Diversity is often scary and uncomfortable; my own fear holds me back from expressing my true identity. Identifying as pansexual was definitely a slow journey. Pansexuality does not limit itself with a gender binary. It may be simpler to say, “I am attracted to both male and females.” However, that statement doesn’t reflect my true identity. Pansexuality, to me, embraces the gray areas of gender and I try to explain with this lighthearted statement, “I’m attracted to people. It doesn’t matter what’s in their pants.” My journey was slow because I had to choose to either take the time educating my loved ones on the complexities of gender and sexuality spectrums or else cheapen my own identity by sticking with the more well-known term “bisexual.” When I took the chance to most accurately describe myself, I ran the risk of running into many more roadblocks of confusion, intolerance, and impatience. I especially feared that disclosing my identity to my brother would change our relationship.
I feared he would see me differently. Would he walk on eggshells trying to be politically correct? Would he find it too tedious to be careful around me, resulting in an emotional distance? Most importantly, was I being selfish by putting an additional stressor into our friendship, ultimately depositing my discomfort onto him? Would this all be my fault? The anxiety and fears built and built, becoming more irrational by the day. But, the time had come for me to come out to my brother.
I had been dating my girlfriend for several months and our relationship progressed to where her entire family knew about me, but only my mother knew about her. It didn’t feel fair to either of us. I felt like I was disregarding my authentic self and that I wouldn’t be able to develop my relationship unless I was open about it with my immediate family. For me, that simply meant my mother and my brother.
The process of coming out to my mother, both a poignant and beautiful event, actually strengthened our already close relationship. She had been expressing how proud she was of me for being such a strong ally to the LGBTQ community, making me sound like a saintly “good Samaritan.” I knew credit she gave me undue due. I had blurted out a clumsy “I like girls...too, though….” The guilt of my secret was lifted off my shoulders and was immediately replaced with the arms of my smiling mother, hugging me through tearful eyes. “Then I now have even more reasons to be proud of you, my dear.” My fear in coming out to my mother bridged from the fear of falling off some invisible pedestal. Instead, it gave her even more purpose in becoming a proud parent of an LGBTQ daughter.
My reticence in approaching my brother on the topic grew more from avoiding awkwardness, than actually fearing his rejection. I grew up in an eclectic and open-minded enough family to know that I wouldn’t lose him with my honesty. Instead, I feared that it might irrevocably change our effortless dynamic, awkwardly making him feel like he had to treat me as something other than his little sister, the role I had played for twenty years up to this point.
My family relies heavily on humor as our defense mechanism of choice, and I made no exception when coming out to my brother. Surrounded by friends and having ingested a fair amount of white wine, I pulled out my phone. I knew that this kind of conversation would best take place as a call, but let’s face it, I’m a millennial and we prefer to confront people and issues over text rather than actual voice interaction. Before I lost my nerve, I grabbed my phone and my thumbs got busy, hurriedly typing out the following:
I held my breath and pressed send. I don’t know what kind of reaction I expected. A simple “ok?” or maybe a clumsy “good to know?” Whatever it was, I know I didn’t expect him to pick up my potato analogy and run with it. But run he did.
Damn! He didn’t let me get out of the call, which inevitably had its awkward moments and more than a little bit of forced enthusiasm. I mean, really, what brother wants to hear about his sister’s love life, straight, gay, or otherwise? We ended it with me making him pinky swear (from halfway across the country, mind you) not to tell another living soul, until I had come out on my own terms, to the rest of the extended family.
I was one of the lucky ones. My relationship with my brother was stronger than the struggle of announcing my identity. My family didn’t disown, shame, or force me to get “fixed.” Unlike other marginalized people, I am a person who gets to choose who I let know about my differences. My own diversity is not for all to see, judge, or abuse. Being aware of this privilege was an important step toward being compassionate and empathetic for the challenges that others face while embracing their authentic selves. Unfortunately, diversity scares people: some fear that their relationships will change if differences are not embraced; others fear their identity will change if diversity is embraced. I hope that my simple, comical potato analogy can help some of you explain to the ignorant, the confused, and the curious. We are all potatoes and each of us, a special spud in our own way.
Bessa Krauss is a poet from Wisconsin who tends to spend more time with her cats, nowadays, than with humans. She is currently toughing out winter in the Frozen Tundra while building her writing portfolio. She is also binge watching Parks & Recreation to procrastinate actually editing said portfolio.