Picket Fences for the Fenceless

Jul 9, 2021 | 2013 Spring - What Happens Next? Part 1

By Katrina Chaves

“I mean, I think guys and girls are equally attractive, but I could never fall in love with a girl.” Looking back on my 25 years, this assumption strikes me as most ironic.

As a teenager, I described myself as either straight or “bi-curious.” (I now cringe at the memory of those labels). In spite of many same-sex attractions, I claimed to be in-capable of gay romance. Fooling around with other girls? Sure. But there was no emotion involved, it was “just” for fun. At least, that is what I told myself, and others. This somehow made me “less gay.”

I never ran out of boys to crush on during my carefree childhood, but from the moment I turned 13, my orientation was quite clearly bisexual. This was, at times, confusing and terrifying. However, I felt “in control” of my life because I was able to separate sex and romance, and in so doing, separate myself from a queer identity. Growing up, this was the crux of my confusion and the bane of my existence. I told myself that I was just overly sentimental, too emotional, too sensitive; my feelings for females were purely platonic, and I was reading “too much” into them. Such is the mentality of a girl growing up in a politically conservative household with a religious mother. Loving my mom as I do, disappointing her has been something I strive to avoid.

Fate had plans that looked quite different from any expectations my family impressed upon me. The night of my thirteenth birthday, my best friend kissed me in my backyard treehouse, creating one of my greatest childhood memories, and setting the stage for my bisexual future. Several classmates had seen Cruel Intentions in recent weeks, and decided to imitate the Sarah Michelle Gellar and Selma Blair scene. This seemed like a grand idea, and I was inexplicably ecstatic that my best friend was inspired to “make out” with me, even if it was just “to practice for kissing boys.” However, at this stage of life, I was worrying about the latest hairstyle, reading the Bible, discovering the power of strawberry-flavored lip gloss, trying to fit in with middle-school cliques, et cetera. I was not ready to have my life turned upside down. It was not until seven years later, on the Cinco de Mayo before my 20th birthday, that I fully realized romantic love was possible.

The summer of 2007 was my true coming out summer. Between Fall River and Westport, Massachusetts, and the nitty-gritty corners of Providence, Rhode Island, I reshaped my definitions of happiness, love, lust, family, patriotism, and more. I thoroughly enjoyed my first same-sex relation-ship (and first Gay Pride celebration). It was a life-altering, blissed-out experience, meeting a lesbian soldier who swept me off my feet. We were innocent, young, brave, and hopeful enough to take a chance on love, even when the “temporary” aspect of it became glaringly obvious. Our relationship was short-lived for several reasons, but the biggest was my unshakable fear.

It would be a gross understatement to say that I was overwhelmed. I tried connecting with lesbians in college class-rooms, local clubs/bars/events, and the Rainbow Alliance on campus, but finding a supportive community was impossible. I found women less friendly and less open in these circles than in my hetero world. Upon ending my first gay relationship, I saw an amazing psychologist for several months, who helped me work through countless boxes of Kleenex, but she seemed ill-equipped to offer resources/counseling for a young bi woman. Books played a huge role in my pursuit of feeling “understood.” Books from Baumgardner’s rather ego-stroking memoir/manifesto Look Both Ways, to Faderman’s much more intellectually stimulating Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold provided some solace on bad days. I found Bi Women Boston online, and several years later, contacted Robyn Ochs to volunteer to work on this newsletter. Since there was no immediately accessible “bi community” greeting me with open arms, I pieced together different resources, patchwork-quilt-style.

I suppose I was lucky on many levels. My younger sister, already an out lesbian, remained my best friend, guidepost and greatest ally. She was unwavering in her commitment to reassuring me, wiping away the tears, encouraging me to break stereotypes and disregard others’ expectations. And I’m sure I’ll never forget the moment when I decided, after a few glasses of Shiraz on a warm August day, to come out to one of my mother’s sisters. Her response?

“I dated a woman once, too.”

As it turns out, I was not alone. Scared, and desperate for a better support network, but not alone.

Nonetheless, my fears tormented me. Coming to terms with my sexual orientation while dating a service member under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell symbolized and summarized the complexity of my desire, and the complexity of my circumstances. At 20 years old, I wanted a white picket fence in my future. I wanted a partner to build a home with, kids to bring to soccer practice, a sense of stability, backyard barbecues on the weekend, visits from parents – a predictable suburban life. I did not see myself attaining that ideal with anyone in the military if there was no possibility of tying the knot. Furthermore, being an androgynous bisexual dating lesbians, I resented my perceived pressure to fit a butch-femme lifestyle.

Fast forward six years, and I am in awe of how the “impossible” can be entirely possible, if one follows what comes naturally. My girlfriend, who is also a self-identified androgynous bisexual woman, has been a beautiful surprise in my world. “Coming out” has been a continual process since 2007, but in the end, I didn’t have to choose between a white picket fence and the truth of my identity. I met my Marine when she was getting out of the Corps, and fell deeply in love. I have struggled with the homophobia/biphobia that has continued to plague us, but when you’re happy in your relationship it’s easier to wear a smile in the face of adversarial forces. My one and only regret, thus far, is that I did not confront these prejudices sooner, and did not take pride in my identity from the very beginning. I wish I could have looked into a crystal ball and seen the support network, unconditional love, and peace that I now enjoy. Making healthy decisions and staying true to one’s values and dreams is the key to “coming out” and living out. I am out, and oh-so-proud.

Katrina is a feminist bi activist, currently working on her first documentary project, “The Other B Word.” When not devoting time to social justice issues, she can be found near the ocean with her girlfriend, hiking, or with a book of Mary Oliver’s poetry.

Related Articles

Now What?

By Kate Estrop The process of realizing I was bisexual – and actually following through on it – commenced in classic Kate fashion. After all, I’m horrible at following through on things. I have two bookshelves full of unused craft materials, at least twenty unread or...

read more

Born this Gay

By Kristine Meshak I was straight for 18 and a half years of my life. At least, I thought I was straight. I was raised in a conservative, Catholic family. Al-though there were strict definitions of right and wrong, it was a loving household. However, my family’s love...

read more
Follow us on Social Media