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Sunday, April 09, 2006

Coming Out as a Bisexual Woman When You're Dating a Man

I'm certainly not the only person in the world to have thoughts on this problem, but in the spirit of discussing issues that junior faculty face, as well as having a meta-conversation, here goes:   Very few of my colleagues or students know that I'm bisexual.  Is it because I believe in keeping my "private" life "private"?   Not at all.

 

The problem is that I do reference my personal life in casual conversation, and I have a boyfriend.   As a result, people around me tend to assume that I'm hetero.  As an extension, many tend to assume that I'm straight: not just hetero, but planning to get married, have children, raise them in a particular way, etc.   (For anyone confused by this, I use "queer" to mean those who are nonconformist with respect to the realms of sexual activity, family structure, and gender performance.   I use "straight" to mean those who are conformist in these realms.  Thus, straight/queer does not map precisely onto hetero/lgb.) If I want to disabuse anyone of the notion that I'm hetero, I must, apropos of nothing at all, advertise my sexual orientation, which I am sure most people would deem to be at best self-important and irrelevant, at worst inappropriate and "too personal."

 

I could avoid mentioning my boyfriend, but that's not only misleading, I think it's the wrong way to treat someone you care for. The option of calling him my "partner" is one I tried briefly, but it grates on me: The gender of my boyfriend isn't universally irrelevant: It's just not a reason to presume I'm hetero. In any case, many people would just assume I am a lesbian, and if they met my boyfriend, revert to assuming I'm hetero. So, I call my boyfriend my boyfriend, and allow others to assume I am hetero, and straight. But given the false distinction between inaction and action, this makes me feel as if I'm closeting myself.

 

On the other hand, I never feel as if I can be very indignant about this. I chose to date a man, and we are currently monogamous, so at the end of the day, my life is a whole lot easier than it is for many lgb people. Thus, to proactively remind those around me that I'm bi feels, well, a little like posing.

 

Why does it matter for people to know that I'm bi?  Of course, nobody likes to spend years of their life fighting for queer rights, only to go in the closet. But it's not just personal irritation and vexation at stake. It is clear to me that my colleagues and students care, sometimes, about the facts that I am not white and am a woman. They have the good sense to know that racism, sexism, and even benign cultural differences produce a variety of experiences and perspectives that are often relevant and interesting. They would similarly care to know, I think, that I have been discriminated against and harassed because of my sexual orientation.

 

Even more importantly, I suspect that if they knew I'm bi, they would also be more likely to entertain the possibility that I'm queer in other ways, too (and that maybe some of the heterosexual people in the room are, too!).   The more we are reminded of the presence of queers in the room, the more likely we are to interrogate the numerous anti-queer assumptions pervading the law, such as the assumption that everyone wants to, or should, ape the model of the nuclear family.   (Bravo to co-bloggers Ethan, Dan, and Jennifer for doing their part.)

 

So, what are some creative ways, not just for professors, but for professionals more broadly, to negotiate this and other problems of heterosexism? I seem to have found my way, in the form of this post.

Posted by Gowri on April 9, 2006 at 12:38 AM in Deliberation and voices | Permalink

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