When You Have a Coming Out Story… and Didn’t Expect To
The year I was born, my father founded a performing arts center.
Growing up in this theater environment probably explains why it took a while for me to learn that most white men aren’t gay. Gay love, alongside straight love, was my reality. No one had to explain sexual orientation to me. Through observation, I learned that men could love each other, and men and women could love each other. It wasn’t until years later that I learned about other folks on the rainbow spectrum but enveloping them into the #loveislove upbringing I received was easy.
Freely and without judgement, my parents spoke about their gay friends, many of whom I considered “uncles.” I can remember my mother criticizing how some Puerto Rican family members chose to deny gay and lesbian children their identities by calling their romantic partners “friends.” If there were ever a family of straight people to come out to, mine definitely seemed to be it. When I began coming out, the fact that I didn’t worry—that I expected my parents to consider my personal revelation normal—made their responses, especially my Mom’s, hurt more.
It took me until my twenties to come out, not because I feared retaliation, but because I didn’t consider myself queer enough. Any time I filled out surveys in high school, I’d pause. My attraction to boys had manifested several times over. I knew I wasn’t a lesbian but checking off straight never felt quite right either. Every survey led to an identity crisis and deep contemplation of my label boxes. After years of confusion and extensive conversations with friends, I claimed the identity of pansexual/queer. (Still rarely get a checkbox but oh well).
Around the time that I was gaining confidence with my identity, I remember standing next to my mother in our old kitchen by the stove, my little sister nearby as we talked about sexuality. I don’t remember much but she said one thing I’ll never forget: “Being gay or lesbian is fine, but bisexuality isn’t real—it’s greedy.” That was my first encounter with biphobia, something those of us outside the sexual attraction binary experience regularly.
In a call this past October, I described a genderfluid person I was crushing on to my mom. I sometimes talked about people because I hoped it would normalize my queerness and she would learn to embrace this part of me. That day, she told me she preferred not to hear more. I couldn’t tell what made her uncomfortable, the fact that this person wasn’t a man or the fact that I was already in a long-term relationship with someone. Gender or polyamory. Whichever she didn’t approve of, I felt rejected. I broke down sobbing on a phone call with my aunt a month later. The thought of going home for the holidays made me anxious.
Not everyone has stories like these. The decision of coming out, to whom, when, and where can sometimes be life or livelihood threatening decisions. Sexual orientation and gender identity continue to be used as excuses for job and housing discrimination, not being considered a fit parent, violence, and murder. Bisexuals in particular have worse health outcomes than straight, gay, and lesbian counterparts across many measures and Black transwomen are losing their lives at alarming rates in the United States. (#sayhername – Riah Milton and Dominique Fells were both found dead in June).
I am grateful that I do not have a tragic story to share. My story is tame and uneventful. My mother is someone who regularly reminds me that she loves me and is proud of me. But, that day in the kitchen and other conversations left a mark. The sting of the rejection of my queerness from one of my favorite people in the world shaped my future interactions with biphobia. Being told that people like me aren’t real or are selfish was definitely not what I expected, and it’s taken until this year to process.
Whatever your story may look like, your feelings are still valid. Harm comes in many shapes and forms, and it’s important to acknowledge all the ways that homophobia, transphobia, and biphobia can influence the different facets of one’s life.
Seeking out coaching services around identity? Email me at [email protected] or check out my book, An Introguide to a Sex Positive You: Lessons, Tales, and Tips for some solo exploration!
Yael R. Rosenstock GonzalezSex Educator, Researcher, Author, Speaker
Yael has been engaged in workshop development and facilitation since she joined the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) as a teen peer reproductive rights educator at 15 years old. Since then, she has served as an educator with children ranging from 10 months old to adults in their 70s with different organizations and communities. In her work as first Program Coordinator, then Director of Programming, and finally Associate Director of the Center for Ethnic, Racial, and Religious Understanding, Yael developed and led events, workshops, and programs with an intersectionality lens.