Twenty-six-year-old “Lauren” lives somewhere in the Midwest. She doesn’t want you to know exactly where, or what her real name is because the consequences for revealing such simple truths might prove catastrophic. If the people in her small town knew she was bisexual, it wouldn’t just be a few weeks of murmurs and awkward interactions. Her whole life, Lauren assures me, would come crashing down around her. It’s happened before, when she was outed in high school.
“I was pushed down the stairs and broke my arm a week before one of the tournaments that we had to travel to for basketball,” Lauren says. “The girls on the team didn’t want to share a room with me, so they got the guys’ basketball team to corner me, threaten to rape me, and then they pushed me down the stairs. I got suspended for starting the fight. I got cut out of my family’s will.”
When Lauren came home from college — where she dated men because it was “easier” — she hid her sexuality. She’s married with a child now, but struggles with the question of whether she truly loves her husband. She wonders if she’s being honest with herself by being with him. The answer may never come clear. Her family and friends rallied around her again after she “got fixed,” and any new revelation about her sexuality would put the life she’s built at risk.
“I work for my mother-in-law,” Lauren says. “I’d lose my job. I’d lose my support.”
Lauren is set to take over the family business someday and she’s certain that — even if she stayed with her husband — just admitting that she identifies as bisexual would prove cataclysmic. In a part of the country where “loving the sinner, but hating the sin” is the prevailing belief, Lauren believes she’d have a hard time finding someone to stand with her. In fact, she says that people who knew about her coming out in high school have admitted that witnessing the way she was treated kept them from being open too.
“It was supposed to be easier after coming out,” Lauren says. “It wasn’t.”
Later in the conversation, I circle back to Lauren’s work. “What kind of business would somehow be mismanaged in the hands of a bisexual woman?” I ask. “What is it about the bisexuals that we can’t trust?”
“They’re all whores,” Lauren says bluntly, admitting that even now she hates associating with bisexual women.
“Because they’re whores,” she responds.
I assume she’s joking, but the statement is made with a sort of casual sincerity. She didn’t seem like she even had to think about it.
“You believe it?” I ask.
She admits that she does, though she hates the fact that the scorn of others has caused her to become bigoted. As I consider her response, I can’t help admitting that I believe it, too (while also simultaneously hating myself for this belief).
Until the sixth grade, the LGBT+ community was a vague bogeyman in my home. My parents didn’t approve of Pride. They worried that the men and women marching in the street might be predatory and mentally ill, and they treated anyone who was out as sexually perverse. When friends would come visit us, my parents would pack them in the Camry and take them on a tour of San Francisco, starting with a trip down Lombard Street and ending in the Castro. Sitting in the backseat, I saw men walking hand-in-hand, as my parents and their friends grimaced and made jokes. I would count the rainbow flags that lined the street, believing that if I counted enough, or if they ended on an even number, my own gay feelings would go away. Then my parents would never have to face the embarrassment of taking their friends to the Castro and discovering that the person they were making fun of was me.