I never saw his face, but his name played over in my mind. It was the first time I heard of another kid being gay. He was in eighth grade, I was in fifth. A couple of girls on the playground said “Have you heard ---- is gay” and I remember being confused. I had known gay people existed, but they weren't like me because they were adults. And I thought, “Oh, god. One day people are going to say this about me.” Immediately, I was embarrassed. Why had I thought that? I walked away abruptly and aimlessly, knowing that this was going to be bad. In time my fear was proven right. It ended up being even worse than I thought. At fourteen it became my turn. I was outed by my closest friend.
Elliot Waples (he/him)
I am a recent graduate at the New School, where I self-designed a degree in the humanities. My studies led me through architecture, history, philosophy, politics, sociology, and conceptual art. The question that guides me as I navigate new areas of intrigue as a teacher, artist, and organizer is, “How can identifying confusion create space to develop trust amongst loved ones and strangers?” This is the first time I’ve written about coming out. Thank you Play Out for sharing my story. If you want to keep up with me, my website www. aruhanger.com. Otherwise, feel free to join me on the picket line.
When I was outed it was right in the throws of the political debate of marriage equality. I became the lone gay kid in which Christian adults and my peers could use as a sounding board for their political beliefs. I had talked to myself many times about being gay and being straight. I knew. I could have lied to my classmates or when my teacher kept me after class to discuss the rumors. Others would have seen through me once the question was out. There was no "back" to go to. The moment split my life in half. And the people trying to support me kept saying they always knew, knew me better than I knew myself. Besides, being queer was a protest against catholic school. I was a troublemaker, an atheist, and outspoken. Backing down to homophobic conservatives would be tantamount to being against the political movement for equality. I was fourteen, the only queer person my age that I knew, and scared enough that I had no choice, but to be brave. It was of societal significance to have pride.
Society kept moving forward. So, did I. I felt it was wrong when I thoughtI can’t trust my family or friends when it comes to my sexuality. ‘But I didn't. My mind was fog. I couldn’t talk about sex, cause that would mean addressing sexuality. And I would go back and forth between refusing to speak about it, and demanding those in my life not view me differently. It felt like all this love my parents gave me as a kid dried up. I got alone and lonely. I experienced danger, and I couldn’t trust myself. To get to safety I had to answer a basic question first. I was outed as gay, but I knew I was straight as well. I had been told by an older gay guy that bisexuality is just a step towards “coming out for real.” I had found the right word to describe myself, but my trust was so monumentally broken that all of my actions became a test to see if I was real.
It’s through friendships with bisexual women that I became more comfortable with myself as a flirty bisexual man. There’s this common knowledge that feels built into society that you can’t be friends with someone you could theoretically be attracted to, especially once you are in a partnership. But, for Bi people, our range is so broad. Only heterosexuals of our gender, (for me straight men) and homosexuals of the other binary gender, (for me lesbians) are completely safe territories. My bisexual friendships became these relationships where we were both able to talk about any attraction and flirt a bit, without judgment. It was from these deep connections and watching the strength of bi women that I realized I was not a self-hating gay man. I was Bi, which I define as the Latin homo (same) +hetero (different), not in reference to binary gender.
I owed it to myself. After not having the chance to come out I needed to give myself the agency of defining how I should be seen with respect. Close friends had seen me dodge the question or become sensitive for years. I was ready for that to end.
I didn’t know very many men who would openly identify as bisexual or pansexual. Most of my friends that are bisexual are women. The friends that are men and could fit that label often cloak themselves in ambiguity, and informed me years into our friendships and as a part of deep conversations.
I saw a close female friend who was in a relationship with a guy. Part of the conflict in the relationship was he was closeted bisexual. It took two years into the relationship for him to be able to come out to her. She was also bisexual, and accepted him. When he recognized this reality, the stress on their relationship and friendship began to dissipate. I was in awe. If I had not been outed, could I have ended up too scared to tell my partner? Would my sexuality have remained a barrier to intimacy in my closest relationships?
A lot of the out bisexuals I know are transgender. I think it is important as a cisgender man to not leave the bulk of the responsibility of normalizing bisexuality on the shoulder of trans and nonbinary people.
Being out made me safer. I was capable to talk clearly about my physical health with my doctor. It helped me accept help for my mental health. I was also able to find space in the LGBTQ community for emotional support.
I became capable of building close relationships with other queer people, because they no longer reminded me about the parts I hated in myself.
Finally, when looking at rates of suicide in the LGBT community and seeing that the bisexuals had a higher rate of committing suicide, and a lower rate of being out to family and friends then LG people. I realized the difficult conversations are still here to be had.
We can look to history to see that safety comes to those who speak. The “outing movement” of the ’80s developed out of the lack of public assistance to queer men and trans women during the first experiences of the outbreak of A.I.D.S. Outing was a tool queer people used to make sure that those with power to stop the pandemic would pay attention. Outing served to become a powerful tool in building social acceptance, which developed into coming out movements. Every family has a “wayward” son or daughter. Coming out became about queer agency and autonomy, as every family was required to grapple with queer love. Like outings, coming out can also destroy trust and relationships and can be a dangerous time for queer people. But, I was right as a kid: coming out is deeply political. It’s a facet of identity that opens up the ability to create more lasting systems of care and protection.
Within 40 years we went from the government turning a blind eye as a generation of queer people died to marriage equality. This is a testament to the power of difficult conversations with loved ones. Queer politics have made major gains in the last 40 years in seeing the media, laws, and culture create space for queer people in America. But, there are larger gains we need. Only 30 countries and territories around the world support gay marriage, we are still seeing the murders of trans people – especially trans women of color – and “LGB youth are almost five times as likely to have attempted suicide compared to heterosexual youth”(CDC).. Religious groups like The Prayer Breakfast are helping sure up anti-LGBT laws in Africa. Superpowers like Russia have strong anti-LGBT laws, and we could see more countries follow their cultural lead, as America loses economic stability on the world stage.
Not only is it important that people are ready to come out, but it’s also important to assess when and where you can come out. Queer people spend their whole lives coming out, and recognizing when it is not safe to speak up is important. The problem is being bisexual it’s so easy to disappear yourself into heterosexual-appearing relationships. Passing can come with benefits that are monetary, social, and physical. Being able to be conscious of when you can live without these benefits is a political act. One that grows the amount of space where we can live in safety. To other bisexual men who are afraid of the stigma that comes along with their sexuality: trust me, if you don’t address this out loud, you are still living with this stigma, but you are doing so alone. Healing is possible, and it requires trusting and loving others.
It is the time for Bi Men to begin to let some of our stress go. It’s time to destigmatize bisexuality. It’s time to be out without shame. We are needed in this fight, so when you are ready and when it is safe to do so please come out. There is work to be done.
1 Sciupac, Elizabeth . “Same-Sex Marriage Around the World”. Pew Research Center.https://www.pewforum.org/fact-sheet/gay-marriage-around-the-world/. Accessed 10 September 2021
2 Fatal Violence Against the Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Community in 2020. Human Rights Campaign.https://www.hrc.org/resources/violence-against-the-trans-and-gender-non-conforming-community-in-2020 Accessed 10 September 2021
3 CDC. (2016). Sexual Identity, Sex of Sexual Contacts, and Health-Risk Behaviors Among Students in Grades 9-12: Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Accessed 10 September 2021
4 DeCapua, Joe”At National Prayer Breakfast Obama calls Anti-Homosexual Legislation in Uganda ‘Odious’” https://www.voanews.com/africa/national-prayer-breakfast-obama-calls-anti-homosexual-legislation-uganda-odious. Accessed 10 September 2021