Happy Birthday to Me: How Writing a Book Helped Me Find Myself

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Happy birthday to…me. I’m bi. I’m coming out publicly today as an opportunity to fundraise for The Trevor Project a group that focuses on crisis intervention and suicide prevention for LGBTQ youth.

Every $1 we give funds 1 minute of time to phone and chat lines. I’m starting my day with a donation and this post.

For those who are cautious about where giving dollars go, the Trevor Project has earned 4 stars from Charity Navigator every year since 2011.

But wait a minute. Did you just say you are bi? 

Yes. Yes I did. You can read more about that, if you like…

The TL;DR Version

  • I’m new to naming myself this way, and how I got here is complicated. It includes religious experiences, a high school love, and writing a book. The longer version is below.
  • I’m not interested in claiming space that doesn’t belong to me (I’m married! And monogamous! I look cis het!), but I also know that quietness about this isn’t neutral or unobtrusive. It promotes bi invisibility.
  • I have spent the last several years making apologies and reparations for my participation in InterVarsity so that today could be a celebration.

Religion

I come from an Irish Catholic family. I “converted” to Protestantism in seventh grade and was part of an active evangelical youth group of one kind or another for most of my young adulthood. In college, I was a part of a Christian campus ministry, and when I graduated, I worked as a staff person for that organization for several years. It never occurred to me in that time to interrogate my sexuality—it simply wasn’t on my radar. I dismissed every feeling or experience I had that didn’t fit into the heterosexual box–I didn’t deny it, understand. I dismissed it. It didn’t exist. I was attracted to guys. Full stop.

And I knew the party line. In campus ministry, both as a student and as a staff, and later as a member of a solidly “evangelical” church, I was part of coding and enforcing it. Not only did we exclude LGBTQIA narratives from the story of faith, we actively rewrote those narratives as “mislead” by our culture. We believed same sex attraction was a disease or a disturbance in need of “healing” [this is the stuff I’ve been apologizing and making reparations for].

Then my husband and I got an infertility diagnosis.

In the evangelical world, one of the arguments about marriage equality is that marriage between people of the same sex is wrong because it cannot be “fruitful,” meaning they cannot biologically reproduce.

Neither could we.

Suddenly, I was the marginalized one in church. I was the one who needed to pray enough or believe enough or jump through enough hoops to be “cured.” Suddenly, I was the one people wanted to fix, since everyone else who had struggled with infertility had babies—see?

Then, almost twelve years ago, we adopted our eldest son. Holding him in the first few days of his life was the kind of miracle that nothing in my life had prepared me for. I turned to my husband and said, “If he’s gay, and if I have to choose between him and Jesus, I’m going to choose him.”

Luckily, that’s not the choice. Not at all. With therapy and love and other friends who’ve survived that particular brand of evangelicalism, I have slowly started to reclaim myself and my place in the world.

An Editor & My High School Crush

Then, several years ago, someone I love deeply came out as trans. She had her gender reassigned legally, and has since become an all-around smash-the-patriarchy badass (love to you, sister).

If she had been any other person in my life, her announcement and her transition would have been just another coming out story to celebrate. But she was the person I’d spent the better part of ten years in love with–in love-love-love-love-love with.

And she was a woman.

I wanted to understand her journey, so I took to the page. I wrote an entire novel about a character being in love with a person who transitions, and I ended it with the two of them as friends. Tidy. Tropey. Heteronormative.

Blind.

An editor asked me to revise the novel. She said the stakes weren’t high enough, the emotional center was out of whack. She wanted the protagonist out of her head in love with the character in transition.

I took the book apart and saw that I’d spent the entire novel protecting myself—through that protagonist—and as a result, the emotional center of the book was exactly what the editor had claimed: Out. Of. Whack.

I went back and revised. I wrote instead the story of a girl who figures out that she’s bi when the person she loves begins a gender transition. I wrote a kissing scene between the two of them that was so hot I still fan myself when I read it.

That gave me pause.

As I began more and more to put myself in my protagonist’s shoes, I started to realize that I’d been in love with a person in transition, too. Of course, I’d loved her when she was living as a guy [that’s her preferred way of describing it].

