Unlike a lot of people on the LGBT spectrum, I don’t really have a coming out story. Sure, I’ve “come out” to various people in my lifetime, but only when the topic had already become relevant in the conversation. I’ve never staged any major revelation, because to me, my sexual orientation just isn’t that significant. My sexuality is a personal matter, and I only discuss it with people I’m so close with that they would likewise tell me about theirs. I understand that there are those for whom their sexual orientation is a large part of their identity, and I completely respect their need to share it with whomever they wish. But for me, this is not the case. Is there anything wrong with that?
From communities on all sides, the answer I’m getting is yes. Whenever someone finds out about my bisexuality, they are shocked and say something along the lines of “Why didn’t I know about this before?” The answer is either that it just didn’t come up before or that I wasn’t aware of it yet myself. I don’t have an obligation to tell anyone about personal matters, so no one should be getting offended that they weren’t informed about my sexuality beforehand. They should consider it a privilege to know about it at all. Yet still they are discontented.
What’s more, in the queer community there’s quite a bit of pressure to open up and expose the “queer” side of yourself to others. A lot of the pressure is framed as friendly encouragement, and maybe it’s honestly intended to be so. But it comes off as limiting in its refusal to accept that there are those in the queer community who pass easily as straight and who don’t feel any motivation or urge to act differently.
I personally have had plenty of experience with same-sex attraction, so I know that I fit into the queer community in terms of sexual orientation. But I don’t possess any of the stereotypical traits of someone on the LGBT spectrum, such as a particular dress code or vocal inflection. I just want to be accepted for who I am in both queer communities and those of straight allies. Why must I be pressured to conform to a personality type that isn’t mine?
A friend of mine, also in the queer community, pressures me to date a woman whenever I bring up the issue of potential male love interests. “Stop limiting yourself!” she urges. But isn’t it my choice to date whoever I want to date? Isn’t it actually empowering for me to make my own decisions about my love life? Isn’t it feminist to allow anyone of any gender to be in a relationship with anyone else of any gender? I am endlessly frustrated by these (perhaps well-intended) pressures to act like a bisexual the way others see fit.
I’ve only ever dated men, and I don’t plan on changing that anytime in the future, for various reasons. First is my religion. I wouldn’t date a non-Jewish man, because halacha (Jewish law) prohibits me from marrying him, so why would I date a woman, whom halacha likewise prohibits me from marrying?
There’s also the issue of stigma. While I desperately want to fight the stigma against same-sex couples, there is still a part of me that is afraid of what others will think of me if I suddenly make known an official relationship between me and another woman. I’m afraid of being ostracized by my Jewish community, which is generally Modern Orthodox but pushes into more yeshivish circles at times. I’m afraid of other women hesitating to be friends with me for fear that I will be attracted to them, or of men refusing to date me out of disgust with my sexual and romantic history. I make a deliberate choice to act “straight” for personal reasons, and however controversial those reasons might be, my choice should still be respected.
I can’t help but wonder if there are other people like me who identify as bisexual but don’t want that identity to become too much a part of their public persona. I wonder if there are others as frustrated as I am at the demands to mold to a stereotype instead of being our authentic selves. Bisexual people possess a vast range of personalities and make a vast range of choices in terms of their romantic and sexual partners. No one, bisexual or otherwise, should be forced to pretend to be someone they’re not.
I suppose there’s a bit of an irony in me writing this article to articulate my right not to “come out,” since I’m coming out to everyone reading this who did not previously know about my sexual orientation. But I maintain that there is a distinction between a normal instance of coming out and this article. While the more common coming out story is about a personal connection, this article is about reaching a broader audience. It’s about encouraging those in both queer and straight ally communities to be more accepting of all personalities on the LGBT spectrum and to respect their choices of romantic and sexual partners. It’s about dissolving the stigma surrounding bisexuality and the pressure put on bisexuals to conform to one stereotype or another. It’s about reaching out to those who identify with the same struggles I find myself facing, and letting them know: You are not alone.
Brocha Shanes is a graduate of Ida Crown Jewish Academy in Chicago and is spending her year studying at Midreshet Nishmat in Jerusalem.
Brocha Shanes lives in Chicago and will be spending next year on the Hevruta gap year program in Israel.