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For the first 20 or so years of my life I didn’t realise I was bisexual. I’m not one of those people who knew exactly what they were from when they were children/teenagers onwards but I wasn’t scared or confused by my feelings, I essentially didn’t know that there even a term for who I was/how I felt. I’d spent all my years assuming that how I felt was how everyone felt. Hell, I even spent ages 14 – 21 thinking that being attracted to men as well as women was just a phase. The raging hormones of a sexually frustrated teenage boy! But when I passed 21 and then 22 and then 23 I logically had to stop and think “This clearly isn’t a phase.”

I’d been brought up (by both a family with conservative views and the media) to believe that there was only ever a binary in terms of sexuality. I was either straight or I was gay. That was all you could be. I wasn’t gay, I was attracted to women therefore I could not be gay. Simple. I was also brought up to think that being anything other than heterosexual was wrong. More so with the media and school life. Being a teenage boy in a comprehensive school in the Welsh Valley’s in the late 90’s was pretty much a masculinity contest (with girls being nothing but sex objects) and “gay” being the worst insult you could imagine. Homophobia and violence was shockingly rampant, so no-one wanted to be tarred with that brush.

Many factors didn’t make me question the sexuality binary. I had no friends, relatives, neighbours or family friends that identified as anything other than heterosexual. I grew up in predominantly white, working class areas of Wales and a few RAF bases in England. There was *nothing* around me that made me question the norm that I was presented with, nothing made me consider that I could be anything other than in all the default categories. I was a working class, white, heterosexual male. In the RPG of life I was totally playing life on easy with a default character.

So up until my mid 20’s (I really can’t remember when, most of my 20’s is a blur) if you’d asked me I’d have completely identified as heterosexual. I was in a long term relationship with a heterosexual woman so I didn’t think anything different. I was having all my emotional needs met with this other person, I wasn’t feeling unfulfilled in any way so this whole “also being attracted to men” thing must just be a phase. But as I became less and less obnoxious and opinionated and started listening and questioning things I’d always assumed must be true (as it was in the papers and I’d heard people say them out loud), I was online reading an article about sex and sexuality when I saw the word ‘bisexual’. Not the first time I’d seen or heard it, but the first time I’d actually paid attention and looked at the meaning of the word and what it meant to people. I read it and I realised “Oh hey, I’m bisexual. Now it all makes sense! It’s not a phase, it’s not weird and it perfectly describes how I feel and how I’ve been attracted to people throughout the years. Cool.” And that was it – no hand wringing, no deeper thought, no tremendous weight lifted off my shoulders, just the realisation that I was a bisexual male and always had been. Maybe with better education in school or representation in the media I’d have worked it out sooner.

So now I needed to come out, yeah? People had always been nice and friendly towards me, why would they be any different? Then I began to think about that a bit more. As the world saw me right then I was a straight, white, employed, educated male. Of *course* people didn’t attack me. I was in the safety net of default. I wasn’t in any minorities. I wasn’t different. And you know what was terrifying? Realising that coming out meant I wasn’t in the safety net of ‘default’ anymore. I can’t begin to explain the panic and anxiety that set in when I realised that being out meant I was no longer ‘safe’ from verbal and physical harm. As someone who was once attacked in public by a man literally just because I was stood where I was stood (and then spending several years having anxiety issues about being outside, in crowds and near drunk people) I really didn’t fancy exposing myself to that. I didn’t want to tell my family, friends or work colleagues because I wasn’t 100% sure how they’d react. The way I saw it at the time I was in a relationship with a woman so I just decided to leave it and not tell anyone. It wasn’t a shameful secret, it just didn’t seem relevant or necessary to expose myself like that. It was just easier to leave it the way it was. I didn’t even tell the person I was seeing at the time.

