By Stacey Long Simmons, Esq., Director of Public Policy & Government Affairs at the National LGBTQ Task Force
Last September, I attended the first ever White House Roundtable on bisexuality. Aside from the abysmal statistics about the prevalence of health disparities, discrimination and violence, I was most personally moved by hearing a speaker talk about the need to continually come out. Their words struck a chord and resonated with me because I too had the same experience every time I changed partners and they were the opposite gender of the person I’d been with most recently.
If I was in a relationship with a man, and it ended, my loved ones and associates appeared confused when next I dated a woman. If I was in a relationship with a woman, and it ended, and my next partner was a man, folks were truly baffled. No matter how many times I told them I was bisexual, they apparently just didn’t believe me. It was as if I’d challenged their conventional understanding of the world and they didn’t have any space between their ears to grasp the concept of bisexuality. I have to admit that sometimes when they’d ask the usual, “but I thought you were a lesbian/straight,” I’d be internally screaming at them, “I AM BISEXUAL!!! What part of that don’t you understand???” But of course I never do scream at them. (Just like I never scream at the well-intended white person who makes an ear curdling remark about black people or race.) I just calmly respond with my usual even-toned expressionless (and at times bemused) face, “I am bisexual. I am attracted to and have relationships with both men and women – but since I am in a monogamous relationship, that translates into only one gender at a time.”
But I wasn’t always so confident about openly identifying as bisexual. There were times when while dating a man, it was easier for me to be silent about my dating history with women. And when I was with women, it was easier to leave out the fact that men were part of my history as well. I thought I’d found my true self when I began referring to myself as a “lesbian-identified bisexual woman.” Aside from being way too long and cumbersome, it was also just a way to curry favor with the lesbian community. It was my preemptive strike against the inevitable questioning I had learned to endure. I knew that identifying as just bisexual meant risking that I could not be trusted. In fact, if I said it in just the right way, it was a way to lead with the word “lesbian” and mumble through the word “bisexual.” I told myself that I felt more at home in the lesbian community and that I felt more comfortable having relationships with women than with men but that wasn’t it. It was just my way of belonging in a world that was (and still is) quick to shun and isolate bisexual people.
But that was then and this is now. Today, I don’t feel defensive about my bisexual identity. Duality is my friend; bisexuality is as natural to me as the fact that I’m neither left handed nor right handed – I’m ambidextrous and there’s nothing wrong with being so. I’ve grown a lot over the years and with age has come not only wisdom but also compassion and patience. In June when I married the woman of my dreams, I was prepared for the countless people who by now have heard me say I’m bisexual and now are asking, “Since you’re married to a woman, you’re not bisexual anymore, right?” Like a merry-go-round, here we go again: I am still bisexual because I am attracted to men and women. I married a woman but I still identify as bisexual. I am in a monogamous relationship with a woman but that doesn’t mean I’m no longer bisexual.
The simple truth has liberated me from the clumsy long title that I’d used to cloak my true self within. What a tremendous gift to be able to celebrate and acknowledge our existence for a glorious week. I affirm everyone’s right to define themselves according to their own definition – because I believe defining one’s sexuality is an intensely private matter. It is not for the peering eyes of strangers to observe and whisper about. It’s not for the dictatorial voices of the judgmental to snidely attack or loudly comment upon. It should not be the subject of ridicule or painful jokes.
It is for me to decide and define, however I choose.
Stacey’s the Director of Public Policy and Government Affairs department, and works to advance LGBT equality through a progressive social change agenda that includes among other things ending discrimination in employment, housing, health care and education; expanding marriage equality; and pursuing protections from violence or hatred. Stacey is active in numerous civic and community groups including past chair of the DC Commission for Women.