I’m M.L. Rhodes. I’ve been married to a man for thirty years. And I’m bisexual.
I’m writing this post in honor of National Coming Out Day because even though my husband and sons and a handful of people who are close to me have known this for a few years, it’s not something I’ve ever been directly vocal about in public. So this is, in essence, a coming out for me…to my readers, to my social media followers, and to the public in general.
Why have I not talked about it before?
Well, first of all, as any LGBTQ person knows, coming out is a seriously personal thing. No one, and let me repeat that…NO ONE should ever feel like they have to come out unless/until they feel safe and comfortable to do so. That person is the only one who gets to decide what time is the right time for them, if ever. Also, it’s not a quick or insignificant process to sort through the gazillion internal questions we have, the fears, the self doubt, the uncertainties. Some of us go through it when we’re kids, some in our twenties, thirties, fifties, seventies. There’s no time limit. No age limit. All of us on this planet are constantly learning, growing, and figuring out who we are and where we fit into the world, as well as having life experiences and using them to discover truths about our beliefs, our desires, and what we need to fill our souls. Each individual’s journey is unique.
For me, recognizing my bisexuality was a slow process. I grew up in a tiny town on the Colorado plains. My high school graduating class was the biggest (at that time) in the school’s history and we had 34 people in it. So, yeah, small. Statistically, there probably were several LGBTQ people in the school but none who were out, at least, none I was aware of. This was in the days before the Internet (yeah, I’m that old), so even if I had been self-aware enough to know what I was feeling and actually go looking for information on attraction to the same sex, there was no easy way to do it.
Also, my parents were in their forties when I was born and were a full generation older than most of my classmates’ parents. To say they were painfully old-fashioned would not be wrong. Because of that, talking about sex was off-limits with them. My mom always said, in a hushed voice, “You’ll learn about it from your husband one day.” Seriously. She said that. That was the only birds and bees talk I ever got from her. In her later years, my mom stepped out of her old-school prudishness and was quite the rebel amongst her peers because she was so progressive. But when I was growing up, speaking of sex or anything sex related was taboo. Which pretty much made me scared of anything that had to do with sex. Whether they intended it or not, the message I received from my parents was, sex is bad. Sex is something to be ashamed of. Therefore, any sexual feelings I might have must be bad and shameful, too, right?
This “it must never be spoken of” attitude is also why, when I was a couple months shy of my 16th birthday, I was raped on a date and I never told anyone because…sex. The fact I’d been pushed down in the seat of the guy’s car and had it forced on me wasn’t as relevant to my sixteen-year-old mind as Oh God, I’m going to be in so much trouble. I 100% believed that if I told my parents what had happened, they’d blame me for letting it happen. I was terrified. So I didn’t talk about it. Ever. Not to anyone until #metoo last year, at which point I told my husband, who was understandably horrified on my behalf.
My point is, I had no parental guidance or support for basic sex 101 issues, much less for “I think I might like guys and girls.” I also had no easy access to educational resources on such topics, no one out in school I could talk to, so, basically, since it was the norm for girls to date guys, that’s what I did. I liked guys, so that was fine. Meanwhile, however, I secretly fantasized about both guys and girls. I kept it quiet, though, never told a soul, because I honestly wasn’t even sure what it meant. By the time I was in college and had some actual sexual experience under my belt, I thought maybe I was just kinky. And I mean NO disrespect to my bi and lesbian sisters by implying female/female relationships are kinky. That’s just the only word I had available in my vocabulary at the time to explain it to myself. I’d never even heard the term “bisexual” at that point in my life, and I knew I wasn’t a lesbian because I also really liked guys. So I had no idea how to label what I was feeling.
Eventually, I married a man, had two sons, and for all intents and purposes, presented to the world as a straight woman.
It wasn’t until my sons, in their late teens, began exploring their own sexualities, that I started to think on it more seriously for myself. Because of my experience with my parents, where I could never talk to them freely, I’ve always had an honest “you can tell me anything” relationship with my sons. My husband and I always talked to them openly and age appropriately about sex, about consent, about using protection whether they were with girls or guys. During those long conversations, the topic of bisexuality came up many times, and I began to think…wow…does this apply to me? Is this the word I’ve been looking for? That’s when I told my sons and my husband that, yes, I like men a lot, but I also like women. And, yes, I could absolutely be in a relationship with someone other than a man.
Maybe I’m at an age and a secure enough place in my life where I don’t really give two shits what people think, or maybe it’s just that I’ve lived for years knowing I’m attracted to more than one gender, so being open with family and friends about it hasn’t been a difficult thing for me. I realize how lucky I am to have that kind of support and that not everyone does. Making a public statement about my bisexuality, however, has been less easy. Not because I was fearful of people knowing, but mostly because I struggled over whether it actually mattered that I’m bi. I don’t mean mattered to me personally–obviously that did and does matter, greatly–but did it matter whether or not I went public about it? After all, I’ve been married to a man for decades. Thirty years is a long time, and I have no plans to walk away from my marriage. So what could I possibly have to offer the bi community if I came out?
The thing is…since defining myself as bisexual a few years ago, I’ve been party to just how prevalent bi erasure and biphobia are. It’s disheartening as hell to see people in both the straight and LGBTQ communities say things like, being bi isn’t a real thing. Or, it’s nothing more than a “fence” people sit on until they accept the fact they’re actually gay or lesbian. Or that it’s “only a phase.” Or it’s for attention. Or because someone’s slutty and wants to have lots of sex. And so on and so forth. All of which are said to sweep bisexuality under the rug and pretend it doesn’t exist.
I’ve also seen lots of “rules” about being bisexual thrown around. You can’t be bi if you’re in a relationship with the the same gender (that means you’re gay) or in a relationship with the opposite gender (that makes you straight). You can’t be bi if you’re not equally attracted to men and women. You can’t be bi if you’re attracted to gender-fluid, or non-binary, or trans people. You can’t be bi if you’re ace, or if you’re sexually attracted to one gender and only romantically attracted to the other. Blah, blah, ad nauseam, blah.
These examples of bi erasure and biphobia are why I’m writing this post and publicly coming out today. Because NO ONE gets to decide on anyone else’s labels. It doesn’t work that way. And because there is NO RULEBOOK for being bisexual. I’ve been married to a man for a very long time. But that does not make me straight.
This is why it matters that I’m bi. This is what I have to offer the bisexual community–my own unique perspective on being bi, to be added to all the other unique perspectives, which combined, show what a big, beautiful, inclusive world bisexuality can be. Given the shit-show that is our current government, I believe compassion and inclusivity have never been more important. So for all of you who are, or think you might be, emotionally, physically, or sexually attracted to more than one gender, I see you. I believe in you. I honor and respect you. I’m one of you.
And you absolutely matter.
For more info on bisexuality, here are a few links you might find helpful or interesting: