My own experience is not the universal experience, but in the 33 years I have lived in the greater Cleveland area, taking ownership of my bisexuality has been a struggle.
I grew up in the predominantly white suburbs of Valley View and Shaker Heights and was raised Roman Catholic. Northeast Ohio is definitely a Catholic-friendly area and it doesn’t take a closeted bi to see how much influence the Diocese has on the region. Growing up around institutional heterosexism didn’t make coming out any easier. At that point, I only knew the world of “gay and straight,” and only barely knew it at that.
I saw the fallout of Ellen DeGeneres when she came out as a lesbian, long before her employees outed her for being a bad boss. I remembered when Ellen’s sitcom was cancelled and “Will & Grace” premiered to some cultural blowback. As a good Catholic boy, I was taught and believed that you should love your neighbor as yourself, and I couldn’t understand why God wanted me to hate gay people.
Before I even came out of the closet as bi, I found myself drawn to causes like gay rights and feminism. Being neurodivergent, I found myself advocating for others in a way I could not advocate for myself. Like any socially taught man, I was taught to project my feelings and not deal with them. By being a super-ally to women and gays and lesbians, I felt I could change the world. But I couldn’t change it for myself. I was scared to come out of the closet, let alone come out of the closet for something I didn’t understand about myself, even as I knew it to be true.
I already felt misunderstood with my neurodivergence, and I came out of the closet as bisexual in a moment when it felt like people wanted me to come out for my neurodivergence. Ultimately, the orientation closet felt easier to come out of than the neurodivergent one. It felt easier because I got a sense that there was a growing acceptance of anyone coming out of the closet, with previous cultural indicators pushing for a more accepting society. As a neurodivergent person, I don’t know if such acceptance exists for people with ability statuses to this day, but I do know that I knew who I was before my junior year of high school, even if I didn’t know what it meant to be bisexual.
To be bisexual in Northeast Ohio without knowledge of the community made me feel like a bagel on a plate full of onion rolls in predominately heterosexual social circles, and an onion roll on a plate of paczki in predominately gay and lesbian circles. I’m grateful for the gay and lesbian friends whom I’ve met along the way who made me feel like a person worthy of acceptance and love. But, going to Bounce and Twist felt like I was a unicorn walking into a stable of horses and being stared at for drinking water and munching hay. Who would hit on me? Who would find me attractive? Who would buy me a drink? Who would accept my horrible attempts at flirting?
I was a bisexual person without community. I dated gay men to the point where I was on the receiving end of biphobic questions about who I am from everyone: gay and heterosexual. It wasn’t until my last relationship that I met and discovered another bisexual experience, and that made me want to commit to only dating bisexuals. But based on previous dating experiences and life experiences, that prospect feels like finding a needle in a haystack. I feel more awkward dating now, even if I try to state upfront who I am and then see if a drink is on them or if it’s time for me to pay the split bill and call it a night.
Something did recently change for the better. I discovered that there was a Cleveland Bi+ Network and there were meetings at the LBGT Community Center. I went and—for once!—I didn’t feel like I was alone. I met people to relate to with similar and different experiences. I found the community I sought for support and nourishment. And I felt that with this community, I could be more confident in my bisexuality. Feeling alone was no longer much of a feeling. Suddenly I could feel safer.
I understand more now what it means to be bisexual, and far better understand my own journey. I don’t know if there is such a universality around being a Rust Belt bisexual, but maybe that’s the next leg of my journey.