The blogqueen and I have an ongoing discussion about closetedness--we're both bisexual (Erika has apparently made it a life goal to start a flibbertigibbet), which is an interesting mix of privileges and disadvantages. It's super-easy for us to pass as straight if we want to (I've only dated women so far; she's happily engaged to a dude) but bisexual erasure is a thing and it can come from any side and in many forms. Women get told they're all basically bisexual and that they should be exhibitionist about it to attract men, men get told that if they ever fail to find other men sexually disgusting for even a moment then they are gaaaaaay. We all get told that we're in denial about our homosexuality, or that we just want to seem chic and liberated from social norms. And a lot of the time, people just forget we exist: I've been looking into some online dating stuff recently and found that it's surprisingly uncommon to be able to identify as interested in both men and women. (eHarmony only supports male/female couples and has a separate-but-obviously-still-equal-I've-never-heard-of-this-Jim-Crow-fella site called Compatible Partners that's only for same-sex couples. But that's not surprising since this guy Warren who started the place sounds kinda homophobic.)
I clicked to the realisation that I'm bi about a year ago, in a sequence of events that was weirdly understated (nothing happened that would make for a particularly good anecdote) given how abrupt and conclusive it was inside my head. This post isn't really about that, or the internal debating and rationalisations for years prior to that which had allowed me to continue assuming I was straight. This post is about what's happened since then.
Erika knows I'm bi (she was the first person I told, but wouldn't it be kind of hilarious if this post was the first place she heard about it?), and for months she was the only one. The next step was referring to myself as bi on internet forums where I used a screenname and no one there ever had or will meet me personally. Next was a post on my old personal blog, just a few months ago, which most of my meatspace friends and relations know nothing about. A couple of days ago I told another friend who lives in another country (our in-person contact has mostly been through globetrotting adventures, because obviously that is the best kind of contact). And now there's this.
People who still don't know I'm queer: my parents, my brother, my closest friends from school and university, my co-workers, and basically anyone I hang out with on a regular basis. And this is where I start to get tangled up, because I can't decide whether I want them to know or not. I can't decide whether I think it's important or necessary or even just more convenient.
No one ever has to come out as straight. No one ever says "OMG, you never told me you were a hetero!" That seems fine to me; by the same token, I don't think there should be some kind of obligation on people who aren't straight to just inform others of that particular facet of their identity. And for a variety of reasons I've hardly ever told my parents about anything going on between me and girls, unless it took the form of "I can't join your plans because I have a date tonight"*, so I don't feel like I should need to just announce that the scope of potential partners now includes guys.
On the other hand--I live in Canada, I easily support myself, and I work and hang out with good people, so in practice I have very little to fear in regards to homophobia. Certainly a lot less than some people do. And normalisation is good: the more straight (or straight-identified) people are familiar with queer-identified people, the less they see us as alien, outsider, unreal, invalid. We're practice--have a queer friend and improve your ability to think compassionately, to support equal rights, to reject harmful stereotypes.** (And, possibly for some of those straight-identified people, help them figure out their options and their actual identity a bit better.) There is real value in being 'out', not just for me, but for other people, and if I'm privileged enough that it's not going to cost me anything, I should be trying to help people, right?
(Plus, as friends have observed while helping me cope with Pointless Crushes On Straight Boys, being out makes it easier for those dudes who might be actually be interested to determine whether they should make a pass at me or not. This is a reasonable point, although eyebrow waggling can reduce its credibility.)
I filled out a hilariously bad survey for some politically conservative US organization the other day, and when it got to orientation, I was given the options of Straight, Gay, Bisexual, Do Not Wish To Disclose, or In The Closet. It was great. 'In The Closet' is an orientation now? (Observation from Erika: "More of a dedication to fashion, really".) Truly these people are on the cutting edge of social analysis.
Am I closeted? I don't exactly hide that I'm bi, but I don't volunteer it any more than other people are all "Why yes, I'm very hetero today, thank you for asking". If I am closeted, when did it happen? Was it when my brain was all you should go up to that guy and put your mouth on his mouth and I was all "Well, that pretty much settles that question" but I kept it to myself, or was it years earlier, when I first started finding ways to ignore or explain away the less-blatant hints I was giving myself that I liked guys as well as gals? If I start letting people know more often that I'm bi, at what point will I stop being closeted? Who needs to know? Parents are generally a big deal, but if I tell them and no one else, that's not exactly a major life change. No one I work with knows, but to my knowledge it wouldn't affect anything anyway. (It was a couple of years before I found out one of our stats guys is gay, and then only because of an offhand reference to going somewhere with his boyfriend. He is pretty campy, but I try not to assume--for that matter, I still can't be 100% sure he's gay and not bi. Bisexual erasure: just for the record, we bi folk can make the same foolish assumptions.)
Being in the closet is a weird idea at its root. It makes sense on the surface, in that it involves people hiding 'themselves', but it also starts from the assumption that other people are entitled, or at least can expect, to know what the thing being hidden is. (There's a wonderful RiffTrax of a short film on making friends in high school, where the shy (white) hero pauses at the door before a party and they narrate for him "What if they find out I'm black?!") When I saw a co-worker on the bus reading A Song of Ice and Fire, she surreptitiously joked to me that she is 'a closet nerd'. Closeting seems to me like if it's not about protecting yourself from harm (and I don't think I'm in danger of harm), it's about hiding something shameful, and I am by no means ashamed to be bisexual. Some ladies are hot. Some dudes are hot. It's not complicated. I just also don't feel like random strangers have a right to expect that I inform them "By the way, I'm totally going to queer this place up".
So I think I'm in Schroedinger's Closet, in a state of being simultaneously out and closeted until I observe whether there's a particular reason for me to go out of my way to tell the person I'm talking to that I am bisexual and the waveform collapses. Also there's a zombie cat in here? It's pretty cool. But I wonder sometimes if it's enough.
*I don't date much and I've never paid a lot of attention to following gender roles, so I've always kind of wondered if my parents suspect I'm gay. Part of me wants things to work out so that one day I can go up to them and say "Mom... Dad... I think it's time I told you the truth. I'm bisexual. THIS IS MY GIRLFRIEND AND YOU CAN'T TELL ME OUR LOVE ISN'T REAL." I aspire to be an entertaining son; my track record is pretty solid.
**My favourite stereotype right now is of course that bisexuals are promiscuous sex-mad fiends, because I am feeling quite comfortable here in the exact centre of the Kinsey Scale, and I am so far from promiscuous that the light reflecting off promiscuous won't reach me before the sun expands and consumes the world.
[Edit to add]: Also! There are only two days left to vote if you have any interest in or opinion on the Book Club's first book. Candidates were listed in this post here.