“Secrets, secrets are no fun. Secrets, secrets hurt everyone.” – Elementary School Life Advice
The Times Has Come
I’ve been fantasizing about this day for a long time, though it’s difficult to say for how long. At the very least, I’ve known this day would come for the past two years—since fall 2019, when I hit metaphorical “rock bottom.” At that time, I realized that my only option was to begin being honest, to speak the truths I’ve always wanted say.
But first, let me back up…
As a writer, I know all too well the difference between dreaming up a beautiful work in my mind—piecing together disparate ideas to form sentences, paragraphs, pages in ways that few can—and an altogether thrilling and harrowing challenge to put those words on the page.
This explains why I don’t write as often as I would like or need to—that and the fact I’m exhausted most nights after work. That said, sitting in front of a computer screen after a long day or week of work is the last thing I want to do. In fact, if I was forced to choose between watching reruns of terrible daytime TV or digging into my next piece, most nights I’d choose the daytime TV. At least I can fall asleep doing that!
It’s no surprise, then, that I find myself here, in my comfy recliner, on Wednesday, May 5, 2021 at 6:45 p.m.—saying the words I’ve long wanted to say but haven’t. The words I’ve long searched for but didn’t have. The words I’ve long known but didn’t believe. The words I never thought would leave my mouth…
Never say never.
Today I will speak my truths, the secrets I’ve long held. I hope my mind, body, and soul gain some freedom and peace from doing this. At the very least, even if these words make certain aspects of my life more challenging, I will achieve a level of clarity from them that can never come from living in the shadows. Because, right now, I’m constantly looking over my shoulder and asking myself the same four questions:
- Who can I trust?
- Do they know my secrets, things about me that only a few people do?
- Will I still be loved if I am completely found out?
- Are my anxieties more founded in societal realities or dreamt up in my own mind?
No matter what my mind has deemed those answers to be, I have been trapped in an interminable state of anxiety, fear, and mistrust recently—a hell that can only be remedied by speaking the words that still scare me to my core. In a word, by “vulnerability,” a force that allows people to foster intimate relationships with others—to move past fear, shame, and ignorance, as they strive to discover true joy, form healthy relationships, and lead their best lives.
So, I’m about to be vulnerable, to say what I’ve always wanted to say but haven’t.
and probably always have been, though I cannot say that last bit with complete certainty. What’s more, I don’t need to! I’ve already spent much of my 25+ years trying to understand the origin of my sexual identity. To discern at which point I first felt different than others. To understand if this was something I had caused or chosen (I didn’t.). To know if this is something that happened to me—namely, because I was briefly sexually abused by an older male babysitter when I was eleven…To know if my sexuality was God punishing me for, I don’t know—for not washing the dishes or some stupid shit or, well, for fill in the blank, because my young mind sure did.
And on, and on. My musings abounded…
No surprise, this quest bore little fruit—only shame, self-hatred, frustration, and poor mental health.
I guess that fact shouldn’t come as a shock. After all, my lines of question hinged upon the not so subtle assumption that same-gender attraction is an innately bad or wrong thing. Oh, and bi the way (you’re welcome for that), recently I even see a particularly fiery Christian use the word “abomination” to describe homosexuality—a word that, I might add, I’ve never liked. (You wouldn’t describe a group of straight people as a “heterosexuals,” so why would you do it for queer people—people who aren’t straight? Well, you wouldn’t. But if you did, by God would that shit get weird really quick. At that rate, it wouldn’t be much of a jump to describe everyone according to their sex lives. And lord know that no one wants that…Feel free to just let your imagination run wild here. You get the picture.)
Anyway, before this whole piece devolves into a “Welcome to the Unfiltered Mind of Ben Bruster” session, I digress.
I would be lying if I told you that, immediately, I felt anything but hurt and anger after hearing myself described as “an abomination.” C’mon bro! It’s 2021, yet you’re acting like it’s 2001. Nevertheless, hearing this also made the smart ass in me laugh. Abomination, really?! Did you scroll through you’re an online thesaurus to find an antiquated synonym for “wrongdoing?” (Might I suggest that you try using “anathema, plague, or torment,” while you’re at it?) His claims of homosexuality being an abomination were also dampened by the image of homosexuality being jokingly represented by the “Abominable Snowman” from the 1964 Christmas classic, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Needless to say, the last image is more a product of my hyperactive mind and my dry humor than it was of what his actual claims were trying to suggest: that I am a sin, that God does not love me or approve of my “choices.”