It’s taken a few years but I’m gradually becoming more confident with speaking out and being open about who I am. I’m now in a long term relationship with an openly bisexual woman (with whom I’m very much in love with) and most of my friends know I’m bisexual either through being expressly told or just working it out. So yes, I’m going to do it, I’m going to just write a simple tweet publicly telling everyone and get on with my life. So, being the IT technician I painfully am, I decided to look into coming out online and what being bisexual meant to others. Cue 2 hours of reading blog posts, clicking links and suddenly having an existential crisis about the whole thing. Was I bisexual? Or was I actually pansexual? By saying I’m bisexual am I inherently endorsing transphobia or negating genderqueer people? By saying I’m pansexual am I doing a disservice to other bisexual people? By saying I’m bisexual am I reclaiming the word from the medical community who used it to label people? Does the ‘bi’ come from 2 and enforce gender binary or does it mean ‘more than one’? By changing how I identify to pansexual from bisexual am I performing bisexual erasure?

My brain hurt at this point.

(ed. Note: the word “bisexual” is not transphobic and does not negate nonbinary or genderqueer people, though some falsely believe this to be true – keep an eye out for our pansexuality/bisexuality myth-busting blog post soon! – CE)

It was also upsetting to see that a lot of people have problems with bisexual peopleI could see that people believed all the harmful myths, stereotypes and false assumptions about bisexuals. I won’t list them off here, there’s probably all manner of websites with articles titled “15 myths about bisexuals!” or similar people can find. If I was going to expose myself to abuse from heterosexual people and there was a chance even some queer people might attack me, what the hell should I do? Growing up as I did totally hasn’t prepared me for this. I’ve always been in a majority and had people agree with me but now being in a minority and what seems like being lower in an unspoken sexuality hierarchy as well?! Ugh.

But, if you’re reading this it means I’ve come out. It means I’ve decided that actually, I am bisexual. I need to speak out and be honest about who I am. Rather than having my sexuality exist as a ‘lie by omission’ this is who I am. Rather than be frightened to have people disagree with my identity I’ll accept that it could and probably will happen. I’m changing my life’s difficulty level. If people who know me aren’t cool with it then I’m not cool with them anymore.

I see bisexual erasure happen too often and I don’t like it (Seeing someone in an article be described as “almost straight” is upsetting. Seeing a character be changed from canon bisexual to canon lesbian made my heart sink a bit. And where are the bisexual male characters?). I want it to stop and if I can’t even bring myself to admit publicly that I’m a bisexual male then maybe I’m part of the problem.

I just want to clarify that I completely understand why people don’t come out – I have no problem with that. I’m not saying that everyone should/has to come out. There are countless situations where it’s not safe for someone to do so. I openly recognise I’m in a position of privilege that I can do so, I honestly consider myself quite lucky to be where I am and I feel that I can come out.

 

Daf Turner
LGBT+ Staff Network member

October 16th, 2015

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Coming Out and Coming Out Again, and Again…

When asked to write about my ‘coming out story’ my immediate response is to ask which one. I have perhaps been lucky, I never needed a big coming out event. Being gay is something I have always taken for granted and accepted as being part of me. My parents never had any serious problems with it, and, while I did have a long conversation with Mum, my Dad simply adjusted to the fact that ‘Martin has a boyfriend’ and that was fine. I have never in that sense deliberately ‘come out’ and yet I have found, over the years, that coming out is a continual process, something that has to happen in some shape or form every time I meet new people and want to them to accept me for who I am.

This struck me particularly when I took up my present role as Pro-Vice Chancellor here at Swansea just over six months ago. I had been working in Birmingham University for over twenty years and most people who bothered to take an interest in these things knew that I was gay and had a partner. I taught on a module on ‘feminist, black and gay theologies’ for a number of years and, within the Department of Theology and Religion, gay and lesbian students felt comfortable approaching me to discuss issues relating to sexuality, whether personal or theological. I mentored a number of gay or lesbian staff and students as part of formal LGBT+ mentoring schemes, and David, my partner, was well known to immediate colleagues. Being gay was something that played no significant role as I increasingly took on management roles further up the University structure. I do remember the mild look of surprise on the Vice Chancellor’s face when, having been appointed to a senior management position, I introduced David to him at an event organised for senior management to which my ‘wife’ was included on the invite (the University did not make that mistake twice).

