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the queer girl’s guide to coming out

Coming out is often portrayed in the media as One Big Event that changes the course of your life forever. While for some people, I’m sure coming out is something you do once only, and with a bang (Ellen DeGeneres springs to mind here), for most of us, coming out is something we do over and over with no end in sight. This is mostly due to society’s heteronormative assumptions. No matter how far we’ve progressed from the early 1970s – when male homosexuality was illegal, female homosexuality didn’t exist, and gay or straight was the extent of the sexuality spectrum – the sad fact is that in 2011, people will still assume that you are straight until you tell them otherwise.

Added to that, of course, is the prevalent belief that queer women just don’t exist outside of all-girl boarding schools and porn. People are aware of lesbianism in the hypothetical sense, but a shocking amount of people still hold the belief that gay women are either survivors of sexual trauma or just haven’t found the right man yet. Throw bisexuality into the mix, and society at large is completely bewildered.

So instead of coming out once, we find ourselves coming out every day – when people you knew in high school notice your wedding ring and ask about your husband, when distant relatives ask if you have a boyfriend, when co-workers see on Facebook that you had a date and ask what he was like. My tactic is to quietly correct the pronoun and, if they have a reaction, to wing it from there. Most people, I’ve found, don’t – at least not to my face. ‘Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realise…’ is the extent of it, probably 90% of the time. Of course, it’s the other 10% that I, along with probably most other queer people out there, both expect and hope to avoid.

Despite all this, I’m out anyway. I’m out because I believe that LGBTIQQA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer, Questioning, Ally) women need more visibility. I’m out because not being out feels, to me personally, as though I’m hiding a huge part of who I am. I’m out because I’m a hopeless romantic and when I’m with someone, I want to shout it from the rooftops. And this isn’t to say, in any way, shape, or form, that you need to be out – coming out is a horrifically personal choice that can and should only be made by you. I would never stand up here and say, ‘You need to come out for The Cause’ because, quite frankly, I think that’s crap. In a perfect world, we could all be out (as queer or straight, because in a perfect world, straight would no longer be the default). But for me as a pansexual woman, not to mention a bloody stubborn person, I refuse to allow the general public’s understanding of female bisexuality to be Katy Perry’s ‘I Kissed a Girl’.

By Maria-Jane Brodie

(Image credit: 1.)

One thought on “the queer girl’s guide to coming out

  1. Firstly I apologize for the anonymity; I’m still not publicly ‘out’ and especially not to my family. I wanted to write and thank you for this article; it’s something I’ve discussed many times with bisexual friends.

    ‘Coming out,’ especially as a bisexual or pansexual woman seems to be a continual struggle, and I’m not sure when it will end. If you appear straight, have children, or are in a hetero-normative relationship, it gets even trickier. When do you tell someone? Obviously in some situations its TMI, but as a bisexual/pansexual woman I continually reach a point in conversations where it comes up, or it slips out.

    As I work with women in a service industry, and get quite intimate with them, it comes up a lot through the course of my work. I hear time and time again the same things. So many more women are aware of their own sexuality now, and at least 50% of women I work with have expressed the awareness that they are at least bisexual, and most don’t know at all what to do about it.

    I think a big part of this is that we tend to self-identify as straight when we’re still quite young, because we think unless we’re repulsed by men, we musn’t be gay. We write off those feelings we have about other women as just a passing thing, or we refuse to think about them and distance ourselves from that person. Being an adolescent is already confusing, and not having any knowledge about our own freedom to fall in love (or lust!) with whomever we choose often makes realizing our sexuality at an early age nearly impossible. I still struggle to see a friend I had in highschool, as the pain I felt when she started a relationship with a boy is still so strong.
    Looking back, she was the first woman I fell in love with, but I refused to admit that to myself for over ten years.

    By the time we figure out that we’re not 100% straight, we often have a car full of kids, a confused male partner who then thinks he’s got a ticket to unlimited threesomes (thanks again, porn!) and have no idea what we’re supposed to do next, let alone whether we’re ever going to get to kiss a girl and like it.

    Then on top of the pressure from family, friends, and the community, bisexual women almost always feel isolated from the queer community. Although I’ve been blessed with amazing lesbian friends who have nurtured me and helped me through this, I’m reluctant to participate in queer events or groups as I know I will be instantly judged by so many people. Getting called a ‘breeder’ or being told you’re too gutless to come out just adds to the confusion and shame.

    Accepting yourself as bisexual or pansexual often means accepting that for you, there are no definitions. Definitions make people feel safe, and self-identifying as not fitting into a recognized category makes both you, and people around you, feel a bit off-kilter. Hopefully in time it will become more accepted that we’re not all as we appear. I do find that as I get older this gets easier, as many people become aware that not everything is black and white, and I become less sensitive to judgement and more confident in myself.

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