As I’m sure anyone can imagine, his claims did not fall on idle ears. After all, how would you feel if someone called you a sin and didn’t even have the stones to say it to your face? This person—we’ll call him “Ted”—lifted old timey Judeo-Christian rhetoric and obscure Leviticus passages to try to explain his righteousness and superiority and, unbeknownst to him, my lack thereof. Ted’s argument was annoyingly unoriginal—an argument that I, a Midwestern-bred pastor’s kid, who was raised in the church, have heard a thousand times over from the fringes of my own church and the pulpits of others. At least if you’re going to preach some variation of “God hates fags,” be a little more creative with it.
In fact, here’s a thought: Why not be ironic and write it out, letter by letter, with 12 PRIDE-colored cupcakes? At least I’d have the cupcakes then…
Luckily, I brushed Ted’s actions off with relative ease. After all, my relationship with him meant nothing. He was just someone I met once, years ago, at a bonfire. So why should I give a damn what he thinks?! In fact, I didn’t and don’t. I pressed the “unfriend” button, and after a couple hours of mostly internal, pissed-off ranting I moved on with my Friday night.
Moving on, of course, isn’t always so simple or painless. It’s deeply hurtful to be invalidated or cut down—your identity mocked and your challenges minimized, albeit in both subtle and not so subtle ways. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out, though. Plus, it shouldn’t have to be my burden to shoulder other people’s disrespect with impunity. Nah…fuck that! No way, José.
Empathy Is Key
It would be one thing if people like Ted were rare, but sadly they’re not. Even in 2021, our world is filled with too many Teds—people who are exclusionary and discriminatory, people who place their ideologies upon those they don’t personally know, much less understand. Worse, these people mean more to us than Ted ever meant to me. They’re our parents, pastors, teachers, coaches, colleagues, and supposed friends. They’re often people who, whether they know if or not, shape or even determine our livelihoods in key ways. They’re people who say they support us in one breath, only to turn their backs and insert the knife in the next.
As an until-now-closeted person, I’ve felt between a rock and a hard place every single time a situation like this arises. I’ve felt unable to speak up and address homophobic faux pas that people—most of whom I believe are good-willing—commit all the damn time. Chiefly, I can’t tell you how common it is for someone to put me, a bisexual man, into a box and assume I’m straight, therefore perpetuating the all-too-familiar idea that I can only embody parts of myself to be accepted, enough, or loved by others. This phenomenon is known as “heteronormativity,” and sadly, it’s American society’s default setting.
While some of you who are reading this will balk at my suggestion that these behaviors are anything but hurtful, they are and you will have to take my word for it. I guarantee that if you don’t experience this, then you simply don’t know. Maybe this loose analogy will help you understand, though.
It’s like getting a papercut. Yeah—sure. At face value, the whole occurrence is annoying and maybe a little unpleasant. But now imagine receiving an unending stream of those papercuts, day in and day out, year after year.
Hurtful, right? You betcha…
Neuroscience has elaborated on this phenomenon, showing that people who experience chronic pain also have lower thresholds for pain. And though people commonly view pain as a physical phenomenon, anyone who has experienced some sort of trauma, loss, or mental health condition can tell you otherwise. Emotional pain is real and can hurt like none other. (Emotional pain can surely assume physical qualities, too, but’s that’s beside the point.)
I tell you all of this because your words and actions truly matter, even when they may seem insignificant or innocuous to you. Even if what you say or do may not seem offensive—and with all earnestness and honesty you believe you did nothing wrong—they very well could still hurt someone.
And sure…Maybe to you that person is being “oversensitive”—whatever the hell that means. But why not try affording them the benefit of the doubt first? Maybe what you just said or did directly echoes the negative self-talk that person has worked years to combat? Or the hurtful lies people told them to believe about themselves? Or the trauma they have worked to heal from? You don’t know. Similarly, maybe your actions directly counter the positive self-talk that same person has recently begun to practice? Again, you don’t know…
So be kind. It’s not about you!
It also serves to remind you, the reader, that I say all of this as a bisexual [Cis] white man. If I were transgender, I would have to deal with the fundamentally more hurtful practices known as “misgendering” and “dead naming,”—referring to someone by the wrong gender and their birth name, respectively. But since I’m not transgender, I don’t know this pain personally, though I can empathize with it. And I hope you can too, if you don’t already.
After all, can you, someone who is, statistically-speaking probably a cis-gender person (a person whose gender identity aligns with the one I was assigned at birth) imagine how goddamn annoying it would be if someone called you by Chuck everyday if your name was Rachel? Lacking years of transphobic baggage and hurt, you’d think, “What the fuck?! Why won’t this person just call me by the right name? It’s not hard, even if you don’t understand me.”