Having taken up this new role at Swansea then I am perhaps, for the first time, in a position where I have had to make a deliberate decision about when to ‘come out’ and how to do this. My standard response is to treat being gay as perfectly normal and wait for a conversations that reveal that normalcy. Many people have asked me ‘have you got a family?’ The answer is ‘yes, David, my partner, two dogs, however many tortoises and a couple of chickens’. Others ask ‘are you moving to Swansea?’ and I have to say that it is unlikely in the short term as ‘my partner, David, is a second hand bookdealer and it would be difficult to move the business’. Very occasionally somebody has apologised as if they have trodden on delicate ground, but for the vast majority the conversation simply continues, discussing the particular breed of dogs (otterhounds if you are interested) or specific issues around the antiquarian book trade. It is not a ‘big deal’ but I have perhaps been more conscious of it on this occasion simply because of the very large number of new people that I have met over the last six months. ‘Coming out’ never really stops. However, I do have to say that the openness and welcome that I have received here in Swansea has made the process so much more pleasurable. And, as I said at the start of this blog, I have undoubtedly been very lucky in this.

Martin Stringer
Pro-Vice Chancellor

October 15th, 2015

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As many LGBT+ people will tell you, coming out is never one solitary event – as though I once said “hey everyone, I’m bi!” and then everyone knew. It’s a constant process, and for bisexual people especially so.

The first time I came out, rather nervously, was at university after getting involved in the LGBT+ Society. It prompted me to read more about sexuality, discuss sexuality with similar people, and I came to the realisation that I was allowed to identify as bisexual. During this time I managed to debunk all the myths about bisexuality I had acquired through my teens – that in order to be a “real” bisexual, you needed to:

  • Be equally attracted to men and women, or
  • Have an equal number of relationships with men and women, or
  • Have had at least 1 significant relationship with both a man and a woman, or
  • Not be in a monogamous relationship, or
  • Be sexually experienced, or
  • Be certain and fixed in your sexuality, or
  • Only be attracted to men and women, and no one from outside that binary

I had always felt bisexual, before I fully understood the word, but never felt as though I was allowed to identify as such. In my teens I had a boyfriend, and then in college I started a relationship with another man, which lasted through my university years. On the outside, I appeared to be heterosexual, and this felt convenient in some ways. I didn’t want to grapple with my sexuality, so I ignored it – I decided that unless I really fell for a woman, it wasn’t actually an issue. Being in an opposite-sex relationship was pretty much straight, right? Did it matter how I felt on the inside?

This was further complicated by my mental health and my social anxiety at the time, which meant that for a while my boyfriend was the only person I spent time with so I didn’t meet new people to be attracted to – thus reinforcing the idea that I wasn’t really bi, otherwise I’d have loads of crushes on people of all genders.

Once I realised I was ‘legitimately’ bisexual, in my 2nd year of uni, I started attending LGBT+ events regularly where it was assumed that I was not-straight (what a relief!), and I didn’t formally come out for a while. Actually, the first person I ever came out to was one of my lecturers in my second year – during a meeting with her, I said in passing “as a bisexual woman…” and it felt terrifying and freeing.

Then I came out to my boyfriend, who responded in a loving and supportive way – we were in a monogamous relationship so it didn’t affect the way we were with each other anyway. Then, 2 years later, when my uni boyfriend and I had broken up, I came out to a friend by blurting out that I wanted to date more women.

From there on, I was pretty much out – I referred to myself as queer or bi online, I changed my Facebook “interested in” to “men and women”, and I got more involved in local queer activism. I realised that I liked the word “queer” too (which means “not-straight” and has a more political slant), and started using both words interchangeably to describe my sexuality.

But a few months later, I met and fell for another man. And so I felt as though I was back in the closet – worse, I felt like a fraudulent queer because my only long-term relationships had all been with men.

