Let me set the scene for you. Green Bay, Wisconsin, circa 1998. I’m downtown by the Fox River with my best friend Jason during the busiest weekend bar hours, sometime between 10 PM and bar close at 2:30 AM, though we were a few blocks removed from the main drag. If you would have been within a three block radius of our conversation, you would’ve suddenly heard my voice ring out:
“You’re queer? Oh my god – really? You’re queer? That’s SO cool!”
Thus was my reaction when best friend came out. My reaction was positive, loud, excited, and in absolutely no way what he had been expecting.
Why was I so enthusiastic that my best friend had just confided his deepest secret to me? Because the next words out of my mouth were “Me too!”
Not all of you know me, so let me give you a little bit of relevant background. I am a cisgender woman – cisgender means that I identify and present myself in a way that matches the sex listed on my birth certificate. I am happily married to a cisgender man. If you’ve spoken with me before, you likely made the assumption that I’m straight. Obviously, that assumption would be wrong.
So, how did I go from excitedly shouting “It’s so cool you’re queer! I am, too!” during the busy bustle of bar hopping to being on stage today?
I made that declaration as a single, 20ish woman with few cares in the world. As an adult, my first safe spaces were the gay bars. It didn’t matter how you dressed, how, or with whom, you danced, how you presented yourself, or who you loved. We were outcasts, but it didn’t matter when we were all together. Those bars were most authentic, accepting places I had experienced.
My sexuality was viewed as frivolous, not to be taken seriously. My Mom told me “If you’re ever with a woman, I don’t want to hear about it.” I didn’t even bother trying to say anything to my Dad. Boyfriends would tell me “You can’t be with another man, but it’s okay if you sleep with a woman.” I guess relationships with women weren’t real enough to count.
As time went on, most of my relationships were with men. Although attraction to men was part of my sexuality, I felt like a huge part of my identity was being erased. I started wondering if I belonged at the gay bars anymore, or if I was intruding on LGBT space. I didn’t know if I belonged at Pride – after all, I “passed” as straight, regardless of the fact that I didn’t identify as such. Even though I was brave enough to loudly declare my queerness years ago, I don’t know why it didn’t dawn on me that LGBT still included me, too.
I’ve recently become painfully aware that I am part of an invisible population, and being invisible is hard. I’m speaking out today both because I feel it’s necessary for me to live authentically, but because I’ve learned there are so many people who are in my position who feel similarly but for many reasons must remain silent. I know there are other bisexual, pansexual, queer (or otherwise identifying) people who feel alone, who feel like they don’t belong in queer spaces because they’re currently in opposite gender relationships. I’m here to tell you that YES – these spaces do belong to us, too. YES – we belong at Pride, at gay bars, and at spaces designated for the LGBT community. Our stories, feelings, and experiences matter too, regardless of our current or past relationships.
Don’t be afraid to read, listen to, watch, or pay attention to media by and about queer people. Stay connected to your friends in the LGBT community and spend time in queer spaces. Engage in activism, and speak when you can.
Feeling invisible now doesn’t mean we need to feel invisible forever.