Outside the Box: Coming Out as Bisexual at 40
There’s a Monty Python sketch in the film ‘The Meaning of Life’ which sums up pretty well how self-conscious I feel about coming out as a bisexual man, in my forties, in a fulfilled and happy monogamous marriage to a woman. As the song ‘Every Sperm is Sacred’ ends, the scene cuts to a middle-aged Protestant couple, Mr and Mrs Blackitt, as the husband explains to his wife that, because they are Protestant they can have sex anytime they like without risk of pregnancy.
Mrs Blackitt: But it’s the same with us, Harry.
Mr Blackitt: What d’you mean…?
Mrs Blackitt: Well I mean we’ve got two children and we’ve had sexual intercourse twice.
Mr Blackitt: That’s not the point… We *could* have it any time we wanted.
Mrs Blackitt: Really?
Why come out as bisexual when you are not intending to ‘do anything’? I sometimes wonder if by coming out in this way I’m just encouraging the ‘unicorn theory’ of bisexuality – that we simply don’t exist.
I came out to myself at the age of forty about five minutes before the end of a counselling session. It struck me. I was about to say something to the therapist and had second thoughts: this was big news and my wife deserved to hear this before this professional did. On the drive home I tried the various possibilities out loud for the first time:
“I am gay!”
Nope. That wasn’t it. I’ve been this way before. Every time I’ve conducted any experiment – ‘thought’ or ‘practical’ it had led to the same conclusion: I can’t be gay because most of the time I am attracted primarily or even exclusively to women. Up until this point any feelings towards someone of the same sex had been fairly efficiently dealt with by my binary ideas of attraction.
“I am straight!”
Nope. That didn’t feel honest. Even from the age of five I knew that I could fall in love with my peers regardless of their sex. It had been the source of huge internal shame and embarrassment as well as even when, as a cub scout, I’d allowed myself to dwell on a couple of crushes. Or as a teenager when I’d given those feelings or thoughts space.
A bit of wider context is that I was brought up as a teenager in the 1980s when most of popular culture was deeply homophobic, while at the same time the taboo of homosexuality was coming under pressure in the arts. As a teenager and a young adult, I was heavily involved in the charismatic evangelical movement which was extremely conservative on sexuality.
Since then, as a liberal Anglo-Catholic priest, I’ve blessed same-sex marriages, campaigned for queer equality in the church and society, and taught my own children progressive values in the way we speak and act, and through the friendships we’ve all made together along the way.
Yet despite all this public progress, there was still some lingering homophobia; some horror at the idea that I might self might not be being completely straight with myself.
So what is the point of me coming out? For me it’s all about shame. While I have some regret about not exploring more in my younger days, my real regret isn’t about not having had certain experiences; my real regret is about the wasted energy spent on feeling ashamed. That’s why it matters to me to come out. I don’t need other people to know that I’m bisexual. But, in letting it be ‘out there’ and real, I can just let it be normal and a non-issue; not so much a thing to be revealed as an aspect of myself no longer concealed.
And it’s been fun, mostly. What’s been fascinating is what the gay part of me can teach the straight part of me about respect for people you are attracted to. Because the gay part of me was never taught to objectify men the way the straight part of me was taught to objectify women (perhaps another reason it took so long to come out to myself?), it is teaching me to see sexual attraction to women very differently. I think, and I could be wrong, that coming out as bisexual is making me a better husband to my wonderful – and incredibly understanding and compassionate – wife!
Written by Keith Hebden. Revd. Dr. Keith Hebden is an ordained priest in the Church of England who has been involved in social justice work both inside and outside the church. He currently works as an organiser for Leicester Citizens UK.