Growing up in private Catholic schools from elementary until high school was full of both challenges and rewards. I was lucky enough to receive an excellent education that prepared me for college. I was unlucky enough, however, to receive inaccurate sex ed in both my health and religion classes.
As the archdiocese controls the curriculum taught by religious schools, even if the teachers had wanted to teach proper sex ed instead of abstinence-only classes, they couldn’t. So I grew up not only afraid of sexual contact with anyone but also confused and unsure of my sexual identity. I was supposed to like boys, find a nice one, marry him, then have sex, make cute babies and raise them Catholic. The circle of life. Never in sex ed were the words “gay” or “bisexual” brought up. There was a veiled reference to sexually transmitted diseases. HIV/AIDS was one of the main ones discussed, but I don’t remember ever learning how it was transmitted or the stigma behind it.
Middle school was a rough time for everyone, but especially for my closeted friends and me. My friend Thomas goofed off in class and spent most of his time in the art classroom, where he could get away from the jocks’ bullying. Later, he left for art school and blossomed into a talented artist and musician. In my sophomore year, a senior named Sean Simonson published a highly controversial op-ed in our high school newspaper, the Knight Errant, titled “Life as a Gay Teenager.” He was the first person in our high school to come out publicly. The op-ed received many inappropriate comments, so instead of deleting the comments, the principal forced the newspaper to delete the story.
Throughout these events, I grew increasingly confused about my sexual identity. With little to no knowledge of other sexual identities besides “gay” and “lesbian,” I knew that I didn’t fit in any of the boxes provided: straight, gay or lesbian. I was confident in my assigned gender identity as a woman, but I didn’t understand how I could have feelings of romantic and sexual attraction toward both men and women. I justified these emotions by hypersexualizing my relationships with boys — I told rowdy jokes and flirted a lot — while suppressing my feelings toward girls as merely friendship. In our society girls are socialized to be affectionate and loving to their friends in public, so I thought this was just a normal girl thing.
The first time I came out, I was shaking and sobbing. My friend and I sat outside a coffee shop in spring of my junior year. It was probably one of the best days of my life. I attempted to come out to my mother twice; the first time, crying in the car, I never was actually able to vocalize the words, “I’m bisexual.” I merely told her that I had a crush on a girl in my dance class. The second time, in January of this year, she accepted my coming out.
Even at Oberlin, where I have grown to accept and love my sexuality, I have faced skepticism and scorn. Throughout the various labels I have used for my sexuality — bisexual for most of my first year, pansexual for a brief week in the summer, and finally settling on queer, where I have rested comfortably since the beginning of this year — I have been met with resistance from fellow queer friends and peers. I’m either indecisive, a slut, secretly a lesbian, secretly straight or seeking attention. I fully believe that it is not only the social stigma of anything queer/or bisexual-related but also the stigma of bi/pansexuality in our own LGBTQ community that has resulted in this disbelief and scorn. At Oberlin, we have great potential to open dialogue about LGBTQ issues. Let’s start by accepting different sexualities and allowing people to label their sexuality according to their own definitions.