Here’s to Illinois by Elizabeth Harrison
|Elizabeth Harrison, http://lizadare.wordpress.com|
I grew up in a closet.
I first came out as bisexual when I was in tenth grade. It is a little shocking to me that I even knew the word, with how little our media discusses bisexuality. I told a friend at a leadership retreat. She didn’t know any of my friends from back home. It was safe.
In the coming years I would convince myself that those words were some sort of fluke. Something that didn’t need to mean anything. Perhaps everyone said things like that from time to time. I put myself back in the closet and there I stayed.
And who could blame me? In Colorado Springs, Colorado, where reminders that same-sex attraction was a sin were a fact of daily life. Literally down the street from New Life Church and Focus on the Family, megacenters of “family”, “Christian” values telling me that same-sex love was inherently wrong.
The law agreed. My own country and government agreed. I grew up in a world where it was a simple fact of existence that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people could be denied basic civil rights because of who they loved. GLBT people could be fired from their jobs for being too “out”, they could not openly serve, and they certainly could not marry. I heard military members talking about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”- how GLBT people should just be quiet about it. I remember a 9th grade teacher’s homophobic rants in class, well-supported by the school and the parents. I remember military members saying that it was a problem for GLBT people to serve because “we just wouldn’t want to shower with one of them” or “it just wouldn’t be right to share a tent”.
This bothered me. As long as I can remember, this bothered me. I raged against it. In 9th grade, I remember a boy calling me an “angry, feminist liberal” in English class and other girls telling me to act less opinionated so boys would like me. I remember wanting to start a Gay Straight Alliance or some other GLBT club in my high school. I emailed the national GSA chapter and they strongly urged me to consider if starting such an organization on the north side of Colorado Springs would be safe. I didn’t come out. I didn’t create a group that would help others come out. Because we feared for our safety.
By high school I had noticed that I liked boys and girls. I liked one girl in particular, and friends were quick to call us lesbians. But I knew that I wasn’t a lesbian. I liked boys too. So I must be straight. Same-sex love was wrong, so I dated boys instead. I pretended it didn’t matter. It was just experimental. It wasn’t real. Things ended badly with her.
My male partner of 4 years eventually knew that I was bisexual, but I didn’t tell many others. After all, I was with a man, so I told myself it didn’t matter. With men, I could picture the white dress, the church wedding, the kids, the life. I knew I liked women, but I grew up in a world where a marriage to a woman would be a ceremony not respected by the law. It wouldn’t feel like a real marriage, because it would not be equal to a marriage with a man. It would be a scandal. I could lose my job.
I grew up in a world where my civil rights were denied so fully that it began to seem like a fact of life. I don’t know when it happened, and I hate that it happened, but at some point it began to seem normal. Society told me that same-sex love was less, that I was less worthy, that the bisexual part of me was deviant and wrong, and eventually a part of me believed it.
I didn’t realize how much I had accepted this utter violation of my rights until marriage was legalized in my current state of residence, Illinois. It didn’t feel real. I didn’t know what to do. It still doesn’t feel real. Now spending the rest of my life with a woman is just as viable an option as spending my life with a man. I can really, fully, love and marry who I want. I don’t know how to feel. I am finally equal (at least under the law), and I feel happy, I feel like jumping up and down, I feel like crying, I feel… more than a little scared that it will be taken away.