Bisexuality After 50: the Revolving Closet Door

By Rev. Francesca Bongiorno Fortunato

It’s a truism among bisexuals that “coming out” is not a one-shot deal for us, but a constant process. On Facebook, “Relationship Status” is of great importance when it comes to the ways others judge and define us. For those of us who identify as bisexual, relationship status has been a defining aspect of our identities (from the perspectives of other people in our lives) since long before the advent of social media.

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I am a woman who is married to a woman. At casual glance, I appear to be a lesbian. For many years before I got involved with the woman who is now my wife, I was married to a man. During those years (again, at casual glance) I appeared to be heterosexual. Since my late teens, I have been serially monogamous. I have had more relationships with men than I have had with women. But there were women, and those relationships were important.

I have always (since age 10 or so, when I first learned the word and realized that it described me) identified as bisexual. But there have been times in my life when I’ve been viewed as lesbian and times (longer and more frequent times, since I’ve been with more men) when I was viewed as straight. If I wanted the truth of my bisexuality to be known, I had to “out” myself, regardless of which sort of relationship I happened to be in at the time. I didn’t always have the energy to do that. And so, my sexual orientation identity has evolved, dependent upon current relationship status.

But what about those times when I’ve been viewed as straight because I was in a serious relationship with a man? Was I “in the closet?” Some might say so. I never wanted to be closeted. I always wanted to be honest about my orientation, for my sake and for the sake of others in the LGBT community. But it wasn’t easy. I had to come out, over and over and over again, to everyone I considered a friend. “You know … I’m bisexual. I had girlfriends as well as boyfriends when I was younger. I can still be attracted to women …”

It should be easier now that I’m with a woman, but it isn’t. If I want people to know I identify as bisexual, rather than lesbian, I still have to make a point of telling them. And then they wonder why. Why, if I’m happy with my wife and not seeking a romantic or sexual relationship with anyone else, should it matter that I’m bisexual? Well … it matters because it’s true. And it mattered just as much (because it was just as true) when I was with a man.

 Sometimes it seems that for bisexuals of a certain age (anyone old enough to have been in as many relationships as she has fingers) the closet has a revolving door. We don’t put ourselves in the closet so much as others put us in it (based on relationship status) and force us (if authenticity matters, as it does to me) to push ourselves out of that closet, over and over and over again.

And it matters because I need community, as much as any heterosexual or lesbian woman needs community. I need to be known, accepted and respected for who I am. I need to be part of the fabric of society—not the butt of jokes or the subject of debates regarding my existence.

I hope that it will be easier for future generations of bisexuals to stay out of the closet for life, regardless of relationship status. At this stage in my life, I am willing to keep outing myself as often as is necessary, to keep that closet door from being slammed on me or on other bisexuals. The door will only stop revolving if we have the courage to pry it open, keep it open and, ultimately, dismantle it. I’m working on that. In my writing, in my speaking, in my marching on Pride Sunday with other bisexuals, and in every other way that I can think of, I’m working on that!

The Rev. Francesca Bongiorno Fortunato, M.S., is a freelance interfaith minister (non-denominational services, weddings, memorials) and dance teacher in Brooklyn, New York. She is a regular contributor to Bi Women Quarterly and has written bisexual-themed essays for Pretty Queer and Venus Blogs

This article was brought to you by the editorial committee of ASA’s LGBT Aging Issues Network (LAIN).

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