Out and Pansexual in the Suburbs

If only everyone believed in "NO LIMITS!"

During the past few weeks I have had the exquisite pleasure of:

-aggravating a group of middle-aged lesbians.

-confusing gay and straight people alike with my mystifying pansexual/married lifestyle.

-having a close friend refer to me as transgender (I guess she thinks that’s what I came out as?)

-Going to my first several events as an “out” queer woman.


-being told by both my husband therapist to essentially “tone it down.”

They say well-behaved women seldom make history.  I’m guessing women who fit neatly into existing movements and social categories probably rarely do either.  Having said that, not fitting neatly, or at all, can be lonely.

In more positive news, I’ve discovered that I’m actually not that confused.  I actually have quite a bit of clarity at this point, in fact.  I’m a queer, pansexual woman in a strong marriage with a man I love.  This isn’t rocket science, people!  Or is it?

A couple weeks ago I went to an event for the first time as a queer person.  It was a group for bisexual/pansexual people (although most didn’t know what pansexual meant, let alone identifying as such).  I was terrified to go to this group, and the fight I had with Seth a few nights before in which he warned me that no one wants to hear about how hard and marginalizing it is to be bi/pansexual, didn’t help.

I was terrified the group would look at me with the same why is she talking about this look that I’ve gotten from some well-meaning folks I’ve come out to.  The smiles, hugs, and I’m so proud of you’s quickly seem to fade into the expectation that nothing at all has changed other than me having uttered the words “I’m pansexual.”  It feels like it’s not being taken seriously, or maybe I’m not doing a good job of expressing that it’s serious.  But these group members were the people who were supposed to get it.  If they didn’t get it, I would really be screwed!

Well, of course, the group didn’t seem at all perplexed as to why I was there, and no one insinuated I should just go back home to my husband and not speak of such things.  (Bi the way (haha), a bit of processing later, and Seth and I both understood where his comments were coming from, and he apologized).  As for the group, they listened sportively, validated my experiences, commiserated with feeling out of place with both gay and straight folk alike, and then proceeded to convey in the nicest possible way that my husband needs to let me have sex with women.

So that might be a bit of a hard sell, but at least they got that this is something big!  It’s not just some quaint intellectual exercise after which I can go back to living a straight life like nothing happened.  I find myself wanting to say I’m queer, people!  It’s LGBT, not LGbT – us bi/pan folk aren’t any less queer.  I’m queer like all those people who’ve come out to you as gay or lesbian!  You didn’t expect them to walk back into the closet and just leave the door ajar, did you?  So why would I do that?  I want out!

(Disclaimer:  This quote “I am queer like all those people who’ve come out to you as gay or lesbian” is not meant to say that I am oppressed like people who are gay or lesbian or that I am AS OUT as they are.  I may be less out than some, more out than some.  My point is, I believe my coming out should be taken seriously as folks take it seriously when gay and lesbian folk come out).

The group was kind of incredible, actually.  I think it was the most diverse group of people I’ve ever been in, racially, socioeconomically, age-range, and sexual preference.  There were transfolk, a cis-male who identified as “98% gay,” there were married people, single people, people who’d been “bi” for years and others who were just starting to question, folks who “used to be straight,” “used to be gay,” polyamorous people, monogamous people, kinky folk, and anyone else you can imagine.

Sitting there among that level of diversity and fluidity, hearing each person’s story and how full of complexity, twists and turns, and incredibly unique feelings and preferences it was, it was impossible to imagine how anyone, let alone most of the public, could find it hard to understand being anywhere between totally straight and totally gay.

I have so many patients going through similar struggles in a variety of ways – feeling existing labels, concepts, and spectrums don’t do them justice.  How do I help these people?  I turn to the best role models a shrink could ask for… kids!  High school and college kids know SO MUCH more than any of the rest of us.  They ask the right questions and are open to the answers.  When someone comes out as… anything, they take their word for it.  They are neutrois, demi-sexual, genderqueer, polyromantic,  kinky, fluid, queerplatonic, boi, gray-A, bromantic, queer, etc.  If they don’t fit into a category they make up a new one – a few tweets and a tumblr page later – and they’ve found a global community.

So I learn as much as I can from my young teachers, and then I do the best I can to point my patients toward a community open and expansive-minded enough to embrace them.  And then there’s me – married, suburban, pansexual mom.  Where are the folks who are open and expansive-minded enough to embrace me?

