Editor’s Note: Reflections on Bi Visibility and Coming Out

September 23, 2009

Morgan Goode

When I first came out as bisexual at age 12, I did not imagine that this was something I would have to do over and over…and over. I figured I’d tell everybody once, they’d get it and word of my sexual orientation would pass quickly and stick to me forever the way small-town gossip does. When I came out, my mother was my strongest ally. She joined PFLAG, read many books about gay and bisexual youth and women. She even wrote a letter that was published in her church newsletter addressing the silence around LGBT issues and the accompanying homophobia that existed in the church. In this letter, she declared:
“My daughter is bisexual.”
This was the first time I had heard her describe me as such. My mother, a woman I used to think of as a timid church mouse, was earning her activist stripes by refusing to let her congregation ignore LGBT issues. And she began by sticking up for me. Proud barely begins to describe how I felt. My senior year, both my mother and I participated in what is now known as the True Colors Conference, in West Harford, CT. I, as a speaker on a youth panel. My mother, representing PFLAG as the organizer of the Hug Room. The Hug Room, open throughout the conference, was a welcoming and affirming place for LGBT youth to go for a hug and a supportive ear, a place they could go if their own families were not supportive. Fast forward to 2008. I called my mother to see how she enjoyed a retreat she had recently attended. She told me about all the women she met. She was telling me about how she explained her various identities to the other participants, when she said:
“I’m also a proud parent of a gay daughter.”
I inhaled sharply. I am my mother’s only daughter.
“Mom, what? Why did you say that?”
Of course, my cell phone picked this opportunity to cut in and out. I told her we would discuss this when I came home to visit. As soon as she picked me up from the train station in New Haven, I repeated my question. I could tell she was nervous.
“Well, I mean, what would you like me to call you?”
“Mom, I’m bisexual.”
“Yes but, I just didn’t want to tell them that because I don’t want people to get the wrong idea about you…”
“What wrong idea?’
“….I don’t want them to think you go sleeping around.”
It seems somewhere between her proud declarations in the mid-nineties to the present day, my mother’s perceptions of bisexuality had changed. Simply put, her image of me as her studious, responsible daughter did not jive with nearly every other representation of bisexuality she had ever seen. So in my mother’s mind, I really was gay. Not because I was confused about my sexuality but because I did not fit the bisexual stereotypes that she had seen. And since she knew full well I wasn’t straight, I must be gay. I urged my mother not to let this stop her from being a proud parent of a bisexual daughter. Not to react to the lack of accurate representations by perpetuating them through the erasure of my bisexuality. She said she’d think about it. It is a conversation we are still having. This summer, I had the opportunity to be interviewed on the Today’s Show about the 40th anniversary of Stonewall. I was very excited. And nervous. But after speaking to one of the show’s producers about bisexual and trans activism and how much the erasure of our histories upsets me, I felt good. He was both supportive and receptive. Due to other stories that broke around that time, the segment got bumped to the website. I was disappointed that I wasn’t going to be broadcast in the living rooms of my mother, grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins. Until I saw the segment. They identified me as a gay activist. Well, I thought, at least if no one sees it, it’ll save me the trouble of having to come out. Again. TodayShowscreengrabwinterviewer It makes me wonder, how many other bisexual people have been gay-washed by the media? I can think of a few off the top of my head, but only because I am aware of them as very openly bisexual writers, activists and artists. In those cases, when they are identified as gay by the media, it is immediately laughable. For myself and others without such a public face, we have no opportunity to have the last laugh. In a media culture where our very existence is frequently called into question whether via an alleged joke, or bad science, we can’t afford, nor should we have to, lose these voices and representations. This past Monday, when Kanye West claimed that bisexual men do not exist, I was reminded again of Peter Ruggiero’s words during the Bi Media Summit:
“Hearing bi men don’t exist had detrimental effects on me – I literally thought of doing myself in.”
Research suggests that Ruggiero is not alone. As we heard from bisexual health expert Amy Andre, bisexual people have higher rates of suicidal ideation than gay or straight people. I have to think that the near constant onslaught of widely affirmed propaganda that we do not exist is a strong contributor to this. At age 13, my own therapist told me I was straight, causing me unnecessary and unwarranted despair. Yet despite what many have said, we are still here and we are still bisexual. As much as these thoughts weigh on my mind, today I am smiling because I am proud of all the openly bisexual people who stood up in the face of all this and continue to fight against defamation, persevering in spite of so much that works against us. I am so happy to have had the opportunity to commission, edit and compile this series of posts for Celebrate Bisexuality Day because it gave me the chance to work with people for whom I have so much admiration and respect and to share the results with the world. I am proud of our achievements as openly bisexual people. When you tell the truth about your lives, you tell the truth of all our lives. I found myself nodding along to every piece. And most of all, I am excited to forward these links to my mother so that she can know (again) what good company I am in. I want to extend a heartfelt thanks to all of our participants and especially to Cindi Creager, GLAAD’S Director of National News for being my main point person/support network/ ally/cheerleader during this whole process from conception to completion. Morgan Goode is an openly bisexual writer and photographer living in Brooklyn, NY. She is currently the Digital Media Initiatives Fellow at GLAAD. Please visit www.MorganGoode.com for more info.