In my 40s, and having been married to the same man for twenty years, I came out to my family and friends as bisexual.*
I’d known for a while that I was attracted to more than one gender. But I never felt the need to talk about it publicly, or to define my sexuality for other people. Looking back at my teens and twenties—the time when many people are discovering their sexuality—I really didn’t know that bisexuality even existed. I grew up in a small town in Maine in the 70s and 80s. I had gay male friends, but I didn’t know any out lesbians. I only ever heard the word ‘bisexual’ applied to David Bowie, who clearly lived by different rules than ordinary mortals.
I knew I liked men, so I figured I must be straight. When I had intense feelings towards women — including emotional and physical attraction — I defined them as friendship. Gradually I came to realise that it was more than that.
But by then I was in a relationship with a man. I was building a career, negotiating a marriage, being a parent. I hardly had time to breathe. Why bother to talk about my sexuality?
Reaching middle age is liberating in lots of ways. I give a lot fewer fucks about what people think about me. It’s only as I’ve got older and less afraid of expressing my own feelings, that I’ve become aware that it’s important for me to visibly define myself as bisexual. I want people to know that you can be in a relationship with someone of a different gender, or the same gender, or a nonbinary person, and still be bisexual. That bi people aren’t by definition promiscuous, or undecided, or greedy. That bi people can be in committed relationships. That bi people don’t need to prove their sexuality to anyone. That no one has to conform to stereotypes in order to be valid.
Coming out is never simple, and coming out in your 40s has its own set of complications. Fortysomething mums are supposed to be balancing work and child care, not discussing their sexuality. Middle aged women are told again and again that we’re irrelevant, we’re boring, we’re past it.
I have a lot of privilege, as a white middle class cis straight-passing woman. I have a great support network and I‘m self-employed in a creative industry. It’s easier for me than for a lot of people.** Many of my doubts and fears have been of my own making. Not all of them, though.
My parents (who are lovely) asked about the state of my marriage. My close friends mostly said ‘Yeah, we knew already, good for you!’ But more than one acquaintance said, ‘Aren’t you just trying to be interesting?’ A person I love told me, ‘I don’t believe that bisexuals really exist—you’re either gay, straight, or fooling yourself.’ Several have asked, ‘What does your husband think?’—as if the person I married owns my sexuality. A school mum said, ‘Oh my God, have you been fancying us all along?’
I’ve been told I can’t really be bisexual if I’m not actively dating people of different genders. I’ve been asked to prove my bisexual credentials by supplying lists of women I’ve had relationships with. Young people on the internet have implied that I’m too old to be queer. And others have shrugged and said, ‘Who cares?’
Many young bisexual people are told, wrongly, that their sexuality is a phase. I’ve been told that mine is a mid-life crisis.
Being open about my sexuality has enriched my life in ways I couldn’t have imagined. I’ve reached out to other bisexual people, lesbians, gay men, trans and nonbinary friends, and learned from their wisdom. One of my close bisexual friends lives in a country where homosexuality is illegal—I’m inspired by this person’s bravery and authenticity. I’ve found common ground in unexpected places. Friends and strangers have talked to me about their own sexuality and their own concerns about coming out. My writing has explored more queer topics and relationships. I’ve joined queer communities and enjoyed queer events. I started a LGBTQ+ chapter of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, and we marched joyously in Pride, and I dressed as Anne Lister and kissed the hands of at least a hundred women.
Inwardly, I’ve had to struggle against my own feelings that my attraction to more than one gender is irrelevant to anyone. I’m married, I’m a parent, I have wrinkles and grey hairs, I’m on HRT…who cares who I fancy?
I care. It isn’t irrelevant to me. It’s part of my emotions, my thoughts, my choices, my work, the things I create. I’m a middle-aged woman, and I still matter. And I hope that being open about my sexuality might help other people like me who are struggling with being open about theirs.
*(‘Bisexual’ means ‘attracted to people of more than one gender’. I’m also happy with the terms ‘pansexual’ and ‘queer’. I use ‘bisexual’ most often because it seems to me that more people know what it means.)
**According to the Bisexual Resource Center (@BRC_Central), bisexual people people face higher rates of anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders and receive less social support than gay and straight people. They are also at substantial risk of domestic violence.