When I told Jared I’m bisexual, he couldn’t, or at least didn’t, hide his discomfort.
“Why do you have to announce it like that, like it’s still relevant?” he asked, his eyes darting around the restaurant as if he were on the lookout for gun-toting bigots or maybe a pack of lesbians (in sensible shoes) poised to drag me off and feed me herbal tea. “When we get married and have kids, it won’t matter who we dated before we met.”
He spoke with such dazzling confidence, I breezed right past his bold assumptions. This ambitious, unapologetic doctor who apparently was going to become my husband had a point. I didn’t want to hear about his ex-girlfriends beyond what terrible lovers and inadequate friends, cooks and travel companions they were. Why would he want to hear about mine?
But I wasn’t looking to chronicle my romantic escapades. I was clarifying my identity. I like men and I like women. That way. I’m attracted to both, fantasize about both, have dated and kissed and enjoyed sex with both. I like the soft roundedness I’ve found in women, the scratchy ridiculousness I’ve found in men, and the culinary generosity I’ve found in both.
If you lined up 100 people I’m physically drawn to, maybe only 4 would be women, but the depth of attraction I’d feel for those women would be the same as for the men. This was true when I was 23 and entered my first romantic relationship (with a woman), and it’s true now that I’m 38. I do not think of myself as 4 percent lesbian but 100 percent bisexual.
“I’m not saying I want to be with men and women at the same time or alternate back and forth,” I told Jared, cocking my head like a parakeet in an attempt to make eye contact. “And I’m not suggesting, like, threesomes. My longest relationship was with a woman, and I pictured a wedding, trips to Europe, raising kids. I’ve been to couples’ counseling with a woman. So yeah, it’s relevant.”
Over the next few weeks, as I felt myself falling quickly under Jared’s self-assured spell, I became terrified of clasping his hand and stepping onto the hetero-normative conveyor belt: engagement, wedding, mortgage, children, evenings on the couch watching a bunch of straight people behave just like us on TV. My woman-loving side would be obliterated, and with it a piece of myself.
Once I was committed to this man, how would anyone know I also liked women unless I went out of my way to tell them? And under what circumstances would I do that? If I was going to hitch my star to Jared’s till death did us part, I had to still honor the jeans-wearing, boot-stomping, Ani DiFranco-loving, I-don’t-need-no-man side of myself.
Early on, I’d made coming out part of my routine. First date: Reveal introverted bookishness (usually made obvious by my cat-eye glasses and social awkwardness). Second date: Pet heavily. Third date: Announce bisexuality.
No matter how open-minded I believed my companion to be, the coming-out conversation was always excruciating. I was a sweaty, self-conscious mess, having no idea what reaction I would get. Would I feel as if I was seen and heard and accepted and embraced — the whole object of the painful, naked-making horror show that is dating? Or would I get metaphorically punched in the gut, shamed for merely being who I am? Would she shrug? Would he think it was hot?
“So you’re, like, one of those four-year lesbians,” one guy said in the middle of a make-out session — no matter that all my relationships, gay and straight, have taken place after college.
“I think you’re just too timid to face your deepest personal truth,” one woman told me as she reached for my shirt buttons.
A man I was on the verge of loving said he was “totally cool with it” — so long as I didn’t mention anything to his parents.
Wilson Diehl, who lives in Seattle, is working on a collection of essays.