For the past few years, on October 11, at least one of my Facebook friends has made a status announcing their sexuality in honor of National Coming Out Day, always to many congratulations and acclaim from their friends and family. For the past three years, on October 11, I’ve also considered making a status announcing my sexuality in honor of National Coming Out Day, and every time I’ve decided against it.
The reason I watch Coming Out Day pass every year without actively participating is not because of fear of rejection or internalized shame. It’s because, put bluntly, I’m bisexual and I feel like no one will care. Not that no one should care, or that I don’t feel like my sexuality matters to me, but because for as long as I’ve been aware of this part of myself I’ve felt that it’s something that had to be prefaced with a qualifier. No, I’m not a lesbian, I’m just bisexual. I’m dating a boy, but I’m kind of into girls too. Only a little bit queer. Not quite exactly straight. Just bisexual.
I didn’t realize until my junior year of high school that I would have any reason to even consider participating in Coming Out Day, anyway. As a girl who dated boys and enjoyed it, it didn’t occur to me that there was something more to my sexuality until I had a few frank conversations with girls—girls who actually were straight—regarding how they felt about being sexual with other women. Even after I came out to myself, I struggled with how to come out to other people, or if I should at all. It seemed almost anticlimactic to sit my parents down and make the announcement that I was interested in kissing girls, not instead of men, just as an "in addition to" thing.
I would later learn that the idea that you can come out once—to your family, or on the internet, or in a heartfelt letter—and then be done with the whole affair and live a newly liberated and “out” life was optimistic at best. Coming out is a process that a queer person is never done with; they will out themselves or be outed by others over and over again to various groups of people throughout their lives. The clumsy strategy I opted for—chiming in enthusiastically during conversations about Scarlett Johansson until people got the idea—was effective in some ways, but backfired in others. People who knew me as straight were confused (“Wait, what? Don’t you have a boyfriend?”); People who knew next to nothing about me assumed I was a lesbian. Sexuality, like gender identity, is often misunderstood as a rigid binary—you’re either gay or straight, you’re a man or a woman. No exceptions, no in-between. Muddling the cues that are supposed to indicate which side of the binary you stand firmly upon confuses people.
“If you’ve only dated guys, how do you know you’re into girls too?” asks a straight male friend. I ask him how he knew that he was into girls before he ever dated one. The point is made, but the question nags at me. Even though I am the one experiencing my identity all the time, even though I know what my feelings are better than anyone else does, I still torment myself sometimes with the thought that I am not queer enough to be part of the LGBTQ community, both on campus and on a more general level. I feel suspended awkwardly between queerness and heterosexuality, like my claim to both is tenuous at best. An acquaintance once told me that I was “basically just an ally” to the queer community. Shortly after, another acquaintance recounted an argument they had gotten into about homosexuality—they said they wished I had been there to back their points because they “needed someone gay.” It struck me that maybe I would always be too gay for the straight people and too straight for the gay ones.
National Coming Out Day was three and a half weeks ago; this column is not quite a timely one. But I don’t mind being vaguely out of sync in this respect, because there are some things that don’t fit squarely into conventional narratives of otherness. The reality of being queer, or in any other way outside the norm, is one of constantly being vaguely out of sync, sometimes in ways that are too difficult to articulate in a Facebook status. Instead, I am finding new ways to occupy and own my identity, both in public and in private—ones that don’t involve justifying myself to others.
Clair Fuller is a second-year in the College majoring in gender and sexuality studies.