Again, empathy is key. Treat people, including [and especially] those you don’t know or understand, with dignity and kindness. Period. Please don’t be the asshole who tries to push the limit of what you can say, or do, if it comes at someone else’s expense. But, if you want to passionately discuss important yet controversial issues—the likes of whether pineapple belongs on pizza—I’m all ears.
And this brings me to my next point…
The Personal is the political
Given how polar we have become as a country, I really haven’t wanted to focus on politics in this piece. After all, that’s not the point. It’s about me. It’s about who and what I represent. That said, it would be annoyingly disingenuous and out-of-place to avoid political discussion entirely. Because, as I learn time and time again: the personal is the political. And though I hate to reduce it to this, voting is an important way of showing or withholding love for your neighbor, myself included. Therefore, when you enter the ballot box each November, please think about people like me: people whose rights hang in the balance as you shade in those little ovals.
Over the past 13 years, I’ve been proud to witness our country make great strides towards equity for LGBTQ people—namely, in 2015, when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of equal marriage. Nevertheless, I have also become painfully aware of how much work still needs to be done. In 2021, most American places still aren’t designed to welcome everyone—to welcome me. Rigid cultural norms prevent many LGBTQ people from just expressing themselves without fear of judgement or retribution. Or, in the rare occasions when LGBTQ people are “allowed to be themselves,” self-expression is often limited to very specific public spaces, which are commonly mediated with drugs and alcohol (e.g., bars, night clubs, various performing arts venues, and select stores. This, by the way, is one of the main reasons why LGBTQ people experience higher rates of addiction than straight, cis-gendered people.)
Simultaneously, society often limits LGBTQ people’s expressions of sexual identity to popular stereotypes. Many people imagine all gay men to be like other gay men, lesbian women to be like other lesbian women, so on and so forth. The thinking has it that all gay men are effeminate, flamboyant, and love “girly” colors, etc., etc. [Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. We’ve all heard these stereotyped before.] This, of course—as my parents were startled to learn—isn’t true! Or, as the comedian Hannah Gadspy so brilliantly quipped, “I don’t think I’m very good at gay.” People are complex. Everyone’s different! So, please remember this next time you want to make assumptions about people you don’t know. LGBTQ or not, we’re all unique.
In addition to many social challenges, LGBTQ people experience legal hardships, too. Laws established at every jurisdictional level strip LGBTQ people of their constitutional rights and liberties, if these civil rights and liberties were even granted in the first place. These laws give jurisdictions—states, mainly—the power to allow and disallow its citizens from, among other things: hiring, firing, marrying, and educating LGBTQ people.
Holy shit. You’re right to cringe and feel uncomfortable about this…
Despite this, it is frustrating how many Americans believe that homophobia is over—solved. In fact, I’ve recently become aware of this belief amongst some of my good friends, all of whom are progressives. And though their beliefs are well-intentioned, they can sometimes feel obtuse and overly matter-of-fact, as if they could occur around any workplace water cooler. Their remarks often look something like this, though much less dramatic:
Gay people can marry each other. Our town has a pride parade. I just really don’t think homophobia is much of a problem any more. Heck, it’s 2021…Let’s move on, Sheila. I’ve got shit to do. (It’s Walking Taco Tuesday!)
Sadly, homophobia is not solved in the U.S. Hate still runs deep. After all, in America, homophobia is our default setting—a setting that, I surmise, will take lifetimes of intentional action to productively counteract.
Thus, I hurt…
…I hurt for me and those like me. But I also hurt for those who cannot understand me and for those who don’t love me. Or, as Jesus commanded, for those who don’t love their neighbors as themselves.
And though you, the person I am talking to, might not understand this pain, I ask you to consider how I feel…how your children may feel…or, how your grandchildren may feel…if their fundamental human rights (such as their rights to marry or maintain employment) were continuously yet unpredictably threatened and encroached.
Also, imagine how you may feel if your bodies were endangered by people claimed they love and support you, but who didn’t honor your existence. Needless to say, I imagine you would feel pretty angry, hurt, and lied to. You might feel that your very existence flies in the face of your country’s founding ethic, a proposition that proudly states, “All men [read: people] are created equal.”
Ignorance: The Root Of Most Hatred
This same living document, I might add, also promises each individual “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Yeah, yeah, yeah. But does it really?!
