I ran across this video today and it really resonated with me. I’ve watched Ash Beckham’s videos before, and she’s always funny, always clever, and always makes excellent points in her speeches. This particular one is about being closeted. Not in the strictly gay sense, but in the sense that all human beings are closeted in one way or another when we hide our true selves from the world.
At some point or another, all of us have had a moment where we’ve stepped out of the closet. We’ve taken that deep breath—heart in our throats—and spoken the truth, not knowing how it was going to be received.
Several weeks ago, I came out to my parents on two different levels. One was as a writer of gay romance. The other was as a bisexual woman.
When I was sixteen, I kissed one of my best friends while playing truth or dare. I didn’t think twice about it, because ten minutes later, I kissed another friend. One was female, the other was male, and in our group of friends, it never really mattered either way. Over the next few years, I kissed quite a few of my friends, and it never once occurred to me to wonder if it meant anything that I liked kissing girls every bit as much as I liked kissing guys.
Maybe it was because we were in theater, maybe it was because we were a tactile group, but it felt completely natural. We gave each other backrubs, we cuddled backstage, we feel asleep at parties all mushed together, we went skinny-dipping. Much as our parents feared otherwise, it wasn’t about sex, it was friendship and closeness, affection … connecting with another person. Kissing was just another part of that. Gay, straight, lesbian, bi, those words didn’t apply to what we were doing. We were friends.
So when I went off to college , started dating, and realized that not everyone felt that way, I was a little bewildered. Sure, I thought the girl in my math class was really hot, but so what? Did it really matter? Well, it turns out the rest of the world likes putting people into neat little categories like gay and straight. My boyfriend at the time really struggled with the idea of my attraction to women. He’d ask me, “are you bisexual?” and I’d shrug and say, “I don’t know, does it matter?” Well, it turns out did matter to him. Don’t get me wrong, he was a great guy, but he really needed me to define that about myself. And since I couldn’t do that when we were together, after some very excruciating soul-searching, I broke it off with him. Not just because of that—there were other reasons—but at the heart of it all was the fact that all of a sudden I was questioning something that had never been an issue for me at all. Was I bisexual? I was attracted to women, maybe not as much as to men, but definitely attracted to them. What did that mean?
Eventually, I came to a point where I decided that yes, I was bisexual. There was no grand coming out to my friends. All of them either already knew or didn’t care one way or another, so I didn’t worry about it. I considered telling my family—they were good people, I was sure they’d support me no matter what—but what was the point? I wasn’t dating any girls seriously enough to care, so why bother? If it came up at some point, great, otherwise, I didn’t see any compelling reason to create a fuss when it wasn’t absolutely necessary.
Toward the end of college, I met a girl. She was mind-bogglingly smart and driven, funny and interesting. She made me dizzy just thinking about her and we spent a whole summer flirting. We watched movies, went out for sushi, and lounged in her hot tub. We went to coffee shops and spent hours talking. I drank chai while she smoked clove cigarettes and we made busboys drop dishes when we kissed. We talked about how ridiculous labels like bisexual were and what did it matter if you called yourself gay or straight? It was all so perfect, but it was confusing, too, because we never talked about if we were dating or not, so when the guy she’d been in love with for years finally got the courage to ask her out, all of a sudden we were over. And I didn’t know if we’d ever really been in a relationship, or if she’d ever returned the way I felt. I had been picturing a future with her and then all of a sudden it was gone. I was heartbroken and lost and struggling to figure out who I was and what I wanted to do with my life. It all came together in a dizzying mess while I battled anxiety and the crippling fear of failing in a field I wasn’t even sure I wanted to go into anymore.
A few months after that, I met a boy. He was funny and quirky, and he made me feel safe. I wasn’t in love with him, but I loved his tattoos, and the way he never made me feel like he was going to break my heart. He wrote a strange, brilliant book, and I edited it for him, and didn’t realize that what I really wanted to be doing was writing my own. I doubted myself, and second-guessed myself and although I loved reading and writing, I never thought I could make a career of it. My heart didn’t break when he moved all the way across the country, but it still left me reeling. I’ll never eat a Clementine again without thinking of him, and his words, and the ink on his skin. And although it’s been a few years since I’ve talked to him, I know he’d be proud that I’m writing now.
