Am I Queer Enough to Grieve?

I denied being bisexual for a long time. There was always an excuse.

  • I didn’t like women that way, I just appreciated their aesthetic beauty.
  • I wasn’t sexually attracted to boobs, they were just fun. Bouncy and Jiggly all at once.
  • I dismissed the crushes I had on certain friends as just being a particular kind of closeness between two female friends. I appreciated the intimacy we shared, that was all.
  • I made up excuses that the reason reading sex scenes between two women turned me on was because they focused more on the type of pleasure I wanted to experience.

When I finally accepted that there was something more to my attractions and yearnings, I identified as hetero-flexible: still straight, just occasionally intrigued by certain women. I made the cis-sexist observation that for me, it just wasn’t fun without also having a penis involved.

All of these messed up ideas finally dripped away over time and I accepted that I really was bi and that I was attracted to all sorts of genders and bodies and people. It wasn’t about specific genitals, it was about the person, and I was just as likely to love women as I was men.

Looking back, I think even then I saw women as more romantic partners and men as sex partners. My pursuit of men had more to do with what was socially expected of me, but my interest in, my connection with women and non-binary people seemed deeper somehow.

When Alyssa came out to me as herself, in many ways nothing much changed. For months, even some years prior, I had been struggling with the fact that I kept seeing her as female. It made me feel horrible that I felt that way, until she confirmed that I was right. When Alyssa came out, she was the same brilliant person she always was, only happier and more secure in her own skin. Her coming out as a woman just made her even more herself and how could I not be absolutely in love with all of that. I am and was so in love with Alyssa as a person, that her becoming even more herself just made her that much more appealing.

I had no objection to the fact that she was female, after all, she had always been one. It just took us a while to figure it out. I had no trouble processing that I was still as in love with her, if not more so, as before.

Where I struggled was with an identity I had never really dealt with before. Up until that point, my interactions with women had been purely sexual or platonic. This was my first time being involved not just in a romantic relationship with a woman, but one that is headed for a longterm commitment. Even before she was officially my fiancée, Alyssa was my spouse, my partner, my wife.

How would I explain that to my parents?

I was more afraid of telling them that I was in a gay relationship than I was to tell them that Alyssa was trans. This doesn’t really make sense, since realistically trans women face very difficult discrimination and hardship, while homosexuality is moving more and more into the mainstream, but despite that, I had grown up knowing how my family felt about “teh gays.”

I remember my father making comments about feeling physically ill when seeing two men kissing. I remember my mother walking away with disgust when I joked that if “no man would find my being a cripple attractive enough to love” as she claimed, that I would just become a lesbian instead. I knew my parents were against gay marriage, and had even made a point to oppose it politically in letters to our representatives and so forth. I remember arguments with my father about gay adoption and being told that while the facts were on my side, he had to go with what the pope said.

My parents didn’t know enough about trans folk in general to be really scary. I knew that if they did anything to reject Alyssa as herself that I would have no trouble cutting them out of my life. But I didn’t know how to process their potential rejection of me. How would I deal with being what my parents’ religion hated? Or rather being yet another thing my parents’ religion hated.

I came out to my parents as Bi quite some time before Alyssa came out to the world as herself. I knew what their reaction had been to that simple statement. My mother made remarks that all women find other women attractive and that it didn’t mean anything. They were both grateful that my bisexuality was “theoretical” since they believed me to be in a long-term relationship with a member of what they considered the opposite sex. My father cautioned me to avoid threesomes (a proposal that made me choke even as it infuriated me since it had already been far too late for that. I had had a threesome with another woman, long before I even came out as bisexual to myself.) My parents’ first responses to my bisexuality were ultimately expressions of homophobia and bi-erasure. I wasn’t really bi since I was in a socially acceptable relationship.

My choice to come out to them at that time was an act of solidarity, as other friends of mine within our community were struggling with the hardship of coming out to their own parents. Since the Polish community is made up of gossips obsessed with their own social standing, it was a way of showing them that if they took their homophobia too far, that I too could wield arrows of my non-conformist sexuality and make for them the same sort of trouble they might dare to make for others.

When Alyssa and I presented our false heterosexuality in the world, our relationship was more respected. We didn’t have to prove that it was genuine, real, that it would last. We didn’t have to pretend that it was all just a phase.

My parents were surprisingly accepting of the thing when we told them. In part it was that I don’t think they still understand exactly what Alyssa being trans means. In part because enough had changed that having a gay kid elevated their status in some ways. They could show just how accepting they really were.

But still, coming out to them as being in a gay relationship was terrifying. I expected at any moment to start hearing all the ways in which I was going to hell. I expected to be disowned officially and lose what tenuous connection we still had.

Internalized bi-phobia scared me. I was afraid that my being poly was really a response to not really being bi but only saying I was so that I could stay with Alyssa. That being bi really was just a phase. When I entered into a relationship with a heterosexual man, there was this fear of “what if I’m not really bi? What if I’m just transphobic?” Would I wake up one morning and decide to go back to mainstream relationships?  These were not fears I had when I was in a nominally straight relationship. These were fears that were a direct result of what society teaches is about bisexuality. It was hearing all the erasure even known activists in the gay community would espouse, like Dan Savage pointing out that most bisexual women ended up married to men. Who make jokes about it being the stop-over on the trip to “gaytown” or just a moment of youthful experimentation.

Deep down I know all this to be false. Experimentation doesn’t make your heart race enough to be noticeable on a hospital machine. Your heart melting and being filled with warmth just because your wife smiles at you, isn’t a phase. It’s real. The comfort that her embrace brings me, the safety I feel when she is in my arms, the way I can ground myself just by stroking her back, those aren’t signs of just a passing fancy.

And yet, like we never did before, we have to prove the veracity of our relationship. When a male friend and Alyssa come to visit me on this trip to the hospital, I have to make a point of mentioning which is my spouse. I make it clear that Alyssa is my wife.

Being a lesbian couple is different than being perceived as a straight couple now. Never before was reaching out to hold hands an act of calculated rebellion. Even if all I want to do is just hold her hand, there is a moment of knowledge that there could be consequences. While we dealt with the racist conceptions of the Latin lover, never before had our relationship been sexualized the way it is now. Us being together is about more than just us now, as society treats it as something for the male gaze to enjoy. A masturbatory aid. Our relationship is treated as being inherently more sexual than romantic. We’ve received more dirty looks from being casually intimate with each other than ever before. I notice the looks we get when we sit side my side in my hospital bed, cuddling. I notice the subtle disapproval of our closeness, which had never been judged in that way before.

Now sharing a bed to watch a movie, one of the only activities opened to me while I lie here attached to all sorts of IVs and kept on all sorts of narcotics, is treated as being somehow more erotic in nature whereas before it was treated as sweet and cute.

When we came out to her parents, we were told our relationship wasn’t really genuine, or that it could only exist if I wasn’t really a woman. We were asked what sort of life we could have together, the implication being that whatever it was, it wasn’t real.

Becoming a lesbian couple also mean absorbing fear in a way we had never really had to before.

When the shooting in Orlando happened. When that man targeted Latinx trans women in particular. Hearing that most of the people in that club were Puerto Rican. All of that brought me up short. It was as though the breath caught in my lungs and I had to struggle just to breathe again. Because more so than ever before I realized just how much more at risk we are now, then we had ever been before. I watched as my queer friends and tribe around me struggled with the reminder of how much people like us are hated. Of how much our existence is just tolerated, and even there just barely, in this society.

As we process our grief, I am once again forced to process my identity. Am I queer enough to be allowed to grieve or as a bisexual non-binary woman am I excluded? Do I have a right to feel this as strongly and as personally as I do?

I try to process when all I want to do is hold my wife in my arms so that I can know that she is safe. To gather all my queer friends about me and build a wall of flesh and love around us that cannot be penetrated by hatred. To live this life together, to build this life together. To just be together.

Instead, I sit here in the hospital room after visiting hours by myself and I weep.

Am I Queer Enough to Grieve?
Damien Marie AtHope: Axiological Atheist, Anti-theist, Anti-religionist, Secular Humanist. Rationalist, Writer, Artist, Poet, Philosopher, Advocate, and Activist

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