Of course, the answer depends on who you ask. More precisely, the answer doesn’t rest in the document itself but in its practitioners, those who chose to uphold or withhold its propositions, its liberties afforded. After years of studying this phenomenon, I recognize that people’s answers to this “But does it really?” question vary according to whether they attempt to separate the personal from the political. Put another way, these answers vary according to those who treat people as representations of social constructs (such as race, gender, sexual orientation), instead of what they are: perfectly imperfect humans.
Far too many people—Americans, in this case—maintain the convenient idea that their ideologies, their religion and politics, do not affect those around them. (“These are just my opinions. Can’t I have my opinions? Other people have their opinions, too!”) These American blend aspects of their religion and their politics as they try to explain, albeit poorly, why certain groups of people deserve basic human right and why others do not. (Yep, this is what it boils down to.) In doing so, they invariably produce some prefabricated explanation, describing how their actions uphold the teachings of Jesus, the wisdom of Abraham Lincoln, the providence of the Founding Fathers, and the democratic liberties outlined in the U.S. Constitution.
Frankly, it’s nauseating how many explanations I’ve heard like this. Yet, when challenged to explain these positions further, or at all, these same people rarely respond with the same copy-and-pasted aplomb. What was once a conversation, often devolves into a monologue on the following:
- Why they’re right
- Why they can believe anything I want to
- “And, by God, how could you even suggest that my beliefs harm other people? I’m just upholding what Christianity and America stand for.”
Okay. Hold it right there. I’m not even going to respond to these propositions…I’m just going to copy and paste this picture of an over-smiley, albeit laughing, and somewhat creepy 70’s Jesus here, and we’ll call it kosher. (Can we also acknowledge that Jesus has had some nice dental work done since we last saw him? I didn’t realize that fluoride rinse and whitening strips existed 2,000 years ago.)
MY Mental Health
Despite my many concerns regarding homophobia in the United States, there probably has never been a better time to be queer in America.
Still, life can be hard. Having lived in Conservative Christian communities for much of my life, as I do now, I have seldom felt, or feel, like I have the space to be unapologetically and authentically me. And again, if you haven’t experienced this, then you wouldn’t know. However, if you have found yourself paranoid about the pitch of your voice, the color of your shirt, about which past times you most enjoy, musical artists you listened too, or—if you are a man—your sensitivity, then maybe you do.
Maybe you also ‘manned up’ when your “friends” and peers called you a “fag” or “homo” and cast jokes about your sexuality or masculinity? Or, maybe you had the courage to say “fuck it,” and, just did you?
Either way, you must know that many LGBTQ people navigate what can seem like endless mental health challenges—among them: anxiety, depression, addiction, self-harm, and suicidal ideation. To give you an example of this, consider my body’s response over the past month and a half of me writing this piece:
Recently, my body has become so overwhelmed by this anxiety—this fear that I will out myself without telling my whole story—that, if a free moment arises, writing these words is all I can manage to do, if I can even do that. To be sure, I know this anxiety is irrational, because I am writing a motherfucking manifesto to do the very thing that scares the shit out of me: to come out. Nevertheless, I know this is because I have become conditioned to feel this way, to feel that my entire future hinges upon the single utterance of “I am bi.”
As I write this piece, I worry about how these words will negatively affect future job opportunities, friendships, and romantic relationships, namely those with women. Yet I know that I must say them…for my sanity at least.
Gosh, can you imagine having all this shit on your mind, non-stop, for at least a dozen years? I can. No wonder I’ve struggled with depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions in the ways I have. (That said, I’m super proud of how well I’ve managed through all the adversity.)
A Conversation with my friend luanne
By now, if you aren’t convinced about the momentous challenges and inequities of LGBTQ life in America, then I’m not sure what to tell you. If you still doubt this fact, however, then please consider this graph from PESI, an online mental health resource.
Read it once. Then read it again…And then again. And then again…. Nearly 43 percent of LGBTQ youth “seriously consider suicide.” That’s almost half (though, honestly, I’m surprised it’s not higher). Worse, LGBTQ youth face substantially 300-500 percent more suicidal ideation and suicide attempts than non-LGBTQ youth. Good Lord.
Now, just take a minute to let this settle in. As a decent person, these numbers should scare the hell out of you! And if they do, thankfully, there’s hope. (But, if not, then so be it.) When you create safe spaces, spaces where everyone truly feels welcome to be their authentic selves, you will help save lives. Plain and simple. You will probably never know it, but it still will be true. Therefore, it’s always good to consider the question, “Who’s welcome here?” Then, if you honestly want to improve the answer to your question—which I hope you strive to accomplish—then do something about it! Start by truly listening to concerns from the LGBTQ people in your lives.
