What have we got to lose: Coming to terms with bisexuality
I’m a white man in my thirties, married, with two brilliant kids. I married my childhood sweetheart and lived a typical straight life. 18 months ago, my wife helped me come to terms with something I had repressed all of my life. I’m not straight at all. I am bisexual.
As a child, I was never a typical boy. I made friendships with and played mainly with girls. I rode horses. Lord, I listened to the Spice Girls (though I do like to point out that the Spice Girls were pretty universal in the 90s!). I still don’t even know the rules of football now. I was bullied. A lot. I was called “gay”, “girl” and persecuted for being different. I knew I wasn’t either of those things, but I also knew I didn’t fit the mold.
I remember having girlfriends from being very young and, despite becoming painfully shy during my early teens (those who did not know me back then will balk at that assertion, I’m sure, but it is true!), still had them as I grew up – far more so than many “straight” lads had. As a kid, I got on with girls because, emotionally, I could relate to them. Despite an emotionally distant father and an emotionally manipulative mother, I maintained my ability to relate to others, not suppress my own emotions, and to enjoy my own interests despite how others treated me. As I progressed through my teens, however, I began to develop coping strategies that led me to augment my own perception of myself.
Bisexuality was not considered a “thing” during my school years in the 90s. The world was becoming more accepting of LGBT+, but people were still only stereotyped into two camps, leaving me as an outsider inside my own head. At 16 I fell in love with a girl, and the rest is history. I couldn’t entertain the thought at the time, but I could have fallen in love with a boy. When my wife and I finally talked about this stuff candidly within a climate of “what have we got to lose”, I was terrified. I had rejected the idea of bisexuality decades ago, but here I was having my thoughts and feelings reflected back to me by the person I love most in this world, and realising the truth. Admitting the truth. In my thirties, married, raising children, and building a solid career. The world I knew, the person I thought I was – that I had invented to protect and conceal the real, weird, vulnerable me – was shattering. I was so lucky to have the amazing wife I do who was honest about how it impacted her and supported me through my own thoughts and feelings too.
Of course, “what have we got to lose” is a great way to liberate your honest streak. It was, however, a fallacy. In reality, there was everything to lose. Neither of us really knew how to navigate this revelation. What do you do with such a life-changing discovery, yet know you won’t “do” anything at all with it? I struggle with the term “bisexual” a little, I think because it contains the word “sex” – “straight” and “gay” orientations/identities do not (though I am, of course, aware that “homosexual” and “heterosexual” do, but they are not terms used frequently in common conversation – and I am personally aware that this can evoke a response that implies a world revolving around sex. I had no desire to change my marriage or lifestyle, but then I hit the wall of “Well, what do I do with this? Why have I even bothered talking about this when I’m married and don’t wish to change this?”. It took some tearful and wonderfully reassuring conversations with my wife, colleagues and friends that listened to me and understood, to be able to realise this was about identity, not sex.
My original thought was to write this blog to reflect on what it is like to come-out later in life than many others do. As an aside, I’m not a fan of the term “coming-out”. It feels like a confession, and my own perception of confessions are that they are typically an admission of something negative to someone in a position of trust. Sharing your identity with someone, anyone, should not be confession. Luckily, society appears to be moving towards not assuming an individual’s identity and just accepting who they are. We’re not there by a long shot, but that is my perception.
Moving back to the subject, I knew that my wife was hugely supportive of LGBT+ and particularly believed that you can “fall in love with anyone”. This was a solid foundation for the two of us to discuss the depths of my identity. But it was not easy. I felt a tremendous amount of guilt for having not acknowledged and reconciled this part of myself in such a way that meant I had concealed a whole part of myself from my wife. It took time and therapy for the two of us to begin to understand each other and ourselves again. I cannot over-state the benefit of both couples and individual therapy throughout this period. Telling friends was equally daunting. They doubtless encountered similar feelings of not knowing a significant part of who I was. I was particularly afraid of telling some of my male friends; I’ve always had quite a flirtatious and banterous relationship with male friends in my adult life, and I was now adamant that they would now see me in a different light and that part of the friendship would die. I needn’t have worried. I was accepted, and I felt so much closer to these friends. However, due to other experiences in my life, I have a tendency to tell myself any perceived issues (a late WhatsApp response, a dismissive email, a throwaway comment said in haste or preoccupation) are because someone has an issue with me. Something I’ve said, something I’ve done or haven’t done… something I am. The reason I’m mentioning this is that many of us do this, and the vast majority of the time we are wrong. People rarely judge us as harshly as we judge ourselves. If you learn to accept yourself and love yourself, you will realise that, generally, people love you because of everything you are, not despite some of the things you are. This subtle difference in language has enormous connotations emotionally.
I have finally started to feel congruent. It has taken months of acceptance, therapy and honesty to be able to reasonably casually and confidently drop into an appropriate conversation that I am, in fact, bisexual. I recently shared my “Spotify Unwrapped” playlist with a close friend as a way of poking fun at my taste in music. He laughed, and called it my “gaylist”, and we laughed together. I did not feel offended or persecuted by this comment – I loved it. I was able to embrace that comment as being a bit part of my identity, and that I was accepted and loved because of it, not just despite it. A tiny, insignificant action with an enormous impact. I have also just found the courage to tell someone I consider a close (male) friend that I have witnessed using homophobic language. I knew he was not homophobic, but he has never been in an environment where his language has been challenged – but perhaps I’ll save the detail of that story for another post. The journey is not over – breaking down the defence mechanisms I have built up over a lifetime to be able to survive a world I didn’t fit into is a long and arduous process. I’m not always happy, and I’m not always kind to myself. But I am beginning to realise that I have sought out and surrounded myself with the very best of people that have always known – if not always seen – the real me. And the love that those people have for the real me keeps me going on that journey, holding my head high as I go.
LGBT+ Staff group blog
Posts and articles from the Loughborough University LGBT+ staff group