But I resisted this urge to define myself by these biphobic ideas – this time, I still considered myself to be bisexual, and I continued to hold onto this part of my identity. I met other queer people, openly attended queer events, came out to new colleagues and new friends when the opportunity arose naturally, and a year ago I became the co-chair of the LGBT+ Staff Network.

Then, 3 years after that, I finally came out to my parents. It was early 2015, I was about to be featured in the South Wales Evening Post for my work with the Network, and I figured it was time for them to know. I knew rationally that it would be fine, that the worst I’d get would be prying questions and perhaps disbelief (to which I had an answer prepared: “It’s ok if you don’t fully understand, it just meant a lot to me that you knew”), but still I was terrified. I didn’t want my parents to be freaked out, or angry, or embarrassed. The evening came – after my Dad brought us all cups of tea, while we were sat around the TV half-watching Jurassic Park, I awkwardly blurted out “I have something to say…” and then I told them.

They looked a bit taken aback, but said words to the effect of “ok cool. We had a feeling.” My dad gave me a long hug, I had a bit of a cry, and then we went back to watching Jurassic Park. My dad made a joke about the family dog liking both ham and chicken, and I knew everything would be fine.

Sometimes bi people in opposite-sex relationships are accused of having “straight privilege” – that is, we have a certain amount of privilege because we can pass as straight. But this assumption of “straight-until-proven-queer” is another form of heteronormativity, which is something that hurts all LGBT+ people.

I celebrate coming out day because in a world where LGBT+ people still experience discrimination, harassment and violence, coming out and sharing our stories matters. But like many other LGBT+ people, I hope that eventually we no longer need a coming out day because the assumption won’t be that everyone is automatically straight. Hopefully one day, someone revealing their sexuality (whether that’s queer, straight, asexual, or anything else) will be as commonplace and unremarkable as someone revealing that they prefer donuts to cakes, or that they only like donuts with coffee and cake with tea, or that it depends on the topping, or that they actually prefer pie.

Cath Elms
LGBT+ Staff Network co-chair

October 13th, 2015

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In honour of National Coming out day on 11 October 2015, we at the LGBT+ Staff Network here in Swansea University are sharing some coming out stories. I hope that these will interest, inform and empower people and help raise awareness of how important, and challenging, it is to ‘come out’ as LGBT+.

To start the ball rolling, here is my coming out story.


 

The Yo-Yo Effect – a Coming Out Story

When people ask me about coming out, it seems they expect me to tell them about some huge incident or occasion when I declared my sexuality to the world, and dealt with the consequences. It’s a romantic vision, I admit, of someone making a huge statement, with subsequent life changes and, somewhere along the way, that ‘American Schmaltz’ moment when the estranged family welcome the black sheep back into the fold.

Right.

Sorry, but my coming out story is not really like that. It’s more like one of those annoying, serial adverts we used to get a lot of in the 80s and 90s, where, against your will, you have to keep watching them to find out what happened.

Coming out is huge. It really is. Even now, with so much more acceptance and legal protection for LGBT+ people, coming out makes you vulnerable. But it is really important, because it is a form of empowerment. It is an act of strength. It is an act of self-love. And it is a mark of respect to others that you trust they will deal with it appropriately.

For me, it began in the murky shadows of the 1980s. I had known for years I was . . well . . . not exactly straight. I had passionate crushes on my female friends. I snuck home from school when my mother was in work to watch Martina play Wimbledon, and disguised my urgent desire to watch the final as a burgeoning interest in the sport. But it was hard to admit, even to myself, that I was gay, in a valley where homophobia was the norm and local lads regularly took trips to Cardiff on a Saturday night to go gay-bashing in Sophia Gardens.

I was fifteen when I told my best friend. She acted cool, but assured me that she was straight, by the way, in case I had any ideas. Well, I had plenty but I knew she wasn’t interested. I was 18 before I had my first girlfriend, rapidly followed by my second, both schoolfriends, and both of whom ran back into their respective closets when the rumours about us started. Oh dear…but this was the first toe out of the closet. Those rumours brought some difficult questions, and then, my first coming out experience.