Unfortunately, LGBTQ youth suicide statistics don’t surprise me one iota. In all seriousness, I’ve spent over half my life (13 years, by my count) living with the intrusive thought that, “It would be better to be straight and dead, than alive and not.” At the lowest of times, slashing my wrists or putting a bullet through my brain has seemed like a better option than living outside the closet. And though this might sound hyperbolic to some of you, the reader, I promise you it’s not. Again, I cannot stress how dire an issue this LGBTQ suicide is. (Side note: I wish I could somehow make a joke about this, as I often try to do with dark or difficult subject matter, but obviously I can’t—or, rather, I won’t.)
As such, for so long I’ve felt caught between two really bad options: 1.) To continue to hide parts of me, practice self-hatred, and not achieve the happiness and success I deserve, or 2.) To out myself and risk, well, seemingly everything, but give myself what felt like a slim possibility of achieving personal and professional success, self-love, and true happiness. Thus, when my friend Luanne expressed her horror over a 13-year-old trans boy’s multiple [and thankfully, unsuccessful] suicide attempts, I feigned shock. “Gee, that’s horrible.” I probably said. “I can’t believe it.” None of this surprised me, though. But I wish I didn’t have to know this fact so intimately.
Like many LGBTQ folk, I majorly struggle with internalized homophobia: self-hatred for not being straight. I’d even go as far to say that, on the worst of days, I can hate myself more than you could ever hate me—though, surely your words and actions can negatively affect my sense of worth.
And again, this is why your words and actions matter. It’s not about you…
Despite writing this piece, even, I still experience internalized homophobia often. I feel shame. I feel that I am an unworthy. My mind becomes constrained in the belief that I am a sin in need of being saved—or “fixed,” as proponents of conversion therapy would put it…
Hate Others. Hate Yourself
By the way, in case you are not aware, conversion therapy is the cruel pseudoscientific practice of trying to “convert” queer people into straight people with the aid of drugs, porn, and psychological manipulation. Also, it doesn’t work. And since it doesn’t work, I now imagine conversion therapy supporters having ironically gay experiences together. For me, it isn’t hard to imagine a group of middle-aged, sexually-frustrated, ostensibly straight, church-going men going ham on such an event. I imagine their checklist for a perfect weekend would probably include:
√ Socially-awkward sleepovers
√ No wives allowed!
√ Hours of watching dreadfully unrealistic and vengeful porn
√ A small wheelbarrow of Viagra. Thankfully, Jim has us covered here.
√ 100 boxes of Puffs Plus – Not the regular Kleenexes
√ Fruit snacks. Dale has agreed to bring the good ones this time.
√ And a little coke…for good measure
Honestly, it’s kind of funny to think about it. Leave it to the homophobes to do something so god damn gay. No surprise, closeted gay [Evangelical] men have been some of conversion therapy’s most vocal supporters. A quick internet search shows this, too. But alas, I digress.
So far, I have spoken broadly about the challenges of LGBTQ life in America, but I haven’t talked enough about me and my identity. I haven’t addressed the fact that I am writing this piece, in part, to help people like me—people don’t feel like they exist within our society’s binary social constructs (black vs. white, gay vs. straight, etc.) Put succinctly, I am writing this piece to be the person I always needed when I was a child and teen, but never had. I hope I can show others, especially boys and young men, that there are others like them: good people, successful people. Because right now, I know of 4-5 times as many bisexual women than I do men. And this is a huge problem.
But first, before I continue on, let’s do a quick riddle. Who’s attracted to both men and women and is often accepted by neither?
Yep! You guessed it: it’s bisexual people.
A Bisexual’s Perspective
I am probably offering many of you who are reading this a perspective on something you know little to nothing about. After all, the “B” in LGBTQ (Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender-Queer/Questioning) doesn’t get talked about a whole lot, and there are multiple reasons for this.
Chiefly, even today, many people, including members of the LGBTQ community, don’t believe bisexuality is real. (And hell, if some gay people don’t even believe in bisexuality, then how could straight people?!) Unfortunately, media sources have all too regularly mocked bisexuality’s existence. In turn, American media has propagated four main lies about bisexuality that have all become deep-rooted in Americans’ popular understanding of bisexuality. These lies include:
- Bisexuality is just a phase. It doesn’t actually exist.
- Bisexual people are actually gays and lesbians who are too afraid to pick a side.
