An ex-serviceman, U of R grad and artist on being bisexual at Pride
LGBTQ individuals are living in a better time now than five, 10, or 20 years ago. Awareness and acceptance continue to grow every year. As a bisexual male in a committed hetero relationship, I am all too often aware of how far we still have to go, especially when people speak to me without realizing I am one of “them.”
This kind of talk most often occurs around the time of Pride events which have become a traditional celebration of this progress. When I was in the military, footage from a PRIDE Parade was shown on the shop and someone asked what “they had to be proud of.” He said that pride is being happy because you accomplished something and that being gay is not an accomplishment.
“Maybe they accomplished being themselves in public without being mocked or beaten,” I responded. He looked at me and asked, “if I was a fag or something.”
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was still in effect, but that’s besides the point. The exchange made me think that if I had answered, I probably would have said no, as I did not have pride in that part of who I was. It would be years later before I would come out, let alone see myself as a proud member of the LGBTQ community.
I wondered how other bisexuals made that same journey so I thought I would ask for some input.
I spoke with Shawn Smith, a 23-year-old recent graduate from a Richmond area university who is moving back home to Indiana and Jared Axelrod, a 36-year-old Author, Illustrator, and Puppeteer, about their experiences to compare with my 44 year journey.
The first time I ever told anyone I was bisexual was when I was 22. It was really just an admission to myself. I never thought about “coming out” as I never considered myself anything but straight, despite my interest in both sexes. Jared identified as bi in his teen years, but took on a gay identity in college “because of that late teen/twenties need to establish an identity.” He realized later more about his attractions and is a bi male happily married to bi female.
“I was scared that I was gay. I liked girls; I really did, but I had these other thoughts I had to hide,” described Smith, who grew up in a small town in Indiana and was unsure how his peers would react.
Axelrod’s friends and family all know about his sexuality, though he says people tend to forget because he is married to a woman. “You have to come out again about every six month or so,” he stated. Bisexual identity does not relay the same visual cues as a gay or lesbian couple. A hetero relationship can look “normal” even though heterosexuals may or may not be involved.
Shawn wore his hetero identity, as he was afraid of revealing his true self. “My friends would always make fun of anyone who acted in a way they thought was gay. It made you weaker and inferior in their eyes.”
I wore my hetero identity until I was 36, and even then I only shared my bisexuality with a small group of people. It is no longer something I feel I need to hide, as I do not believe it in any way changes what anyone already thinks about me, good or bad. The growing acceptance of the LGBTQ community in the mainstream helps quite a bit.
While I know gays, lesbians, and transgenders have “figures” who help spread understanding, I never considered that bisexuals had the same sort of representation. The closest thing I thought of as a bisexual in the public eye was the character Captain Jack Harkness from Doctor Who, a portrayal that helped my wife understand me and what it means to be bisexual.
Axelrod made me realize I was thinking far too small. He reminded me that “Alan Cumming, Grace Jones who made no apologies for anything, [Arizona Representative] Kristen Sinema, Frank Ocean, Rabbi Debra Kolodny, Margaret Cho, Alice Walker, and David Bowie” are all people who have worn their identities proudly and helped others see how we are not that different.
“Once more people realize same sex attractions do not mean you have to be any kind of label, just yourself,” Smith asserted.
People do like to label, which is why the idea of gender fluidity is confusing to some. Icons of all sexualities have shaken the beliefs of what that group is “supposed” to be. Bisexual icons challenge the idea of of what attraction itself is “supposed” to be. Axelrod believes “no one is all the way straight or all the way gay; I think there are times when you feel that way, but I don’t think that is something that follows you through your entire life.”
It is not a matter of being attracted to men and women (and definitely not all men and women) so much as being attracted to particular people you find attractive.
I will be at Virginia Pridefest again this year, Saturday, 9/24 at Browns Island, with my wife and daughter, celebrating with other people like me and different from me. Pride is an affirmation that I am okay. I may appear to meet societal conventions of a traditional relationship, but the person I am inside is also worth celebrating.
Every year I attend, I understand a little more what the “achievement” is and “what we have to be proud of,” the simple truth a small-minded coworker did not understand so long ago. We can not only be accepted, but accept ourselves as well.
Top illustration by Lohitha Kethu
In celebration of Pride month, Virginia Pride and the Richmond Business Alliance will kick off a party and fundraiser next week at local wine bar, C’est Le Vin. The RBA is making their third Thursday social a fundraiser for the upcoming Pride Festival on Brown’s Island which will commence on Saturday, Sept. 24. There will [...]September 6, 2016
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