My sister, a year older than me, was very involved in my life. Being in a small town, we shared some of the same friends and often socialised together. And so one day, I was sitting on her bed whilst she put on her makeup. We got on well, despite her propensity for borrowing my clothes (she was 3 sizes smaller than me so I could never borrow hers!).

“So,” she says, carefully applying her mascara. “I heard some funny rumours. About you and Clarice.”

“Oh?” My stomach turned over. It’s a strange feeling, that burning desire to be known, to be truly known for who you are, but the terror of losing the love and support of those closest to you. It’s all very well for your head to tell you that if they can’t love you for who you really are, you’re better off without them. I didn’t want to lose my sister. And I definitely didn’t want her to freak out, tell my parents, and engender the worst case scenario, being kicked out on the street. That was a very real fear for me, the withdrawal of parental support, of the chance to have a carefree few years at university before real life began its full demands on my time and energy.

“Yeah,” my sister went on. “They say she’s your girlfriend!”

I laughed.

“Funny, isn’t it?” My sister grinned at me in the mirror.

I took a breath. “Yeah. The funniest thing is that it’s true.”

She gasped, then stood stock still, the mascara brush still in her hand, frozen half way to her eye. Then she said, “Oh, okay. That’s nice.”

I felt like I breathed out the biggest sigh of relief. It was okay. She wasn’t freaking out (though I learned later that she was, but she was determined to show me the love and positive regard she knew I would not get from my parents.) We agreed that day not to let on to the parents, and even though she asked for no details, her acceptance made a huge difference.

Not so my schoolfriends. As soon as the rumours began to surface in school, Clarice dumped me. Then there was Amy. More rumours. Another dumping. And then I ran back into my closet and firmly shut the door behind me. It was cold and lonely out there, and I didn’t like it. I got myself a boyfriend, proved I was straight, and carried on as ‘normal.’

Ditto my life in University. After one term on the gay scene, I was totally disillusioned by all the bed hopping, infidelity, and the phalanx of older barfly dykes who preyed on the ‘fresh meat’ but always went home alone. I didn’t want it. I wanted the white picket fence, the 2.4 cats. So after one term, one glorious term, I ran back into my closet again.

Years later, I finally came out to my parents. Well, to my mother. Living with a girlfriend in the early 90s, I felt that it was necessary to at least broach the subject with my mother. I was living a 4 hour drive away, completely independent, and rarely saw my family, but still. It mattered. That was the point. It mattered that my family knew me. So I rang my mother one day from a payphone (remember those?). This was during my second stint at university, as I embarked on my career and built a life for myself. I was secretary of the LGBT society in the students’ union, had run for Women’s Officer, and was a sexual health activist. I thought, at the very least I should come out to my mother. When I told her, she said, “you can’t be gay, you want children,” and I laughed.  I think she had known all along, but for her generation, it was easy to leave things unsaid. Then she asked if I was happy.  And I knew it was going to be okay. Her final words were “we won’t mention this to your father.”

Many more Years laterafter my mother died, the law changed, and I married my partner on the first day that civil partnerships became legal. It was like the biggest coming out story ever. Every day I came out, to the teachers in my son’s school, to my colleagues, to a new friend, I felt like I was breaking new ground. I always faced that fear. Yes, sometimes there was rejection, yes, family disappeared for the most part (except for my stalwart, always loving sister), but I dealt with it. Better to live as myself than suffocate in a blanket of self-deceit and invisibility. But I learned, as do many of my peers, that coming out is never one step, one act, one experience, it is a constant process of revelation, and requires strength, self-respect and the love and support of people who matter.

Coming out matters. It’s not easy, despite all the changes in the law and in society. People still have a hard time of it. Coming out means being vulnerable, but it also means truly being yourself, whatever the cost. People have died for the right to be themselves, to call themselves lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and every other permutation of identity that makes us all so wonderfully diverse. It’s always frightening, it’s always a risk. But it matters.

 

October 10th, 2015

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