Recently, at a meetup group for “lesbian and bisexual women,” I found myself surrounded by five lesbians in their 50s who looked downright pissed when I told them I had a husband.  Thus began the skeptical looks, inappropriate questions about my past sexual experiences, the “I had a husband too” stories, the insinuations that I’m a wimpy, closeted lesbian unwilling to suffer the consequences of leaving my marriage, and the rude comments making it painfully clear how annoying it is to meet women who aren’t available.  This was not a dating meetup, mind you.

“You know when you meet a woman, and it’s going great, and then she’s like ‘I have a boyfriend’ – what the hell is up with that?”  WHY?  Why would you say this in front of the terrified, newly-out, pansexual girl who just admitted timidly that she has a husband.  No, you don’t understand, I want to shout.  I’m one of you!  Or am I?  The truth is, I’m not.  I think my brain is wired differently.  If I met a woman, and we hit it off romantically, and she told me she had a boyfriend, I’d probably assume she was bi/pan and poly rather than feel I was being tricked or played with somehow.

Luckily after spending the first half of this meetup literally wishing I could run away, I met a cool lesbian couple who is experimenting with an open relationship.  Being in an unusual situation themselves, they seemed much more accepting.

But man, the older you get, the harder is it to find folks you can relate to.  Somehow I always end up feeling like I missed the boat, or got on it too soon.  Like right now, folks who can relate to marriage and being a mom are just so not on my fluid, LGBTQIAPK-affirmative, sex-positive, radical feminist wavelength.  Folks who are more on that wavelength seem to be, well, in high school, or college, at best.  I’m cool with hanging out with younger girls, but sometimes I end up feeling like somebody’s hip mom who came out to party with the kids.

It’s just so clear to me how complex and multi-faceted human sexuality and gender expression are.  Take a man whose preferred sexual act is mutual masturbation with another man, but only feels romantic interest in women.   A couple who have a lovely attachment, share a home, and raise children together, love each other deeply, but get their sexual needs met elsewhere.  A female to male transman seeking a 24-7 slave/master relationship.  A cis-man who’s realized he’s entirely gay but remains monogamous with his wife, not out of obligation, but because it’s what he truly wants.  A man who’s identified as gay his entire life, and in his seventies begins to feel a deep and powerful urge to form a romantic and sexual connection with a woman.

I have so many clients who come to me asking the question “What am I?”  I know a lot of folks would respond, who cares, why do you need a label?  Labels are the problem.  Perhaps, but labels are also empowering.  Labels allow us to go to meetup.com and find other people like us.  Labels allow one to go to fetlife.com and find someone who wants to play puppy or who excels at rope bondage.

We all want to feel known and understood, and the folks with labels that feel really right, they have got a good thing going!  And the folks with labels that have meaning to most people, they have really got a great thing going.  They can look out into the world and see representations of who they are reflected back at them.  They can organize and advocate.  The can be visible.

I’ll probably refer to this Monosexual Privilege list a lot, but this really changed my life.  I know I am privileged in many ways.  Many, many ways.  And it’s very important to recognize that.  I can pass as straight, I’m a white, reasonably well-off, educated woman. Still, I believe it’s important and right to say that being invisible is hard.  That there are many ways in which falling somewhere in that gray area between gay and straight can result in oppression too.  Being threatening to gay and straight people alike, being asked to “prove it” when you come out, or just having it assumed that your sexual orientation is as small a deal as liking both chocolate and vanilla ice cream—these things are discrimination too.

I recently tried to make a chart of some kind to help clients tease out their sexual and gender identities.  I have like 10 pages of notes, with scales and diagrams, spectrums, and dialectics.  I finally realized I don’t only need more than a gender spectrum and a sexual orientation spectrum, more than a horizontal and a vertical axis, I need some kind of multidimensional digitally-produced hologram.  It’s just not that simple, people.  It’s not that simple.

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4 thoughts on “Out and Pansexual in the Suburbs

  1. Wow, anonymous…. just…wow. Seriously?

    The one thing I’ve heard from people more than anything else is that THEY know more about MY sexuality than I do. As if anyone would tell a horny 16 year-old teenage boy that he “can’t know” that he is straight until he “tries it”… why should bisexuals or pansexuals be under this scrutiny? If Lesbian/gay folks don’t like that response, why dish it out to the bi/pan folks? I see this a LOT from both sides. And it hurts.

