16 June 2006

Who am I?

16 June 2006

When I was in High School I wrote a poem by that title.  I still have it.  Somewhere in the attic is a box labelled ‘Teen-Angst Poetry.  

My life is always, on some level, a search for my identity.  “Who am I?” frequently transmutes into “What am I?”  Like most folks I can reel off a list of labels, groups I belong to by choice or heritage that have shaped me over the years.  A sample list would include: Mother, Wife, Episcopalian, Human Rights Supporter, Norwegian-Scottish-English-French-Irish-American (aka Mutt), Bisexual, Monogamous, Reader, Writer.  There are many more, but the entire list would take up a whole page by itself if I put my mind to it.

The one that trips me up the most is ‘bisexual.’  I haven’t mentioned it in previous essays and that is in part because it is difficult to talk about without sharing Too Much Information.  Not that I have any real tales to tell but, for someone who writes about life and posts it for the world to see, I’m easily embarrassed.

I had the classic experience of going away to college and discovering that I was attracted to women as well as men.  I was a late bloomer in that respect– I didn’t really figure out why some of my friends personalities changed so much during Junior High and High School until my junior year.  Then the hormones hit and all the strange behavior suddenly made sense.  When I started college I was still in the early stages of adapting to this new influx of information.

Then I discovered girls and immediately panicked– that’s how strong my feelings were.  It was a life changing experience.  However, I never acted on any of my feelings.  (See still figuring out hormones, above.)  I told my mom what was going on and she gave me the number of a friend of hers who was out as a gay woman.  We talked about the pros and cons of going any further in telling folks about my newly discovered feelings.  She suggested waiting.

Maybe if I had waited, I wouldn’t have felt any need to tell anyone else that I was bisexual.  After all I ended up in a heterosexual relationship with a wonderful man.  We lived together, were engaged for nearly two years and married after we graduated from college. 

I didn’t wait.  I couldn’t wait.  I felt like every day I didn’t tell my family and close friends put more and more pressure on me.  I was genuinely frightened when I decided to tell my father.  I had heard stories of people being disowned for coming out and while I love my dad, I wasn’t certain what his reaction would be.  It was a very awkward conversation but I remember that while he sounded freaked out he also attempted to make a joke and show that it was still okay between us.  To this day I don’t know his side of the story but I’m tearing up as I write this, remembering how relieved I and happy I was to know that I was still his daughter.

I tell this story because, to this day, I don’t really know if I ‘count’ as bisexual.  I am hidden from view, and while most of my friends know (especially the ones who were around in the old days), there is nothing in my life to actively remind people and it is not an easy thing to throw into a conversation.  I have no practical experience being in a same-sex relationship.  Does that lack of experience invalidate what I sincerely went through years ago?  More importantly, as someone who strongly believes in human rights for all and specifically equal rights (including marriage) for gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgendered people, what obligation do I have to point out to the people around me that I am privileged?  

The person I chose (and who chose me) happened to be male.  If I had been courted and won by a woman I would not enjoy the legal and societal benefits that I do now.  And while I didn’t take that path, the experience I had of recognizing my attraction to women (and looking back to High School, some of the signs were present even then) opened my mind.  Am I gay?  I don’t really know anymore, and given the structure of my current relationship I don’t really think I’ll ever have a chance to find out.  

That shouldn’t stop me from sharing my story.

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