Coming Out as Bisexual; Different Communities, Similar Stigmas
The first time I knew that something about my mental health was different, I was around eight years old. Certain thoughts got caught in my mind, snagging the spoke of my cognitive process. I grew up in a Baptist church. Sunday mornings filled me with ample ammunition for negative self-talk. Some days, I even left the service in tears, sure that I was going to hell for talking back to my mother that morning.
On the playground, I'd hop in and out of my hula hoop, convinced that if my hops added up to an odd number, I'd be transported to an alternate dimension. The anxiety and obsessions grew into full-blown delusions. After being diagnosed with anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and bipolar disorder, I was finally diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder at 19.
I always knew I liked boys. The idea was fed to me from a very young age, and I accepted it. Yes, I nodded. Boys, boys, boys. However, I felt twinges of curiosity about the girls early on. For example, women dancing on the television mesmerized me. After a brief period of being in crisis-mode, convinced that I liked girls, I pushed the thought away. In high school, one by one, my group of friends began to come out as either lesbian or bisexual. I maintained my heterosexuality, joking that I was the token straight person.
It wasn't until I was 20 that I understood and accepted that I liked both men and women. It took my partner at the time to come out as transgender for me to understand that I am very much attracted to women. My family treated me like I was strange and exotic, widening their eyes and pursing their lips when I shared the news. They didn't say anything negative, but it felt like I had done something wrong. I remember my mom saying, "But all your friends came out in high school, and you told us you were the only straight one, remember?"
I looked at her and smiled, "Why do you think all my friends were gay?"
Having a mental illness comes with stigma, but I was first diagnosed with depression when I was 15 years old. I have become accustomed to the prejudice. I've come to expect it. I did not, however, expect the stigma of being bisexual. I knew that being apart of the LGBT community in and of itself put me in a second category of "otherness." I'd effectively taped another label onto my forehead, signaling for people to either fear me, pity me, or loathe me. I knew this, and I was ready. I came out as bisexual after coming out as mentally ill years before. The similarities of sharing my diagnosis years before had prepared me for the raised eyebrows, the judgment.
What I was not prepared for was the prejudice within the LGBT community. Multiple people told me that I could not know I was bisexual because I have not had sex with a woman. None of my other experiences with women mattered. And because I was new to the LGBT community, I believed them. I believed them until my three best friends told me otherwise.
Now I am recovery from my mental illness. I am working and in college. I am healthy and happy for the first time in years. But I still don't walk into a room confident about my sexuality. I don't easily tell people that I'm bisexual the way that I do with my mental illness. I am a strong advocate for mental health, and it took me years to become open about my mental health struggles. So I am giving myself time to become confident in my sexuality. I am giving myself time to become the advocate I want to be for the LGBT community the same way I am for the mental health community.
Written by August Pfizenmayer.