When I was in high school, I met the first person I’d ever date. And I didn’t know it when I met her, but we would weave in and out of one another’s lives for the next three years. I would feel simultaneous joy and pain for every moment we were friends.
The first time I told a friend that I liked this girl (but still liked boys too), she frowned and said, “Bisexual? That’s not a thing. You’re gay or straight.” But I wasn’t, and even though I knew it deep down, I remember that I just smiled and moved on to a different topic.
I understood very little about sexuality, and all of the opinions that dominated my life came clouded with religious overtones. It was a time when “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the Defense of Marriage Act were heavy parts of the national conversation, and many of the people I went to school with were devout Catholics. My parents were faithful, but never evangelical, teaching me that above anything really to just treat others as you wished to be treated. “Love one another, for God is love.” They thought that the environment that gave my brother and I the best opportunity at getting into good colleges were the local Catholic schools. I attended those schools for 12 years. On the academic side, they were probably correct in their assumption. But there was a high price to pay for this education (beyond the tuition.)
Because of where I went to school, I got into trouble for holding my girlfriend’s hand or saying anything in our morality classes that implied that I didn’t consider homosexuality a sin. When we were “dating” (and I put it in quotations simply because it was such a gray area), I could tell very few of my friends, and never, EVER show so much as an iota of affection in front of the girl’s mother. If she ever knew, she’d have thrown her out of the house. I was well aware of where and when we could get away with letting it show that we cared about one another.
I still cringe sometimes when I consider how I treated this young woman, constantly vacillating between loving her and running away from her. At a time in my life when I wish I felt free to tell someone, “I don’t understand. There is no difference between my attraction to boys and my attraction to girls,” I felt that if I told anyone of authority, the only thing that could follow was anger, disappointment, or shame. Once a priest told me I’d be better off leading a life of celibacy than ever experimenting with homosexual relationships. I fled dating my girlfriend numerous times, often seeking easier or more “normal” relationships with guys. I figured that even if I was bisexual, life would just be easier if I presented and acted like a straight woman. I wanted more than anything to make my faith and my sexuality work together, but the mental gymnastics required were more than I could tolerate.
At one point though, I was tired of pretending all the time. I told my two of my best friends on summer swim team that I was bisexual, and they were revolted. That was a dagger in my heart. I will never, ever forget the loss I felt sitting between them that day, and I never told either of them how badly it wounded me. I’d not felt that sting of hatred since eighth grade, when I first read about young Matthew Shepard being beaten and left for dead tied to a fence in Laramie, Wyoming for the crime of flirting with a couple of heterosexual men.
When I moved to Boston for college, I met people of all backgrounds and found allies through campus GLBTQ organizations, PFLAG, clubs, and online support to understand that I identified most sincerely as pansexual. Some people really don’t like labels on their sexuality, and that’s fine, but for me it gave me a sense of ownership of my sexual identity. I didn’t have a preference of how a person presented, or what reproductive organs he or she had. I just knew I felt attracted and drawn to all kinds of different people.
And then one day I decided to just out myself casually. I was watching TV with a bunch of friends in my freshman year dormitory and we were talking about high school. At a point, I mentioned an ex-girlfriend and one of my friends said, “I didn’t know you were gay.”
“I’m not, I’m bisexual. Well, I guess pansexual is more accurate.”
“You just like everyone?”
I laughed at the remark, but suddenly I realized that this identity I’d felt ashamed of my whole life was actually an enormous gift. I couldn’t remember a time where I’d ever felt a preference toward men, women, or any other gender identity. I just felt drawn and attracted to certain people. It was revelatory—I kept trying to think back to a time when I felt differently, and I realized that this person always existed. There were never any barriers around gender. I felt lucky.
I was born this way.
The friends watching football with me that Sunday afternoon continued to watch the game with me as we moved on to complaining about finals together. Absolutely nothing changed. Nothing. No one treated me differently, and no one told me “I’ll pray for you,” or “God will help you find your way.”
I was free. Free of all of it. Even though I realized that there would always be people who didn’t like me because of my identity, I realized also how many MORE people didn’t care at all.
I could love anyone I wanted to love. And finally I really felt like I knew myself.
Many years later, I happily returned to a sense of spirituality through yoga and meditation, and am joyfully married to a man who has known and loved me for everything I am from day one. He is proud of me every single day, and has never asked me to hide my feelings or thoughts. He knew what yesterday’s Supreme Court decision meant to me, my family and friends in gay relationships and marriages, and all of those who have ever felt like their relationships were somehow second-class. After I taught my morning class yesterday, I received his text message that the United States of America had taken this massive step toward stripping this country of institutionalized discrimination. I fell to my knees and cried the moment the last student left the studio.
I thought of my littlest cousin, who is only one year old. She will grow up in a country where it has always been legal to marry the person you love, regardless of sex or gender. She will grow up in a country where, yes, there is still a great deal of work to be done toward equality, but her generation will have this foothold of marriage. She will know that in the eyes of the law, these relationships are every bit as beautiful, valid, and special as the marriages of heterosexual partners.
She will not go through high school with words like “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” being commonplace or rallying cries for a “Defense of Marriage Act.” She’ll have all the confusion, angst, and elation that every teenager goes through without that one added pressure. Her generation will have its own challenges to face, and the road to equality for all is a long and winding one, but for now I embrace this moment.
“I celebrate myself and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to YOU.”