But just as much as I’d been in love with that him, I knew I’d also been in love with her. It was mystical. It made no sense. But I was sure of it.

The Earthquake Storyquake

Through the gift of “narrative transportation,” I got a new look at my own life. To myself, I posed the question, “Does that mean I’m bi?”

I felt this earth-shaking yes trembling out of me, one I immediately followed it with an intellectual no. How could I be? I’m married to a man. I’ve been attracted to the male of the species for a very long time.

But the yes was hard to ignore.

The longer I sat with it, the more I recognized I’ve been attracted to the female of the species for a very long time too.

I did all the secret things a person can do to figure myself out: I wrote in my journal. I went to the internet for shitty quizzes and a lot of self-doubt. I revisited my life, starting from childhood—all the confusing experiences and intense feelings. The physical longings. The “weird” relationships. The names people called me. The women I’d crushed on or fallen for or just plain wanted. I remembered “practice” kisses and “friendly” snuggling and hand holding and kissing.

I remembered the distaste and suspicion on my mother’s face whenever I got “too close” to a particular “kind” of girl. When I cut my hair. When I double-pierced my ears. She was always poking around, trying to find out what it “meant,” clearly believing it meant something, while my evangelicalism had made me oblivious to even the idea that it could mean anything.

On this side of my own story, it all seems hopelessly naïve. Willfully stupid. Maybe even deeply, darkly terrified. My friends tell me it’s “internalized homophobia,” and I’m coming around to seeing it that way. But on the other side—back before all of this happened—it simply never occurred to me. I needed my character’s story to unlock my own.

Now What?

After I sat with these feelings for a few months, I took my thoughts out into the open. I wasn’t calling myself bi—I was just saying, “Hey, you know, I’ve been attracted to both men and women for a long time.” It was no surprise to my husband. He started taking it for granted before I did. It was no surprise to my sister, either. She said I should “start flying the flag” ASAP.

But…what flag? Do I have a flag? I am happily married to the best person in the galaxy. Universe. Whatever. Monogamy and fidelity are the paths I’ve chosen, and they’re  fruitful paths for me. My life isn’t going to change in any meaningful way, no matter what I say about myself.

A few years ago, I talked with one straight friend and one gay friend about these questions. I started by saying I couldn’t be bi because I’d never had sex with a woman.

Right, they said.

Plus, everyone’s earliest kissing experiences are with the same sex, I said, right?

Wait, they said. What?

And everyone gets called “lesbo” at sleepovers, I said. Right?

No.

But surely everyone has those desperate crushes on slightly older girls in middle school and high school, I said. Right?

Um, No.

So not everyone has those weirdly exclusive female friendships, then? I said. The kind full of hand holding and snuggling and kissing?

No. They don’t.  

It was in sharing some of those experiences with my friends that I figured out they weren’t “everyone” experiences. They were my experiences. They were bisexual experiences. The longer I sat with my own story, the more memories and images came to the surface.

I continue to experience them unfurling.

Renovations

In the last five years or so, I’ve made a LOT of apologies–both formal and informal. I cannot undo the damage I did when I was part of the evangelical enforcements. But I can make sure I do good now.  I’ve begun annually donating to the LGBTQIA organization at my alma mater. I’ve become an outspoken ally to my LGBTQIA students.

Now I’m coming out. Becoming visible as a bi woman is for me, of course. But it’s also for the other girls like me out there, who can’t imagine themselves as who they are because they’ve never seen anyone like them. Girls who think that the alternative to being themselves is lying or death.

I’m keeping on with the therapy and the love and the sticking close to friends who get it.

…and meanwhile, I continue to write stories. Fiction, not memoir—no matter how much one particular plot point may (now) sound like my life. But in my stories, I’m centering girls. I’m centering bi and questioning narrators. I’m centering first loves and uncertainty and seeing the world with empathy and joy.

At this point in my life, it’s the best I can do; it’s the story I have to tell.

 

—-

[NB] “Narrative Transportation” is a term I learned from colleague and classmate Sherrie Lorance (@sherrielorance) in her lecture, “I’ll Take You There: Crafting Stories That Move Readers to a Place of Real-World Change” given at Vermont College of Fine Arts, January 2018.

 

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