By Claire Louise Swinford

The trouble with coming out is that it is a constant process. No matter how visibly and vocally out we are, the process continues with each new interaction. It is easy to get used to that phenomenon, as much as we may dislike it, and easy to become complacent. It was that “done it a thousand times” complacency that led me to great difficulty when I came out as bisexual. You see, my first coming out was in 2009, when I first openly identified as transgender. It was a process that was terrifying and yet much simpler than I expected. Of course there were people in my past who did not accept me, but I found that in the process I gained so much more than I lost. I was fortunate to live in a city with a very strong trans* community, and a great deal of awareness within the larger community. I was safe, mostly accepted, and had the resources to grow and thrive. In retrospect, I could not have asked for a healthier space to embark on such a radical change of life. In that space, my confidence quickly grew, and “being out” became a routine and simple part of life.

It was with that in mind that, after much self-exploration, I came out as bisexual a year later. What I found was a radically different experience. No longer was this a simple matter. People who once offered me affirmation were suddenly confused by my identity and questioning my reality. It seemed as though I had suddenly crossed a threshold into some odd taboo. Actually, that is exactly what I had done. The longstanding argument of the trans* community is that gender has nothing to do with sexuality. This is entirely true, but it ignores the reality that, with the possible exception of the bisexual community, sexuality has everything to do with gender, specifically, the gender of the object of one’s desires and one’s partners. I would never attempt to minimize the negative aspects of gender transition; the oppression and hate are entirely real. There is something to stepping outside of the gender binary that creates a lot of ugly backlash. But when we run afoul of the gender binary, we also run afoul of the sexual binary. After all, if men can have vaginas and women penises, then such iron-clad notions as heterosexuality and homosexuality are challenged. And is a challenge to one’s belief systems not the basis of hatred and oppression of any sort? Differentiation must be condemned because that which is different eliminates the comfort of the tidy little boxes we build for ourselves and for others. This is what all of our life’s learning teaches us, and it seems to remain until we consciously break through it, usually by way of a major life event.

It was that belief in major life events holding the power to shatter stereotypes that led me to presume that I would find acceptance among my transgender friends. This bit of naiveté would leave me horribly disappointed. We are very much a mono-normative society. Yes, I know the current buzz term is hetero-normative, but I find mono-normative a more accurate phrase, because the gay/lesbian community is often just as fixated as the heterosexual community on the notions of one gender, one sexual preference, one monogamous partner. Even the most allegedly sexually enlightened seem to trip and fall on this piece of socialization. This was not a shocking revelation to me, and I am sure it is not to anyone else in the bi* community either. But, somehow I believed the trans* community would be different. How does one live the reality of being forced into the wrong gender and often the wrong sexuality, at long last overcome it, and not immediately come to the conclusion that all of our gender and sexual stereotypes are insane? That was my journey, not a transition from male to female, but to a point of understanding that male and female are entirely constructed concepts. A journey to an understanding that people matter, individual self-identities matter, and stereo-types do not. It seems many do not take the same journey. In fact, I found many in the trans* community the strictest enforcers of the sexual binary. There were those who said if I did not find a nice guy to settle down with, I could only be a cross-dresser. There were those who said if a straight male enters transition and then identifies as anything but a lesbian, she is denying her past and falling for gender stereotypes. And there were those who excoriated me for even considering being sexually active prior to surgery. With the possible exception of radical fundamentalist evangelicals, I have never seen a community with more sexual hang-ups. None of this resonated or provided me with anything supportive or affirming. No, I am not falling for stereotypes, nor denying my past. No, I am not interested in playing Stepford wife to anyone. No, I am not allowing anyone to use dysphoria as a litmus test for my gender identity. And no, I will not accept that gender and sexuality are wholly divorced concepts when I see such sexual repression in the gender community. I see people trying hard to prove that point, and mostly failing as they suffer. I choose not to suffer. My sexuality is as fluid as my gender; there is nothing at all wrong with that. This is the identity that is purely me: my reality, my healthy space in which to reside.

But even the healthiest of spaces needs a support structure to anchor it. With that in mind, I started reaching out to the bisexual community. This was at first a difficult task because I live in a community with great trans* supporters, a wonderful gay/lesbian community, and virtually no bisexual resources. I had to dig deeply, and ultimately connect on a national level. It was in those connections that I found my place to call home. It was almost stunning to me, connecting to the activist bisexual community, that I was surrounded by people who not only understood my sexuality, but intuitively understood my gender identity as well. In retrospect, it makes perfect sense. If bisexuality is – at least for some bisexuals – the act of being attracted to humans regardless of gender, then who could possibly accept gender fluidity more completely? That being said, I should not have been surprised by the large number of trans* and genderqueer identities that I found in the bi* community. It has become a home for so many of us: the “not trans* enough,” the “too trans*,” those bold enough to spit in the face of the sexual binary as we did the gender binary. So I remain a fully fluid identity, choosing those stereotypes and trappings I like, denying those I don’t, and twisting and turning my way through the rest, mostly for my own amusement. And I do so knowing that I always have a home in a community that gets it, that affirms and encourages me. I am stronger for that affirmation and have learned and grown immensely because of it. We are all stronger in spaces of acceptance. We are all better for the simple act of “getting it.”

Claire is an out, loud, proud trans-queer activist, writer, and speaker. Her work has appeared in multiple outlets including Vital Voice magazine and Odyssey Storytellers. Claire works in HIV prevention, focusing on street outreach, and calls Tucson, Arizona, home.

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