Here's something you probably didn't know about me: I'm bisexual. I wouldn't bring this up at all, but I keep seeing discussions about GLBT issues in which someone complains "Why are we talking about this? How many of Those People can there be, anyhow? This can't matter that much, can it?"
- I am one of Those People, and always have been. So, if you didn't think you knew very many GLBT people, now you know that you know of one more.
- There are rather a lot of us in the world. I know a lot of bisexual men and women in heterosexual marriages because, well, that's the kind we're mostly allowed to have here in the U.S. But a queer person in a heterosexual marriage is pretty much rendered invisible. Few are willing to stand up and be counted as something other than straight. This is me standing up.
- If you've read a lot of my fiction, this will not be shocking news.
It did take me a long, difficult time to come to grips with this. I got pretty good at talking myself out of desire: "Nah, you don't like women. You like men just fine! You don't even get along with most women! You wouldn't know what to do with a woman."
I grew up in a conservative military town in Texas. I knew one kid in high school who was out as gay, and it's a miracle he survived to adulthood. I don't know any lesbians who came out then. It just wasn't accepted. And bisexuality wasn't a concept anyone discussed. It was a black-and-white world. Either you were straight, or you were a homo, and if you were a boy who kissed just one boy you were a homo for ever and ever after.
My parents were raised in conservative Christian environments and although they rejected a lot of that, they internalized much of the social/sexual dogma about GLBT people pretty much without question and passed it right along to me. My upbringing was strict. My father was a psychiatrist trained in a time when gays and lesbians were treated as potentially dangerous sexual perverts who needed curing. All his books said so; it had to be true!
So I was fucking terrified of being a lesbian. When I started having some "Hey, she's cute" type feelings when I was young, I squashed those suckers down as far as they would go. This, of course, affected things. Badly. I became standoffish, and afraid of touching anyone or to be touched lest There Be Feelings. I kept to myself, and felt totally isolated.
I went through my first suicidal depression when I was 12 years old. I spent most of my teen years struggling with depression and anxiety. Not just because of this -- being female in a culture where girls were told at every turn that they were inherently less capable and worthwhile than boys and that their only true value lay in being decorative is pretty depressing if you're a female with an ounce of ambition.
Even more depressing and anxiety-inducing? A pervasive rape culture: when I was 18 I realized that all (not some, not many, all) the girls and women I knew well enough to have earned their confidence had been raped or forced to perform oral/manual sex. My mom. My two best female friends. Their roomates our freshman year of college. A lot of the girls who'd had their mouths forced down on a rapist's junk didn't think of themselves as having been sexually assaulted, because it wasn't "really" rape so it didn't "really" count, and so their PTSD nightmares were happening because they were somehow weak. If you were a girl who suffered sexual harrassment, you were just supposed to take it as some kind of compliment, or you were supposed to feel ashamed because clearly you had brought it on yourself by how you dressed or what you had said or where you had chosen to go. I remember a bully in 6th grade who would follow me and try to corner me and touch me when nobody else was around. His behavior made me nauseated with fear. I told my mom -- who clearly figured the little creep was too young to be any kind of credible threat -- and her reaction was "Oh, don't take it so hard, it just means he likes you!" Finally one day I hauled off and slugged him and we both got dragged into the principal's office, both got in trouble (me more than he, since nobody saw what the big deal was and I was the one who threw a punch). But at least he quit after that.
We kids got told that rape was bad, of course. But rape was some maniac grabbing you off the street and assaulting you. Stranger Danger! If it was a boy or man you knew, a neighbor or a classmate, well ... surely you had done something to lead him on, right? You shouldn't have worn that dress. He didn't really hurt you. Nobody needs to know. Boys will be boys.
And I liked and admired boys, even when I feared them. I wished I could be a boy; then nobody would be telling me how I had to talk and dress and behave to avoid nightmares and shame.
So, yeah, my depression and anxiety were way more complicated than me having to constantly suppress my emotions. But that was certainly a factor. The teen years are hard enough without feeling deep down that nobody could possibly accept you as you truly are. Feeling that no matter how hard you try or how well you do in school or in music etc., you're still defective.
To cut to the heart of this: I wish I had known then what I know now. I wasted so much energy on unncecessary angst, and I had so much trouble relating to people ... argh. Just, argh. I won't say that my depression magically went away once I got a good grip on my own orientation -- the depression is more entrenched than that -- but I've felt a whole lot better than I used to.
My husband, who was raised Catholic, was initially a little worried when I sat him down and had the "Darling, you should know that I'm bisexual" conversation. When I told him that I wished I'd known all this when I was a teenager, he replied, "But then you never would have married me!" Whereupon I whacked him upside the head. Discovering you like butterscotch doesn't mean you've stopped liking rocky road.