- Bisexual people are hypersexual deviants and cannot be in committed relationships with anyone.
- Bisexual people cannot have platonic relationships with men or women (Artavia).
Do these sound familiar?! They do to me.
Collectively, these lies comprise “biphobia.” This phenomenon underscores our society’s die-hard commitment to viewing human sexuality as a simple, black-and-white construct. Even in 2021, many people still seem to understand others as being either gay or straight: those are the two options. Sexuality is binary. Sexuality doesn’t exist on a spectrum, they firmly maintain….
Except they’re wrong. It does. What’s worse, highly reputable scientific studies have pointed to this very conclusion for the past 60-70 years. Until quite recently, however, the broader American scientific community chose ignore these studies’ results.
In Michael Castleman’s 2016 Psychology Today article, “The Controversy Over Bisexuality,” he writes about the state of biphobia in America. “In the U.S., homophobia has become increasingly culturally unacceptable, yet ‘biphobia’ is alive and well. With further analysis, Castleman cited a “2013 University of Pittsburgh study,” which, “showed that many straight and gay people reacted negatively to bisexuality with 15% of straight men insisting that bisexuality doesn’t exist. Compared with heterosexuals, lesbians and gay men were less prejudiced against bisexuality, but still, many showed little sympathy for swinging both ways.”
Honestly, the 2013 University of Pittsburgh study’s result shocked me. This study identified the prevalence of biphobia, in United States today, amongst straight men today to be only 15 percent. Based on my 25+ years of experiences, though—including my cross-country travels and my time living in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and South Dakota—these numbers seem remarkably low. To be sure, research on bisexuality is surprising scant—way more so than on [forgive me] homosexuality or lesbianism. After all, it wasn’t until last July—yes, July 2020—that the National Academy of Sciences finally accepted the existence of bisexuality (Ibid). Needless to say, if scientists just formally accepted bisexuality, then non-science-minded lay people probably have a long way to go. (Exhibit A: [cough], [cough]…COVID-19).
Just Pick a Side!
All said, I’ve spent most of my life wondering, “Who the heck am I?” And at the worst of times, I’ve haven’t even asked “Who?” Rather, I’ve asked “What?”—as if I were a member of a 19th century circus or freak show, and my value hinged upon one peculiar thing: my sexual identity.
Of course, I’ve wondered other things, too. Namely, is this just a phase? Am I actually straight? Or, am I actually gay? And how will I even know one way or the other, especially since toxic American masculinity doesn’t allow males to experiment with their sexualities in the same way that American females are more often allowed to? (To be sure, being a bisexual woman comes with its own unique challenges. But I’m hardly qualified to speak about them.) After all, national narratives regarding male sexuality have echoed what I’ve long heard: you can either be straight or gay. Yes, those are the options. But if you experiment with your sexuality, then, according to my teenage male peers’ admonitions at least, you would “lose your man card.” But, no worries! You can have a bromance…No homo.
Further analysis by my male peers would have looked something like this: “Guys can’t be bisexual. Only women can, and it’s really only okay if it’s after too much wine…..Or, if it’s a feature on Pornhub…..Because, dude, if that’s the case…well, then it’s hot!! I love that shit.”
The Road To Here
Due to all of my outside influences, and well, to just being young and trying to figure my life out, I remained completely closeted through my school years: 5th grade through senior year of college. My reasons for this were fourfold.
- First, I didn’t know. My sexual identity has taken a long time to figure out, and I’m still on this journey, though this can be said for most people.
- Second, I didn’t truly understand what bisexuality was. From my experiences, being bisexual can feel like being straight, gay, both straight and gay, and neither straight nor gay simultaneously or at differing times. It’s a fluid thing. As such, I have commonly felt group-less, like a red-headed stepchild, that I am too gay for straight people and too straight for gay people. (I know that must sound confusing, so imagine how I felt and feel).
- Third, I didn’t even begin to consider bisexuality as an “option” for me until less than two years ago, more than a year after I graduated college. Given our society’s binary paradigm, I always figured that I’d have to pick between men or women. Yet, with my self-hatred on blast, I also knew that there really wasn’t a decision to be made—not a good one at least…
Well, that’s not entirely true. I am glad I decided to stay alive and finally put myself first. But sticking to the status quo also sucked in some unimaginable ways. It was suffocating.
- And finally, once I began to consider the possibility of being bi and outing myself, I then felt compelled to think through as many of the details as I could first. How is this going to unfold for me? I feared that if I were going to take this massive leap into the unknown, then at least I should become educated first. More than anything, though, I’ve need to muster up the immense courage to take this step.