When I met a guy online a few months later and we hit it off, I never expected anything to come of it. Sure, he looked cute in the pictures he sent me and he made me laugh when we talked on the phone, but I wasn’t looking for a relationship. When we finally met in person for coffee, I never expected that he’d wind up being the love of my life. After talking for a few hours, it felt like I’d known him forever and somewhere in my soul I knew he was going to become an important part of my life. I wasn’t ready for him and my head was still a mess, but I was smart enough to grab on tight and hold on to him. He was patient, he let me sort out the mess in my head and put all of the pieces back together. He didn’t do it for me, but he waited until I could do it myself. And even though the idea of a relationship scared me, I did it anyway. I let him into my heart, I moved in with him, and I then I married him.
Those were the smartest decisions I ever made in my life.
When I ambushed him one day after he got home from work and said, “holy shit, I finally know what I want to do with my life. I want to be a writer,” he said, “okay.” And we sat down and talked it through like we had everything else in our lives up to that point.
Over the last few years, the books I’ve read have shifted more and more to the m/m genre until now that’s almost exclusively what I read. With the rise of eBook popularity, it’s easier to buy anything you want without having to wonder what other people will think of your choice of reading material. So when someone would ask what I was reading, I’d give them a title but be vague about the content. Or at least be vague about the fact that the protagonists were both male. And when I started to write stories in that genre, I kept that quiet, too. I was elusive about what I was writing rather than proudly stating, “I write gay romance.”
It wasn’t that I was ashamed or thought there was something wrong with it, but I wasn’t quite ready to be open to the kind of scrutiny that being brutally honest would create. So I dodged and evaded until I hit the point where I was ready to send in my first short story to a publisher. My husband had known all along, so it was no surprise to him, but I took the first step out of that closet I’d created for myself, and sent the story to my best friend. And then told another friend about it. I realized that it felt a little easier every time.
So when I got the news that my story had been accepted, I wanted to shout it from the rooftops. I was so incredibly excited and proud that I wanted to blurt it out to everyone. I told everyone I knew online, most of my real life friends, but when it came time to decide if I was going to tell my family, I hesitated. My parents are wonderful, supportive people and it wasn’t that I couldn’t trust them, but there was still that tiny bit of fear there.
My friend Jordan, who I’ve mentioned before, has influenced me more than he’ll probably ever know. He came out to his family as bisexual recently, and his honesty and willingness to open himself up in order to be true to himself is something I greatly admire. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was the kind of life I wanted to lead, too.
A few weeks ago, we had my parents over for dinner to celebrate my mom’s birthday and show off the newly remodeled kitchen my husband and I spent months slaving over. After dinner, I summoned up my courage, took a deep breath, and blurted out my news. They were a little surprised, and maybe slightly confused by why I was writing stories about two men, but they rolled with it—like I knew they would—and they were proud of me.
I hadn’t planned to come out to them about being a bisexual woman, too. I am happily married to a man I plan to spend the rest of my life with, why did they need to know that I was also attracted to women? Recently though, I realized that it was beginning to feel wrong to hide that part of myself. The more I thought about it, the more it bothered me that it was a secret.
After I told my parents about my story getting published, my mom made a joke that she felt like I was coming out of the closet, and then continued on to say, “but I think I would have known if you were gay.” My heart caught in my throat and I thought, “Oh, God, this is it. This is my chance to lay it all out there. “ And so I did. I said, “Well, actually … I’m bisexual.”
So after years and years of agonizing over it, wondering if I should tell them the truth or not, I did. It was anticlimactic. I had built it up for years in my head, wondering what kind of questions they’d ask, afraid they’d be hurt that I hadn’t told them already. They were certainly surprised, mostly because I hadn’t told them until now, but of course they were supportive, and I realized how silly it had been for me to hide who I was.
Now, almost sixteen years after I kissed a girl for the first time, I know who I am. I’m a bisexual woman. I’m a writer of gay romance. And damn does it feel good to say that.
Ash Beckham is right; closets are no place for human beings. So even if you just peek open the door of yours—whatever it may be—and poke a toe out, it’s a good start. You’ll know when you’re ready to throw the door open. And trust me, it feels better than you can imagine to step outside.