Dear Me: You Won’t Feel Alone Much Longer

Mar 1, 2024 | 2024 Spring - Letters to Myself

By AJ Dolman

This might seem impossible from where you’re sitting, young, shy, lonely me, but try to picture it anyway:

It’s the fall of 2018, 24 years from where you are in 1994. We’re telling a story to a bookstore full of people. That part’s actually far from new for us. Some writers don’t like reading in front of an audience, but I do. Except for the rare bout of nerves, I usually enjoy being up here. I love the visceral connection of sharing something I wrote without the barriers of time and distance between me and an audience.

This kind of connection seems unimaginable at your age, I know. You’ve only recently started writing in earnest. But I promise I’ve never felt more connected to a group of strangers than I do at this event.  

It’s the Toronto Bi+ Arts Festival, second edition. Living five hours to the north, in Ottawa, I missed their opening year. But I’m lucky to be part of this second year’s Authors Showcase. I’m sharing the bill with a roster of very talented bi+ Canadian writers working with a range of genres, styles, and backgrounds.

This afternoon’s event is at Toronto’s Glad Day Books, now described as the oldest still operating queer bookshop in the world. It’s a great space, and one I’ve been in before, but I was nervous when I got here today. Who knew there could be so many people at a daytime reading? Seriously, how did they fit so many chairs into one small shop? There’s an actual ticket-taker by the door. The dozens of attendees who couldn’t nab a seat are leaning along the bar or standing by the windows. Where did this many bi+ people and allies even come from? 

Like anyone who has come out, I’ve had to do it a lot, at different times, in different contexts, to different people, and to wildly different receptions. I don’t believe it gets easier for most of us, I’m sorry to tell you. I think most of us always brace for it to go badly, even if we’re almost certain it will be fine this time, with this person, in this space, probably. 

Now in your early 20s, you’ve only just started coming out to select friends, and you’re doing it as lesbian. You could feel when you first called us that, that it wasn’t our complete truth. But it was a lot truer than pretending we were straight. And it’s easier to explain, isn’t it, both to straight people and fellow queers? By the mid-ʼ90s you’re living in, most North Americans know what gay and lesbian mean, and accept that those are real identities—things people actually are, even if they don’t accept the people themselves. 

“Bisexuality” as a description, though, still feels nebulous to you, I know—both too many different things and nothing at all. Instead of being a valid, tangible identity, coming out as bi seems to you like a great way to start an argument about whether or not you know who you are, and leaves you open to yet more judgment and outside analysis. 

Decades from your time, studies will show the B makes up more than 50% of the LGBTQ+ population. I would love for you to have known that. But, instead, like many of our fellow bi+ folk, you feel like an anomaly inside an anomaly, your secret letter tacked onto the end of the campus rainbow group, not really meant to be said out loud or show up to meetings.

I can show you how it gets better, though. 

I look around Glad Day to focus on some tangible details to ground myself before I’m called up to read. Amid the dazzle of fabulous outfits and stacks of bi+ books, I realize two important things: everyone here, from the many organizers, staff, and writers, to audience members I’ve never met, already knows I’m bi. So, I’ll never have to come out to them. And, everyone here either is also bi+, or actively supporting the bi+ people in their lives.

That sinks in more as I’m introduced and move to the front. It produces a strange mix of euphoria and relief, set against a lifetime of memories of being asked if I was “actually queer” at gay bars, being called a “tourist,” feeling on the outside in both straight and queer society. Of having people, both queer and straight, assume an endless list of things about me based on what I’ve said my orientation is and on the gender of my partner. Of watching the same things happen to other bi+ folks. 

Surrounded by bi+ community, I suddenly feel ridiculously fortunate to have reached this moment within my lifetime. It’s not something I ever even thought to hope for. To be in a room full of people who know my orientation, and be certain not one of them resents it, disbelieves it, judges it, or assumes that it will change or, based on my partner’s gender, that it already has.

Then, I start to read a bi+ story to a bi+ audience for the first time in my life. It goes great. But, when I’m done, I know someone is missing. 

So, I tell the room about our mam, Ietje Dolman. She died the previous year, just a few years after I finally came out to her. Yes, we dreaded that coming out for plenty of reasons, but the surprise is it will now always be our favorite. 

Because, sweetheart, get this: she answers us with “Me, too.” Born in 1932 and married to our dad most of her life, she, as far as I know, never defined herself as bisexual out loud to anyone else. She stayed otherwise closeted to the end. But she showed me pictures of her secret girlfriends from before she met Dad, told me all about them, and about keeping herself a secret. 

And in this bookstore, in Toronto, 24 years from where you are, I get to tell festival-goers a little bit about her story, and, in that way, bring her there with us for a moment. I get to show her all these amazing people. And they applaud her. 

The walk back to our seat is a little blurry.

I think Mam would love that the Bi+ Arts Festival, and other Bi+ Pride events, exist now. She would have loved all the books and the craft fair and the art shows. I certainly know you will.

Like us, Mam would, above all, have loved knowing how much she wasn’t alone. Because that is the amazing thing you have yet to discover: you are absolutely not alone in this. You are about to realize you never have been. And, I can promise, you never will be. 

Editor, poet, and fiction writer AJ Dolman (she/they) is the author of Lost Enough: A collection of short stories, three poetry chapbooks, and the forthcoming full-length poetry collection Crazy/Mad (Gordon Hill Press), and co-edited Motherhood in Precarious Times. A Day of Pink speaker and founder of Ottawa’s Crafty Bi Nature, Dolman is a bi+ rights advocate living on unceded Anishinaabe Algonquin territory in what is currently known as Canada.

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