Thus, in case it’s not clear already: sexual identity isn’t a choice. (After all, if sexual identity was a choice, then why the fuck would anyone chose the harder road?)
But I’m so glad that I’m making this choice—the choice to be open and honest, to be authentically me for the first time. I’m giving myself the opportunity to achieve inner peace and love. The chance to begin to feel at home in my own mind and body.
“I’ve Got A Bone To Pick” (Feat. Kendrick Lamar)
Despite all of my work of self-acceptance recently, I still have a long way to go and need plenty of help bearing my crosses. (You’re welcome!) Alas, if you’ve picked up on my not-so-subtle references so far, then you can probably see where this is going.
American Christianity has powered my internalized homophobia more than any other force. In fact, when I started writing this piece in my head, in early March, on my long drives to and from work, I originally imagined that this piece would chronicle my complicated relationship with the church. I surely didn’t plan on outing myself in writing. Thanks to my old college friend, Sara Hovren, these words are now written down. Sara encouraged me “to stir the pot…[because] someone’s gotta do it.” Indeed. She was right, though she had no clue what I planned to write about.
Straying from the Cross
Even though I’ve spent the majority of my life as a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA), a church I love, which is by many estimates one of the most socially progressive American Christian denominations, the church has aided and abetted my homophobia since day one. The church—more specifically, the broad base of American Christianity, which includes the ELCA—has misappropriated words from the Bible to not only suggest that I am lesser, but that I deserve lesser treatment and fewer rights. The Church has allowed and even supported its congregants, who through their actions, took the name of the Lord in vein, as they claimed to welcome all but only welcomed some, or as they cast hate at their neighbors. They’ve done all of this while obsessively memorizing Bible verses enough to surely know that:
“The greatest of these is love.”(1 Corinthians 13:13, NIV)
“Whatever you did for one of the least of these…you did to me.”(Matthew 25: 40, NIV)
Or, if one denomination, or church, or group, or person has not done this, then they have stood by, complicit, and allowed other so-called Christians to use these hateful words or commit these hateful acts against others—against me and against people like me.
Their support of LGBTQ people has been rare: few and far between, at least when and where it really counted. Sure, I love participating in small group discussion and community-focused volunteer events. But what does say about your church when pastors intentionally dance around difficult yet important topics from the pulpit? What does it mean when pastors do this to avoid offending some members and losing their precious tithes, but they do it at the expense of their faith—the expense of who Jesus really was, and of who those same practitioners wholeheartedly claim Jesus to be?
Meanwhile, these same Christians have tirelessly bemoaned declining church memberships and pointed to lack of faith and the secularization of American society as the main culprits. Instead of addressing their own roles in their church’s demise—in this case, their unwillingness to practice radical love as Jesus did—these Christian have so often blamed the continuously vulnerable, scapegoated peoples (LGBTQ people, Muslims, Black people etc.). In doing so, these Christians have continually hollowed out their faith, reducing to bombast and hypocrisy, all in the name of “Christian values.” (No surprise, when I hear that someone is “Christian” these days, it means little. Or, if it means something, it probably isn’t a good thing. In more ways than one, it feels a lot like hearing the refrain, “I’m a good person.” Okay—sure. But if you feel forced to say it, are you?)
Additionally, these same Christians have often had the gall to claim their superiority over other Christians on account of memorizing more liturgies, attending church services more frequently, or some shit like that…
As if it was even about that, though. Jesus, the man you claim to worship, was a radical. He didn’t care about any of that, at least not in the obsessive ways some Christians do today! He hung out with prostitutes, lepers, and poor people and called them friends. He practiced faith, not religion. He believed in doing rather than saying: loving instead of preaching. He believed that true growth and love occurred in the presence of diversity and un-comfortability—which, frankly, is to say: when his followers embodied the antitheses of what Christianity has become in 21st Century America (i.e., a largely straight, white persons’ social club.)
Needless to say, I believe the broad base of Christianity in America has drifted from what Jesus imagined. I see more rules than love; judgement than compassion; and comfortability than vulnerability. Although some of the kindest, most wholehearted people I know are Christians, some of the most exclusionary, judgmental, hypocritical, and hateful people are, too. And sadly, the loudest messages often have a strong tendency to carry the day. Thus, when I see a cross these days, I more commonly think of those who remain complicit as others burn crosses, literally or figurately, than I do of He who died on the cross.
