Coming out as anything other than heterosexual (which doesn’t actually require coming out) is hard. People tend not to believe us. Getting up the courage to come out is hard enough, but to then have your sexuality questioned can make the process traumatic.
Women and gender non-conforming folx who identify as queer — whether it be lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, or even those who choose not to label their sexuality — are often told their sexuality is just a phase. When they come out, it’s like, “Oh, you’re just confused, you’ll meet a nice man and you’ll realize you were wrong.” But, for most of us, that could not be farther from our truth.
I’ve known about my attraction to women since I was a tween. But during my teen years, I didn’t know how to bring something like that up in conversation. So I never talked about it with my friends. But then I met a girl who I liked, and she was my first kiss. When I told my friends about it, they didn’t react quite as I anticipated. They all kind of shrugged it off, not really taking me seriously. We had plenty of queer friends in our circle, but because I mostly came off as “boy crazy” (I wasn’t really), I was seen as less credible.
Every few years, if it came up in conversation, one of those friends would say, “Remember your bi phase?” as if it was just something I was trying on because the opportunity presented itself. When someone you trust doesn’t take your sexuality seriously, it makes it hard to trust anyone with that part of yourself. For most of the subsequent years, I only felt comfortable sharing my sexuality with friends who were openly queer. I knew there wouldn’t be any judgment from them. More often than not, they understood my hesitation on sharing my sexuality widely.
Having people not take your sexuality seriously is even harder when you choose to be in a relationship with a man. People seem to have no problem erasing your queerness because you’re with someone of the opposite gender. Queer women who are in relationships with men aren’t any less queer.
When I met my ex (a man), I was young, and after the experience I had coming out with my friends in high school, I kind of packed it away. I did come out to him as bisexual fairly early in our relationship. He had a right to know, even if I didn’t have any intention on acting on it during our relationship. It was just an unspoken part of our relationship.
My ex and I were together for six years and had a child together. After our relationship ended, I wasn’t interested in dating again right away. I chalked this up to having been in a long term relationship and having a small child at home.
But after two years of being single, something happened. I realized that I wanted to date — I just didn’t want to date men.
About six months prior, I had publicly come out as bisexual. It felt like the right time to finally be honest about myself with the world. Once the door was open, I felt more secure in myself. When I started dating, I acknowledged my relationship with a man and our child, but I made it clear that romantic relationships with men were a part of my past, but not my future.
Sometimes, women realize later in life that they’re queer. So, they’re navigating completely new territory and then have to figure out how to share it with the world. Because they know there are going to be questions as people try to grapple with their new normal. We’ve seen this happen several times with high profile women whom the public had known to be in relationships with men. When actress Cynthia Nixon revealed she was in a relationship with a woman after having been with her male partner for more than 15 years (they have two children together as well), people didn’t know what to make of it. Initially Nixon didn’t go on TV and make some grand statement about being “gay.” She was simply in a relationship with someone new, and that someone happened to be a woman.
Why is it that we still can’t seem to understand that sexuality is a spectrum? Over time, things can shift. Coming out is rarely easy, and by now we know that it is hard for women to do. Because society still expects women to settle down with men and raise families. So many of us will do that, simply because we think it’s what we should be doing. But deep down, we know that isn’t what we want to be doing.
Or we don’t come out, because we have convinced ourselves that we can’t possibly be gay. Even when the signs are all right there in front of us, we’ll deny it. Because it’s easier to play into the role society has painted for us than to come out and be who we are. But that has its own set of damaging effects on our lives down the line.
For women, non-binary, trans, and gender non-conforming folx, it takes a lot to come out. As far as we’ve progressed as a society, this is something that we’re still very behind on. Hopefully, as attitudes toward sexuality continue to progress, we will be able to live our truths on our own terms, whenever we feel comfortable doing so.
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