25 April 2012

So I bet you thought I was straight

(Quick note:  With the help of dear friends and family, I've been in pretty intentional discernment about doing what I'm doing right now - that is, coming out of the closet - for about six months; and I've been in "passive" discernment about it for much longer.  So the timing of this has almost nothing to do with the fact that Dan Savage called out people like me on his podcast this week.  But in any event:  there you go, Dan.  One formerly closeted bi guy, joining the fight.)

Unless you have specific reason to think otherwise, I'm guessing this post's title is fairly accurate.  Further, I imagine that's true if you've known me for years and years, or if we're just acquaintances, or if I'm only somebody you decided to follow on a social network.  Why?  Because we're culturally conditioned to assume that everyone is straight, cisgender, and mono, unless we have serious reason to believe otherwise.

Which is pretty much the reason I'm telling you otherwise.  (Well, that, and because the cultural assumptions of "normal" - and the bullying that helps to enforce those assumptions - sometimes provoke kids to kill themselves.)

So here are the facts, at a certain level of detail:

I've been married to an amazing woman for 17 1/2 years.  (I've been diagnosed with bipolar disorder for 11 1/2 of those, which is proof enough of "amazing", I think.)  Our married relationship has always been monogamous, and I've been faithful to her throughout our marriage.  Also, on the very rare occasions that the subject has come up, I've generally not corrected anyone's assumption that I identify as straight.

If you know me well enough to know all (or much) of this, I certainly don't blame you for thinking I'm straight.

More facts:  before I was married, I didn't have a whole lot of sexual experience.  However, I did have sex with more than one person, and not exclusively with women.

Let's take a break to review some helpful tools:

- The sex researcher Alfred Kinsey first published the Kinsey Scale in the 1940's.  It's limited, but it's a useful shorthand.  It rates sexual orientation on a scale from 0 (100% heterosexual) through 3 (50/50 bisexual) to 6 (exclusively homosexual).

- Fritz Klein added some nuance to Kinsey with the Klein Grid, which rates 7 categories related to sexual orientation on a scale of 1 to 7 (roughly corresponding to Kinsey's 0 to 6).  It also takes into account change over time.

So, the scoop?  The common assumption, based on my long-term, monogamous marriage and the general cultural default, would be that I am a 0 on the Kinsey Scale (exclusively hetero).  If fact, I am a 1 - 2.  Taking into account the Klein Grid categories, my responses vary a bit in the different categories, and they are definitely weighted toward women, but I am not exclusively hetero in any of those various dimensions.

The final row on the Klein Grid is self-identification.  (So here's what I came to say.)  I've spent most of my life failing to correct the default assumption that I am 100% hetero.  It's easier that way, for sure.  Being married to a woman, I can easily pass as straight.

But I don't want to do that anymore.  I want to stop doing it for the sake of my own authenticity.  And I want to stop doing it in some small hope of helping other folks - especially young folks who also don't conform to the cultural assumptions regarding sexual orientation - to feel authentic and valid in their own skin.

So for the record, here's how I would prefer to identify, in regard to sexual orientation.  I'll give you several options, in order of preference.

1) Pansexual.  This is the most accurate and authentic label to describe my sexual orientation.  Essentially, it means that my potential ability to find someone sexually, physically, personally, and emotionally attractive is not automatically limited by their biological sex, gender expression, or gender identity.  (Please refer to the Genderbread Person if a reminder of what these terms mean would be helpful.)  My attraction is weighted toward women, similar to the way in which some people might be especially attracted to redheads, or to tall people, or to extraverts, without that preference in any way ruling out their attraction to folks with different characteristics.

2) Bisexual.  You can call me bi.  It's totally OK.  The distinction that's made between pansexuality and bisexuality is that "bisexual" implies that gender/sex is binary, while in fact there are lots of possibilities in between and perpendicular to "male" and "female", including genderqueer, intersex, and much more.  That said, the vast majority of folks who identify as bi are absolutely not trying to say that there's no way they could be attracted to someone who isn't 100% unambiguously male or female, as sometimes seems to be implied by writings on pansexuality.  So you can call me bi.

3) Queer.  Don't think I'm listing "queer" third because I don't like it.  If you call me queer, I'll take it as a compliment (unless it's not one).  It's an appropriate label.  The only reason it's my third preference is that it's so general.  It doesn't convey much information.  I can be more specific, and that seems helpful, so I will.  That's all.

4) Straight.  Most people who don't read this will probably continue to presume that I'm straight.  That's OK.  I rightly pass for straight, and have done for most of my life.  In the future, if someone explicitly mentions making this assumption, I'll correct them.  But it's not as if I find the label inauthentic, inappropriate, or offensive.  It's reasonably accurate for me.  It's not like I'm a 6 on the Kinsey Scale, or a 4, or even a 3.  However, if you have read all this and are having trouble dealing with it and would just prefer to think of me as straight, my request to you is this: If I am someone who is important to you, please try to grapple with this part of my identity.  I would be grateful.

So, um, that's it.  I'm not as straight as you probably thought I was.  My hope is that, by rejecting that assumption (and continuing to do so going forward), just one other person - possibly a young person - who is also outside the sexual "norm" will feel just a little more OK with who God made them to be.  And in any case, this means that I'm just a little bit more transparently who I am.  I feel as if that's worth something.