Is sexuality an endgame or a lived experience? And who needs to know what you're practicing or what you're fantasizing?
Following last Saturday's family victory, I've been wondering about the word "bisexual." It seemed to get in the way of my parents', and perhaps other family members', willingness to accept that I'd chosen a woman for my partner. It allowed them to have a "this is just a phase" phase, when they could hope I'd eventually choose a man.
It made them less kind to the women that I've dated, and less accepting.
When I used the word "bisexual" when I came out to my parents in 2009, I thought it prudent. I'd just met the first and only woman I'd ever dated. I was 26. Chances were, we wouldn't end up together, and I was still attracted to (some) men.
Lately, I've discarded "bisexual" and been careful with "queer" because it seems that the most relevant piece of information that I want people to know is, "Sonia is my partner." So maybe, "gay"? For simplicity or even advocacy, do I need to embrace a "gay" (or "lesbian") label if I'm going to spend my life with a woman?
The short answer is, of course not. Sexuality is a dynamic and lived experience like age, career identity or political party. But if I'm truly committed to Sonia, does it make sense for my sexual identity to reference a bunch of hypothetical lovers I'll never pursue? Is it even fair?
On a recent Savage Lovecast, Dan Savage advised a poly guy to consider coming out in a way that gay people used to do in the (bad) old days. Basically, let the parents meet the partner as a friend first. They'll chat about vacation spots or dinnerware or job woes and grow to really like the partner without burdening them with the responsibility for your newly revealed sexual identity.
The guy is dating a couple, but he hasn't yet come out to his family as bi or poly. Dan's almost-always-100%-on-point advice is:
The first order of business is to come out to your parents' as bi. It's unfair to the couple that you're involved with to make them the focus of that. "Hey, here are my friends. I'm fucking them both. Ta-da!" That will put this couple that you're dating in a very uncomfortable position, particularly if your parents do the pivot that a lot of conservative parents do, and get angry at the romantic partner or partners of the kid who's just coming out.Dan advises the guy to come out as bi and introduce his parents to the couple as friends (in no particular order). Then, when he's ready to have the poly conversation, he can reference that nice couple they met the other night. "That can help lay the groundwork for creating the fissure, the little crack in your parents' brain that you can drive the wedge into, to open their minds."
I could have lived a parallel life in which I grew to be 34 without having once talked to my parents about sex (if we had anything like "the talk," I don't remember it). Talking about sexuality, in that it is proximal to talking about sex, is not done in our family. If you respect your parents, you simply pretend that it doesn't exist.
Dan's advice to the poly guy was comforting in that it reminded me that each of us can decide exactly how we come out to each person, what the steps are and how much we reveal.
The flip side of the coin is overwhelming. If I had to create a strategy like this one for each coming out -- to a coworker, to a cousin, to a new acquaintance -- I wouldn't have time for life or work. Perhaps parents are the only people worthy of a strategy.
For everyone else, you just have to decide upon the words, a little piece of wrought language weighed down with the expectations and interpretations of generations before you. An insufficient phrase that is as close as you can get.
Which is why I'm sticking with, "This is my partner, Sonia," until further notice. It's the thing I'm sure of.
It's as truthful as I can be.