I came out in the spring of 1998 to my female partner of then 11 years on our back porch in the middle of the night. It was a step I needed to take. I knew that denial and self hate had an impact on my health and my family. But I worried how my partner would take the news; she gave me many opportunities over the years together to be true to myself. I never took them. What changed for me was parenthood. After having a child, I began to read everything I could on LGBT people: novels, history, queer studies,... I even found Dr Klein's books at the local gay bookstore. They provided me examples of bisexual people I could see in myself.
I had always been an ally for gay rights. I worked on the ‘87 march and did CD support for ACT UP protests. I lobbied for legislation. Gay and lesbian people were a part of our community. But when it came to my own orientation, my own past, my own sexuality, I never felt support. I remember the packet for the second March in ‘87: included was a statement from the bisexual community. Years later I learned it represented a turning point for building a national bisexual movement, but that day I was too busy to find the contingent or to follow up later. So I stayed in the closet thinking I had made a “choice” by falling in love with a woman.
I came to DC in the early ‘80’s to find myself. I moved to the gay ghetto as the plague hit and found parts of the community welcoming, to a point. Class played a big role in acceptance; I found myself living a double life. One was going to bars, meeting guys, having short term relationships. The other was involving myself in grassroots political community. I had been political since I was a teen, but always found myself in sectarian parties. After leaving one in which I was the only DC member, I got active in Central America solidarity work. I found others who were burned by the new left and we built our organizations along non-sectarian lines.
The AIDS crisis changed everything. At first it was fear. Bisexuals in particular were shunned. There was a lot of pressure to identify as gay. My therapist told me I had to chose to be gay or straight and that “gay” men infecting straight women endangered the community. It was a dangerous time. Gangs came in to Dupont from the suburbs with bats and drove around looking for gays to bash. Fear of AIDS allowed for open discrimination. Friends, neighbors, and community leaders were dying quickly. I went to community meetings, but I never felt a real place for me there. In fact, some of my friends treated me differently when they found out I also slept with women, sometimes with open hostility.
There was a good bit of fatalism overtaking many of my friends leading to lots of unhealthy living. Alcohol, drug abuse, and living for the moment took its toll. I left to get healthy and began spending more time in progressive activism. I became more interested in women too and dated. Some years later, I met the woman I would spend my life with peacekeeping at an anti-Contra Aid march. After about a year of working with each other in the solidarity movement, we got together.
After Central America work faded, we got involved in other issue work: political prisoner and government harassment against activists, some of which we and our groups faced, led to us to doing broader criminal justice work. I had a long history doing Middle East work, so we were deeply involved in fighting against Gulf War I as well as educating on Palestine. We supported gay rights. In those years, I believed that my sexuality was a choice. We had a few bisexual women friends, but male friends, even ones who had had long term relationships with women, all identified as gay. I was in a happy monogamous relationship, so it didn’t seem to matter that I also had a gay history.
Everything was great until I started to burn out in my activism. Years of infighting, political losses, seeing close friends leave DC, and losing community took its toll. I went through bouts of depression. Then Clinton got elected. For the first time in our adult lives, we felt hopeful for the future. We began talking about having a child. I had always been afraid around kids, but as family and friends had babies, I felt safe around them. I also realized we would make good, loving parents. So we bought a new car, had a baby boy, and bought a house down the alley from the space my partner’s social justice organization just redeveloped.
It was when I started questioning myself again. Having a child makes one examine every part of one's life, from childhood on. I had been sexually abused as a child, so that was one big dark hole in my soul. Another big piece was my lying to myself and the world about my sexuality. Raising children demands total honesty. While we were raising him as gender neutral as possible, hiding my own past and my own orientation would someday cause problems. So I began my journey towards accepting myself and getting healthy.
That’s what led me to that long conversation with my partner. It was the end of hiding and the beginning of healing. The way it came out, “I was sexually abused as a child and I’m bisexual” and the hours of unloading years of hurt, self hate, and denial were just the beginning. In the weeks and months that followed, it meant coming out to friends, discussing what it meant for us going forward, and pressure for me to find counseling. While my first stint seeking health care did help me escape destructive life choices, I worried about finding yet another gay health professional who would deny my bisexuality. I also worried about having my survival as a victim of childhood sexual abuse be seen as the cause of my orientation by a therapist. These are real worries that still cause maltreatment of bisexual patients today. Dr. Joe Kort, a gay therapist, still pushes this harmful theory: Men acting out early childhood sexual abuse Also known as homosexual imprinting. These heterosexual men are not homosexually oriented. They do not sexually desire nor are they aroused by other men. However, they compulsively re-enact childhood sexual abuse by male perpetrators through their sexual behaviors with other men. This has nothing to do with their sexual and romantic identities.
Instead of finding help dealing with my abuse, I first found local bisexual community in BiNetwork DC and political work when Bisexual Insurgence formed. It helped me feel comfortable in my own skin as an out bisexual person. And going back to the Dupont Circle, even though it had become even more exclusive, helped me find resources. I found that the Rape Crisis Center had a group for gay and bisexual male rape/sexual abuse survivors. While I was the only bisexual, I got the help surviving and healing that I needed. And while today there is a greater awareness of violence and abuse against men, it's rarely understood that it happens to bisexuals at a much higher rate. Charles Blow’s take is how many of us survivors see it: “It is a fact that people who are LGBT are far more likely to be victims of sexual abuse when they were children,” he explained. “The anti-LGBT people do try to say that it is because you are abused that you are different. I think we have to turn that on its head and say, ‘It is likely that because you were different. or going to be different, that you are more likely to be abused.’”
I moved away from bisexual activism after 911 and Gulf War II. I still did a lot of state LGBT lobbying as Maryland changed its laws, and I kept up with bisexual politics from the Yahoo Group and then Facebook. Over the years, I was part of some attempts to rebuild our local bisexual male community. And I participated nationally when there was work to do: the organizing over the 2005 “Gay, Straight, or Lying” NYT piece and its fallout for bisexual men, the campaign against an exclusive federal ENDA bill in 2007, and other campaigns. I also worked in online communities for closeted bisexual men. I did as much peer support as I could, but many needed much more than a few of us out men could give.
It wasn’t until a few years ago when Center Bi formed that I threw myself back into organizing bisexual activism and support. It’s a new time of growth for the bisexual community; I’m happy to be part of it. New leadership is coming in, and veterans are coming back. Today there is much greater support for gender/sexual minorities. But it's only been in the last few years that statistics on bisexual health proved much of what we already knew about our struggles. Seeing the statistic in the Pew Poll that only 12% of bisexual males are out to most people in their lives points to the continuing invisibility we face. So many of our issues start in the closet.
Even after being out a good many years, I still find I’m always coming out. There is a constant need to educate about what bisexuality means, and why it is important to be out. Being visible helps open closet doors. And for me, being out makes me a point person outside the bisexual community. I’m one who educates on gender & sexuality issues. And I’m often of the first to talk to closeted bisexuals before they come out.
Long time bisexual activist