Nevertheless, [and because I love subtle transitions!], I still believe in Christianity’s powerful healing abilities. Deep down, some part of me holds on to the crazy belief that faith can heal in ways that other forces can’t. Even if I haven’t seen this practiced often enough, I know it can be so. Because, as the badass pastor and author Nadia Bolz-Weber reminds us, “In the Jesus business, community is always a part of the healing. Even though community is never perfect.” Dialectics are wild. I’ve witnessed the same faith used to justify exclusion and inclusion; hatred and love.
To be sure, though, I certainly don’t believe that LGBTQ people—or anyone, for that matter—owe Christians forgiveness for the hurt they’ve caused. Some people will never get on board with the whole Jesus thing, and you need to accept that fact at the gate. (It’s okay! Love them anyways.) Put your money where your mouth is. Put your faith to the test through your acts, not your words.
Christians, living your faith begins now.
Okay. Let’s breath for a minute….
…We’ve been on quite the journey over the past 7,000 words.
How should I finish this piece?? No, seriously—I’m legitimately asking!! I started physically writing this piece on May 5, and it is now June 26. Fifty-two days have passed, and I feel exhausted in every way imaginable—emotionally, spiritually, physically, mentally, etc. Nevertheless, I feel tremendously proud of my hard work.
I originally predicted that this piece would unfold in a Kerouac-esque writing bender, fueled by plenty of Adderall and caffeine, though, in many ways, I couldn’t have been more wrong. This writing required unprecedented patience on my part: the faith that my words would be there tomorrow, even though I wanted to say them then. Because, after more than half a lifetime of waiting, I was tired of waiting. Yet, I waited some more: again, 52 days.
Unlike any other piece I’ve written, this piece intentionally does not have a thesis. I essentially started this work by saying, “I’m gonna tell you a bunch of stuff I’ve always want to say….And yep, that’s how I began writing and thinking. Thinking and writing. Because writing is thinking.
As such, the words you are reading are only the beginning. This is a rough draft of a larger story—my story. After spending most of my life stifling these words, I have a lot to say and don’t plan on holding back. Because I know these words must be said. And if others won’t say them, then I must.
Even though I’ve discussed many things in this space, I’ve left many more things undiscussed, including, but not limited to, how my life has been shaped by:
- Having a pastor as a father
- The events of Fall 2019, when I realized the old me needed to die so that the new one could be born from the ashes.
Perhaps these things will just have to go in my memoir someday, along with the million and one other things I want to talk about? [Likely.]
For now, it’ll suffice to say that I’ve said what I always wanted to say.
In doing so, I hope I’ve acknowledged that we’re all unique. This is my story—not the story of every bisexual person; bisexual cis-gender, American man; LGBTQ person, etc. Nevertheless, many truths you may glean from my story will be applicable to your interactions and understanding of others. (Ahh…dialectics. Don’t you love them?)
By sharing my story, I hope I have shed some light on common experiences that often are ridiculed or altogether absent from public discourse. Growing up, I didn’t have role models or mentors whose lives looked like mine, whose lives were complex and messy in the intersectional ways mine was. Thus, in the humblest way possible, I hope my story can help those who feel alone—those who feel that they do not have anyone else’s life to look to as a guide…Because I know that feeling, and it is extremely lonely and painful as hell.
What’s worse, when the world around you doesn’t reflect you, it’s easy to believe that you are wrong: less-important, a mistake, a sin.
But again, none of this is true!
Although you may have grown up in a small world—a world constrained by dogma, judgement, and the feeble imaginations of those around you—it doesn’t mean that you have to stay there. In fact, you shouldn’t.
Whether you are an LGBTQ person or a LGBTQ ally, I hope you have the imagination to view your world as a world of abundance, instead of one of scarcity. The world is big enough for you and I. We can and should belong in community and harmony together. After all, we all do better when we all do better.
So, let us do better together. Let us be better together.
Thanks for reading! If you found my words meaningful, please share them. I’d really appreciate it.
Artavis, David. “Male Bisexuality IS Real, and This Study Finally Confirms It.” Pride, 22 July. 2020, https://www.pride.com/bisexual/2020/7/22/male-bisexuality-real-and-study-finally-confirms-it
Bolz-Weber. Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People. 2015. Quoted from Goodreads on June 25, 2021.
Castleman, Michael. “The Continuing Controversy Over Bisexuality.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 15 Mar. 2016, http://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/all-about-sex/201603/the-continuing-controversy-over-bisexuality.
Gadspy, Hannah. “Nanette.” Netflix. 2018.