptions and expectations based on my appearance and classification as a woman. But when I define myself, there’s nothing there there. And my feelings and thoughts on this are still evolving.
What has kept me from exploring my understanding of sexuality and gender wasn’t just my fear of bullies. I was more afraid of rejection from the community that I desperately wanted to be home. But I’ve always felt not enough. I’m not gay. I’m not trans. I felt like I wasn’t different enough to belong. Part of this is what I now understand to be gate-keeping. When only the most marginalized or the most stereotypical are seen as belonging, those in the middle feel left out. And we don’t join.
Why is this a problem? It’s a problem because those of us who could be building the community, who need to learn in order to create a better society aren’t doing that. It’s a problem because we aren’t learning to love ourselves. It’s a problem because we’re worthy too, and we all need role models. It’s a problem because if love is love is love, then we’ve got to mean it. Today, I’m starting with my whole self. I’m coming out.