Queer Beginnings: B + AA

Jun 1, 2024 | 2024 Summer - More than One Letter

By Rebecca Keating

As far as understanding my identity, I often think of this joke: I wouldn’t want to be part of any club that would have me as a member. If I am going to explore the genesis of who I am, I would begin at my birth. I was born female, identified as a girl and, eventually, as a woman. At six years old, I identified as bi-curious, recognizing that my attractions did not align with the binary. By adolescence, I was a young person struggling with the confusing awareness that I was attracted to someone I was told I shouldn’t be attracted to, and I was labeled in my community as a member of a divorced family, or in other words, a ‘broken home.’

Soon after, I became a member of another club: a victim of a drunk driver. My injuries were severe: I was temporarily disabled due to severe spine and brain injuries. I spent one month in the hospital and several months nursing my body back to health through different rehabilitation modalities.

Progressing through and beyond high school was challenging, and my graduation into higher education was fraught. I was struggling with what it meant to be bi-curious while simultaneously dealing with the emotional and physical aftermath of my accident. To cope with the confusion and pain of holding my identities, I tried to escape using drugs.  My drug of choice became alcohol. I trained myself to become a drinker, and in the process, became a black-out drunk for 20 years.   

One of the most esteemed clubs of which I have become a member is that of sobriety. It was as simple as waking up one Monday morning, after years of living the same way, and realizing that if I didn’t make a change, I was going to die—spiritually, emotionally, physically. Maintaining membership in this club is a priority in my life; however, it is not innate.  Being sober at times requires a concentrated effort; there is a diligence about sobriety that is the polar opposite of identifying as a bisexual woman. I am bisexual in a way that is uniquely different from being an alcoholic. Drinking each night into oblivion was a choice. I chose to drown my confusion and insecurity and pain in beers with a high ABV and Canadian whiskey. I never had to choose to be bisexual; this is who I am.

This realization that my bisexuality was never a choice, but a reflection of my core self, led to a point where I had to come to terms with several important truths. I was finally prepared to elevate my relationships with women beyond experimental dalliances to meaningful relationships characterized by substance and vulnerability. This period of self-reflection brought healing, as well as reconciliation of painful reminders of missed opportunities in the past. Any opportunities presented or proffered were ignored or engaged with passively—passive to the extent that they were not acted upon out of fear, feelings of inadequacy, fear of failure, and fear of exposure—you name it. As painful as this truth was to confront, it contributed to my healing.

My revelation, my absolute freedom, happened when I was able to tell myself in all honesty that I am—and had been my entire life—bisexual. I was able to tell myself that is not shameful.  Once I was able to accomplish that I was able to tell others who I was. I was able to present myself as my true self. It was exhilarating to identify myself and hear people say, “That’s great,” “Congratulations,” and “You must feel so much better.”  I was receiving support for being who I have always been. The key factor at that stage was that I had a grounded idea of who I was to share with the world.

Being comfortable in my own skin, with my owned identity, is a new but cherished feeling. Being comfortable and proud in bi+ spaces, however, is still not my current reality. As I have been on my journey to accept myself, being dismissed in LGBTQIA+ spaces has added extra hurdles. As in the straight community, bisexuality is believed to be a choice by some in the LGBTQIA+ community. Thus, I felt rejected from all angles. I felt interrogated, often judged by the gender of my partner at any given time, and unsafe in a community that was supposed to understand me. The intersection between my bisexual identity and former identity as an alcoholic has also led to complex experiences of isolation, such as navigating the never-ending alcohol-centered social events within the community. Because of the disdain of or dismissal from the community of which I feel I am a member, I felt confusion, but also deep pain. To feel safe and proud in bi+ spaces, I imagine a community that reevaluates the deep-rooted biphobia that has infiltrated the LGBTQIA+ community, a removal of hierarchies within and across identities, and a reckoning related to harm done.

The intersection among my identities, and the journey to reconciling those pieces of myself is now the lens through which I see people. Whether it is through my work with individuals experiencing mental health crises, people who are on their own journey of understanding their sexuality, or those battling their pain with unhelpful coping, I see myself and my layers in all of them. My empathy and commitment to those facing such struggles is a testimony to my own healing journey.

I have been a member of many clubs, and in most, an unwilling member. The most important label in my life is Rebecca.  That is my name, my club, and finally, my identity.

Rebecca Keating is a crisis worker in mental health in the Pittsburgh area.  She is beginning a doctoral program in the fall and hopes to bring biphobia into the spotlight.

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