This is not a coming out story. Which is a shame because, at this point, I’ve broken it down to a science.
I’ve run clinical trials, tested on audiences, received feedback, and went back to the drawing board a hundred times. It is with a precision that I’m able to contort through awkward situations, withstand the avalanche of people’s reactions, and tunnel into my own cocoon of self-assurance to build the space I need to exist. Like Arya Stark and her satchel full of faces, I too have a prized collection of stone-faced looks made to communicate understanding, annoyance, or indifference every time I have this conversation:
“Wait, I thought you were a lesbian.”
“No, I’m bisexual.”
“So do you prefer men or women?”
“I haven’t put a percentage on it.”
“But you have to like one more than the other. So which is it?”
“I said what I said.”
This is not a coming out story because stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and I, on the other hand, seem to have Diana Ross’ “I’m Coming Out” playing on a loop. It’s also the theme song to my all-inclusive package of one-liners, personal anecdotes, and swerves I use to maneuver around the reoccurring conversation I have whenever I have to mention my sexuality. The package includes, but is not limited to:
- The Slip and Slide – When I offhandedly mention my partner’s gender in the context of a story. This is the perfect way to subtly deflect awkwardness in an otherwise casual conversation, leaving no space for questions or confusion.
- The Yes, And – This maneuver is straightforward and runs no risk of misinterpretation. It’s normally preceded by raised eyebrows and the question, “Wait…so you like women?” I reply, “Yes, and men, too,” allowing me to clearly dismantle assumptions and move forward.
- And I can’t leave out the tried and true Dej Loaf. Here I proudly declare all of my identities as a black, bisexual, femme, woman played over the beat of Dej’s “let a nigga try me, try me.”
The thing is, coming out isn’t neat—it is significant, messy, and deeply personal. On television, we often see this play out as a tumultuous one-and-done moment. A young-ish person works up the courage to speak their truth amidst familial rejection—eventually learning that love comes from within and that, a lot of the time, family is chosen. Think Coop in All-American. Or Rosa in Brooklyn Nine-Nine. And while that is a part of some people’s story, the “coming out” experience isn’t a monolith.
The act of “coming out” has more range than Mariah Carey. From the excitement of bringing your first girlfriend home to the anxiety of someone “outting” you before you were ready. It can be nursing your truth in a quiet, safe place, or being welcomed out loud with open arms. It could be acknowledging a feeling that you decide to explore after you leave your parents’ home, after you raise your kids, or never in a lifetime. All of these and more are possibilities. That is where the raw and complex beauty lies. It lives in the heartful decision to love who you are and walk in the world. It is a process. It’s not owed to anyone. It is yours.
Yet, in spaces where bisexuality is not acknowledged, I’ve found that coming out is more cumbersome than necessary. As a bisexual woman, being out is a task that I am constantly pursuing in both the straight and queer communities. It means assuring my lesbian friends that I have not suddenly become a lesbian simply because my last relationship was with a woman. It means navigating a boyfriend’s fragility as he wonders if I will leave him for a woman. It means being a chameleon in a room of women who, assuming that I’m straight, are comfortable questioning the parenting of a lesbian couple whose child I teach. It means quelling the confused (and maybe hopeful) looks in my family’s eyes when they hear about the new guy I’m dating and wonder if I’ve finally grown out of this “gay phase.”
The nuances are watered down in the repetitiveness of explaining myself over and over again. The intimacy of coming out has gotten lost in its frequency.
This is not a story about coming out because, long story short, the shit gets old quick.
Well, Kala, you aren’t beholden to anyone. If you don’t want to explain yourself, then don’t.
I hear what you’re saying, reader. And sometimes, that’s the best route to take. The struggle comes when the people that are supposed to be your people—whoever you define your people to be—are unexpectedly unwelcoming. How do you create a place for yourself in a community that is supposed to be yours but doesn’t always see you?
Despite the now mainstream nature of sexual fluidity, bisexual erasure is still an invasive part of the queer community. We force people to be one thing or the other: gay or straight. But where does that leave the people in-between?. What about the bisexual woman married to a man? Her attraction didn’t change. She didn’t choose a side. She chose a person. What about the domme, who finds pleasure in giving orders regardless of her partner’s gender? What about bisexual icon Li Shang from Mulan?! To ignore these people (and…um…cartoons) means to ignore the in-between. It creates a demand for boxes to be checked, even when you aren’t made to fit in the box. In denying the existence of entire communities of people, we silence everybody.
This is especially destructive to Black women who have historically been hypersexualized—from our bodies to our hair, to our body count—all have been used as opportunities to control and determine our worth. Mix that with a general lack of knowledge about bisexuality, and we are soon depicted as indecisive, sex-crazed beings too selfish to embrace commitment.
Without inclusivity in the queer community, my intersectional experience as a Black and bisexual woman is met with mistrust at best and disbelief at worst. My bisexuality doesn’t prevent the discomfort I feel as a woman when the male gaze lands on me while I walk hand-in-hand with another woman, or by myself. Without inclusion, my annoyance with strangers feel unjustified when they regard my same-sex relationship as “so cute,” but allow my boyfriend and me to just be. By erasing bisexuality, it erases both the excitement I feel when dating someone new, and the relief I feel when I find out that my identity isn’t a deal-breaker. It reduces my sexuality down to a choice in wearing a button-up & pants or a dress.
People constantly ask questions and demand answers as if I owe them for the inconvenience of widening their perspective. It’s exhausting, and has become so frequent that a pre-made response from my all-inclusive package is the most effective armor I’ve been able to create in a world that views my identity as unsavory.
At the end of the day, it is a coming out story for you, not for me. And really, doesn’t that defeat the point?
“People constantly ask questions and demand answers as if I owe them for the inconvenience of widening their perspective.” Wow. Beautiful words. Loved this, Kala. Thank you for sharing your story with all of us 🙂
Awesome, proud and You’re still the cuz we all know and love! Which “side of the street” you’re on doesn’t and never will matter as long as you walking, talking, enjoying and loving “on THAT street”!