Coming out: one year later
Reflecting on the impact of my decision to come out publicly
This time last year, I was only out as bisexual to my mom and my closest friends.
For four years, that had felt like enough. But it was getting harder and harder to keep that part of my identity secret.
I was afraid to come out publicly because I was concerned people would make negative assumptions about me based on stereotypes about bisexuality. But then I realized that the only way to combat those stereotypes is to speak out against them. I realized I had the power to own the narrative about my sexuality and define my identity for myself. And in doing so, I could help change the negative misconceptions about being bi.
It was a terrifying undertaking, but it just felt like something I had to do; not only for myself, but for the bisexual community at large.
So I went home, took out my laptop and started to write. The result was “Breaking bisexual stereotypes,” the very first column I ever wrote for The Spectrum. I certainly made my opinion writing debut with a bang, choosing an extremely personal topic. I wasn’t planning on writing it; I hadn’t even mentioned it to my senior editors until I sent the column to them the night before production day.
But it was a story I was ready to tell. It was a story I had buried inside of me for years and it was just itching to come out.
It was the scariest piece I have ever written. It was also my favorite piece I’ve ever written.
I wrote the column in 10 minutes. Every word came naturally, almost feverishly. It was exhilarating to finally say out loud all the thoughts and feelings I’d kept buried for so long.
I was unsure of the type of reaction people would have to the piece. In fact, I was terrified. My hands were shaking and my breath caught in my throat when I emailed the piece to my editors. I was scared of the other writers and editors at the paper judging me. I was convinced someone was going to send it back to me saying it was stupid and unpublishable. I was terrified of the backlash and harassment the article could incite.
But no matter how scared I was, I knew this was a story I needed to tell.
I wasn’t prepared for the outpouring love and support, not only from the Spectrum staff, but the campus community and beyond. I heard from people all across the country about how my story had inspired them.
The column also helped me to finally come out to my extended family, something I had been terrified to do for years. It felt less scary to share that part of myself when I had my whole story written out on paper. I felt like the column laid out and rebutted all of the stereotypes I had feared they would pin on me. I had already shared my story with more than 30,000 students and even more people on the Internet, but somehow sharing it with family was far more nerve-wracking.
While I knew my family broadly supported gay rights, I had no idea how much they knew about bisexuality or how they would respond to their niece or granddaughter coming out as bisexual. Would they accept my relationship with my girlfriend? If I marry a woman someday, would they attend my wedding?
I can remember overhearing my family members discussing what type of man they thought I would marry one night when they thought I was sleeping. I remember thinking, why do they assume my future spouse has to be male? Was it just because people assume if you’re a girl you have to like boys? Or was it a hard and fast rule, an expectation?
I am close to my extended family and I never wanted to risk creating any type of rift between us. That’s why I put off coming out for so long. I had so many fears: Would I get uninvited from Thanksgiving? How would they feel if I brought a woman home? Would they dismiss my identify as a phase? Would they think I was promiscuous or greedy? Would they think I am unable to be in a faithful relationship with one person?
All of these questions and fears raced in my head the whole drive home for Christmas break. My heart was beating so hard that my chest hurt by the time I arrived.
Much to my surprise and relief, my family loved the article. They understood and embraced my identity with open arms. It felt like a huge weight was lifted from my shoulders. I had spent so many years of my life censoring myself, unable to talk openly about who I was dating or even innocuous little things like celebrity crushes. When I expressed support for LGBT people, I had to position myself as a passionate ally. Now I could finally say out loud: this is who I am. I finally felt like my family could see me: the real me. And it was the most liberating and empowering feeling in the world.
I recognize that not everyone is in a place where it is safe for them to come out. I am extremely privileged and lucky to have such supportive peers, friends and family. But if you are in a place where you can safely come out, I promise you it is so worth it. Living my life openly and authentically has helped me grow into an infinitely more confident and self-assured person. It even led to me entering my first serious relationship with another woman.
Coming out in such a public manner certainly isn’t for everyone; you have to find what feels right for you. For me, it made sense to tell my story in a column because writing is how I make sense of my feelings and express myself. I’ve also carved out an identity as an activist and have a platform to speak out on important issues, and I felt I had a responsibility to use that platform to share my story, not just for my benefit, but to help others.
Come out in the language that makes sense to you. For me that’s the written word, but for you that could be music or art or just having a heart-to-heart with your best friend over a text message. Only you know the best way to tell your story.
Maddy Fowler is a news editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org