    I am a bisexual mother of four who “passes as straight” every day. How the heck am I supposed to give off the impression of being bi? If I am with a woman, someone assumes I’m a lesbian. If I’m with a man, someone would assume I’m straight. And if I have more than one… well, then I’m just a cheating bisexual slut, aren’t I? We can’t win when this sort of prejudice continues.

    To Lyla- you rock. Please contact me anytime. I’d love to chat with you.

    ~TheBiWriter (aka Lynn)

    • Lynn, so glad to have you here, and thrilled to find another bi-mom-blogger out there. I’d absolutely love to chat! And I really want to thank you so much. I’ve been waiting for someone to speak up and back me up on this matter. Much appreciated!

  2. I appreciate your comment and your strong feelings. None-the-less, I think your stance is bi-phobic. I doubt you would tell a closeted gay teenager that he isn’t queer and is only gay “in theory” because he’s never had sex. If so, I think that would be extremely psychologically damaging. What about a clergyperson who is celibate or someone who is saving herself for marriage? Are these folks incapable of determining their sexual orientation? When a straight person is still a virgin we don’t question them if they say they are straight? Straight people don’t have to prove they are straight by having sex. Assuming I’m not queer until I prove otherwise with sex is an enforcement of compulsory heterosexuality and discriminatory, AND, assuming you don’t have that same standard for those who identity as gay and lesbian, bi-phobic. Straight until proven otherwise? Isn’t that the kind discrimination we are all trying to eliminate?

    Being discriminated against isn’t what makes a person have a certain identity, it’s their identity that makes them have their identity. I’m not queer because I’ve been discriminated against. I’m queer because I love women, desire sex with women, and also for political and other reasons. I believe it is highly problematic for people to have to prove their identity through behavior. Examples: I have many middle-aged, transgender clients who have never told anyone they are transgender, never been discriminated against or marginalized because of it, etc. Are they not transgender? That’s offensive. And I think you know that. But somehow, it’s okay to treat someone bi or pansexual that way, especially if she is married to a man. Not okay if someone is L, G or T?? WHY the double standard?

    You are right that I am queer like people who are just coming out as gay and lesbian. My point with that comment was that me coming out to people is as meaningful and important to my life and many folks who come out as gay or lesbian. I didn’t say anything that equated my experience with people who have been out longer or people who are in visible same-sex relationships. People are coming out as gay and lesbian all the time, and I’ve never seen a reaction to that on the internet or elsewhere that essentially says – you aren’t like the rest of us!! You are only gay “in theory!!” What about a racial minority who can pass as white. YES, their experience is different from other racial minorities, but you wouldn’t tell them they are not black or not asian.

    Finally, I am not wondering, or questioning. I am pansexual. I have a sexuality, whether or not I have sex, just like everyone else. I can tell based on my fantasies, sexual attraction and interests, arousal level, flirtations, etc. what my sexual orientation is. I am also a trained sex therapist and I will tell you from a professional perspective that it would be unethical for me to say otherwise. If a client comes to me and tells me her identity, I believe her. I don’t make her prove it.

    Look, I have privilege. You have privilege. Did you read the monosexual privilege list I posted, or did you just get angry and write me back. I didn’t hear anywhere in your very condemnatory post you acknowledging your privilege as a visible member of a minority community. How come I have to acknowledge and be lashed for my privilege but you don’t? I find that offensive and a double standard. As a feminist and queer woman I think it’s extremely dangerous for minority groups to waste our time arguing about who has it worse and who is the most oppressed. Everyone has status and everyone is oppressed in some ways. Has it been harder for you, probably. But does that negate my existence and relegate my identity to a mere “theory” and not a reality? If so, where is the line after which someone has enough lack of privilege to be considered queer? Who is going to decide that for me? You?

    Finally, I want to educate you a bit about bisexual oppression. This does not apply to me, but then again, I’m thinking it’s unlikely you are struggling for basic food and shelter yourself, otherwise you probably wouldn’t have the time to read my blog. I think you should know bisexual people on the whole are poorer, more likely to suffer serious mental health problems, more likely to be abused and suffer domestic violence, and more likely to be targets of assault due to their sexual orientation than straight or gay people. I would like to ask you to think about your bi-phobia and whether you are really ready to consider bi folk a “real” part of the queer community, including those who have not passed your sex test.

    Ironically, I feel like I’m coming closer and closer to meeting your standard of experiencing “enough” discrimination to be considered a “real” queer, in no small part thanks to you and others like you.

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