Visibility

For anyone with an LGBTQIA identity, coming out is a rite of passage. People place a heavy emphasis on standing up, standing out, being counted etc..
When people come to terms with their identity, there is great encouragement to seek support. Support from faith communities, therapeutic communities, LGBT communities in order to gain the courage one needs to come out. But what if as a person engages all of these various communities, they’re not hearing and seeing and engaging with people who seem to have a story similar to theirs? This was my bisexual coming out story. But it doesn’t need to be your story.

Identity work was not new to me. I had been through a monumental identity shift earlier in my life. In my early 20s, against the backdrop of an Evangelical Christian environment, I discerned two things about myself. The first is that I wanted to be a pastor. The second is that my sense of theology was shifting, and Evangelical Christianity felt too narrow and too constricting for what my theology would become. I still had faith. I still believed in God. But I didn’t have a way to talk about what I believed anymore. The only words I knew didn’t work. The old categories didn’t work for me anymore. My old theological framework felt like shaky scaffolding and all around me it was falling. It was an exciting time in my life. It was a scary time. I was becoming something new.

And I knew that I probably shouldn’t go through all of that alone. In my immediate surroundings, I didn’t have access to women pastors–but I didn’t have to look too hard or too far to find them. A few timid emails turned into a few emboldened phone calls.  As I began reaching out, pretty soon, I found myself sitting across the table at coffee shops with women who were pastors. Each of them were a few years older than I was. Each of them had already been to seminary and already had their M.Div degree.  Each of them were a few years ahead of me in terms of the experiences they had.

And as we started sharing stories, I remember feeling seen. I remember feeling known. As they recounted how their theology was changing, I remember taking notes. What they were describing felt very much like the journey I was on. Some of these women became mentors. Some of them became peers and colleagues. All of them made a huge difference to me. And as I went to seminary, and as I got ordained, from time to time I started to get phone calls from young women who thought they might be called to ministry, and they would nervously ask to meet me for coffee and talk. And I would say yes. And I would see the flashes of discovery for these young women, and I would see flashes of relief at having a friend, having someone to talk to about these transitions occurring in their lives. I’ve mentored some of these young women. I’ve had the privilege to welcome a few of them into ministry as colleagues in my own denomination. The great circle of life continues.

The experience of grappling with and claiming sexual identity was very different for me.  I found my way into LGBT communities as a straight ally/advocate and then eventually as a straight ally pastor years before the gears started grinding and my own sexual identity process kicked into full gear. To be fair, the raw materials (many of the stories and personal experiences) for my identity journey were already in place by my late 20s. And I had actually done a fair amount of interpersonal processing. By my mid twenties and definitely by my late twenties, I had become acquainted with the Kinsey scale. In reflecting on that handy dandy scale it occurred to me that I probably wasn’t 100% straight. And then “probably” segued into a definitive certainty that I wasn’t 100% straight.  By my late 20s, I was fairly certain that I fell somewhere in a middle space on that scale.  Some people have a singular “aha” moment that clarifies their sense of sexual identity. And for others it’s a much more gradual process. I was the latter.

But as I looked around LGBT communities, I didn’t really hear anyone else talking about those middle spaces on the Kinsey scale, or attempting to name them, or sharing experiences and stories that might be particular to them. The “B” in LGBT was always present in the name of every organization and every space, but it was a “silent B.” I didn’t know any other Bs. Or rather, I did, but they weren’t visible to me. And that visibility is crucial. The lack of visibility led to invisibility. I felt invisible. And the people most likely to be able to help me seemed invisible to me as well.

My partner and I talk about this all the time. She is also bisexual. And when we are seen together in LGBT community, people automatically assume we are a lesbian couple. Neither of us really mind this–except for the fact that the people who might really be served by the stories we would tell, don’t know how to find us.  They don’t “see” us.  We also spend a lot of our time socializing with a Lesbian dinner group. And for us nurturing a sense of community has been very important, but again, the people who might really benefit from our story, don’t “see” us. Nor do they know who we are or how to reach us.

In my own experience of coming out, invisibility was frustrating. I didn’t see bisexuals sitting on LGBT panels. They weren’t in leadership positions. Their stories weren’t being shared in public spaces. Bisexuality was not being named out loud and it was not being talked about. Once in awhile, I would hear a brief reference to it as part of a gay/lesbian journey narrative where someone had soft pedaled their coming out by adopting a bisexual label for a little while before gathering the courage to adopt the identity label which ultimately stuck for them. But that was my only reference point for bisexuality.

The closest representation to my own experience were the sweeps week ratings stunts every year on a lot of TV shows, where some woman with a boyfriend has a nervous breakdown and then engages her sexual curiosity with a woman-woman kiss, before she goes back to her male partner.  It was closest to my own experience in that it at least represented a capacity for fluidity.  In my case, the difference was this: unlike these women on tv, I actually wasn’t curious or even uncertain about who I could love. I had a pretty strong sensibility that I could love all kinds of people. Men/Women/Trans folks/non-binary folks–all kinds. So I wasn’t uncertain about whether I could bond and share my life with another woman. I knew the answer to that question. My lived experience just hadn’t caught up to my heart knowledge, and my lived experience hadn’t ever given me a real reason to field test my theory.

And I didn’t know where to go. I didn’t know who to talk to. I didn’t know where to find those same mentors and peers and friends and coffee shop conversations that had helped me so much when I was a young woman working out her pastoral/theological identity. This time, the space around me felt silent. It felt scary. It felt really really lonely.  It felt really isolating.

I spent a lot of time feeling like the cat in this penguin poster.
ca0-1

So if there’s anyone out there reading this who thinks they might fall somewhere in the B+ space–this is a blog for you. If you’re asking questions and you’re not sure who you are or where you fit on the sexual orientation spectrum, this is a blog for you. If you are someone who works with and/or ministers to bisexual folks and you want to lurk and read a single person’s bisexual narrative this is a blog for you. If you want to be an ally/advocate for bisexual folks, this is a blog for you.  Basically, if you have any desire to read this blog for any reason at all, I don’t judge. Come on over, this is a blog for you.

Glean from it whatever is useful.  Add to it whatever is necessary. Discard whatever doesn’t serve you in your own experience. There’s no right or wrong way to be bisexual or to embody any of the other labels in the B+ space.  I hope this blog inspires and encourages people to engage their own journey. And in a small way, I hope this blog makes other B+ people feel less alone.

-Marcy

2 thoughts on “Visibility

  1. Bisexual erasure is too real and I’m sorry you’ve felt marginalized in a community that’s supposed to be welcoming. Thank you for sharing your story. That cat might be the best thing I’ve seen all day.

    Liked by 1 person

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