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By Karis Rogerson
When I came out to the internet in September 2021 at the age of 28, I’d never so much as been on a date with a woman. I still knew I was bi, and I knew it was something I desperately wanted to celebrate. I wanted to be seen for who I was — all of who I was, even this identity I was somewhat unsure of and somewhat terrified of.
I grew up in a very religious household with evangelical missionary parents. While homophobia was rarely if ever the main course at our religious gatherings, it was always a flavor. I always knew it was there, because from the time I was a young child I was brought up and trained to be straight and to mock, pray for, and look down upon queerness.
So imagine my surprise, some two decades later as an early-20s grad student in New York City, when I realized that in my opinion, my gay, lesbian, bi, trans, and other LGBTQ+ friends were not sinning. They were simply living their lives and loving whoever they loved and how could that be wrong?
It couldn’t be, I decided. And so I became an ally. I fought with my parents over people’s pronouns and the need to respect their gender identity; I cried when my closest writing friend came out as a lesbian and celebrated when she started dating her girlfriend, now-wife. I started including queer women in the books I wrote — as an ally, of course.
Until the day I woke up and realized — oh. Perhaps it’s not a very straight thing to fantasize about sleeping with women. Perhaps it’s not straight to wish you could have a wedding where you both wear beautiful dresses instead of one of you is in a suit. Perhaps it’s not straight to be jealous of the sapphic couples you see on the street and wish you could be one…
I still knew I was attracted to men. But I started to realize I was attracted to women, too. The word “bi” flitted into my mind. And then it all started to slot into place.
I spoke with my good friend and fellow writer Kat Korpi, another woman who came out as bi in her late 20s, about the experience, and she said, “So many things about my life…made sense in hindsight once I put the layer of queerness over it,” and those words resonated with me on such a deep, soul-level.
When I was a child, I only wanted to watch movies with women in them. I thought the ones without them were “boring.” For a while I attributed this to me being a feminist-in-disguise. Girl power! Then once I came out to myself, I realized…maybe I’ve just always been attracted to women and couldn’t imagine a world without seeing them. Obviously I’m not saying that wanting to see yourself as a woman represented on screen immediately equals attraction to women; but it is interesting that now that I have this perspective about myself, I’m able to recognize that it started early.
Korpi said something similar in her interview. We both come from deeply religious, homophobic backgrounds, and we’ve both independently of each other used the term “safe space” to describe what we weren’t as young women. So when I asked Korpi whether she thinks her life would have been different had she come out earlier, she reiterated that it wouldn’t have been possible for her to do so.
“Genuinely the homophobia in my home growing up was horrible,” she said. “Such active homophobia. So I don’t — in the family that I had, I couldn't have come out sooner, they weren’t a safe space but also I wasn’t a safe space for myself. That homophobia had been instilled so deeply in me that it took me so much time to even recognize that it was okay.”
On the flip side of family reactions to coming out, I spoke with another friend, Erin, who also came out as bisexual in her late 20s. Erin said she grew up in a very accepting family who she knew would accept her if she were queer; but society’s perennial biphobia kept her from realizing that she could be into women and men.
“If being bi wasn't an option, then how could I be bi?” Erin mused. “I must just be straight but have a heightened appreciation for the female form or whatever bullshit I was telling myself at the time.”
After coming out, Erin said, “How I was able to exist in my own life did not change, I just finally had a word for it and finally had acceptance of that word. What changed for me was that shift when I was a teenager when my peers and the media started accepting bisexuality more. I do feel a deeper sense of understanding for myself.”
Erin is bi and married to a man; Korpi is bi and dating a woman; I’m bi and have never been in a relationship with anyone of any gender. We’re all valid in the way we live our lives, and each of our journeys to realizing this for ourselves and coming out to the world are unique and valid.
I think that’s what I really want to emphasize today, on National Coming Out Day 2022. You don’t need to do something big and splashy to come out. Heck, you don’t need to come out at all, especially if it’s unsafe for you to do so. When I came out, I did so in fits and starts. I came out on Twitter, yes, but I didn’t tell my family for another six months, and then only my parents. I came out to Instagram on the first day of Pride Month 2022. I’m still coming out to people every day.
“People say it all the time, but I didn't truly understand it until I started doing it myself: You never stop coming out,” Erin said, which is incredibly insightful and very true.
Korpi came out privately to friends and then, when she started dating her girlfriend, made a public post. Erin said she came out in ways as disparate and unique as commenting on her sister’s Google doc (a power coming-out move if I’ve ever seen one).
I am someone who loves attention and has a deep craving to be seen and known, so I’ve been living my “out” life as loudly as possible. I put up a rainbow flag behind my bed and I write books about girls loving girls and women loving women and I tweet about it a lot.
Korpi said she started to feel more herself after coming out; she recounted how she had a pair of combat boots for years that she wanted to wear but couldn’t convince herself that it was “her style.” After asking her girlfriend to be official, she started wearing them.
“I feel like there’s so many things in my life that because I knew I was queer and it was unsafe, I was repressing,” Korpi said. “I was repressing a lot of style and life things…things that feel interconnected with my identity. I was divorcing myself from those, too, because if I let those things in, then I had to address the bigger identity portions.”
Ultimately, coming out doesn’t have to mean coming out to the universe. It can mean recognizing somewhere in your soul that you’re queer, and validating that part of your identity. I came out to myself probably two years before I came out publicly, and for a long time it was my little, precious secret. That was fine. It would have been fine if I’d lived forever cherishing it, but it’s also fine that I told the world. Coming out is whatever it means to you. Whether your story matches or doesn’t any of those in this article, I hope you feel a little more seen today. I hope you feel loved and held and acknowledged. You are queer, you are valid, and you are beautiful. The end.
Karis Rogerson is a writer who was born in South Carolina, raised in Italy, schooled in Germany and Kentucky and is now based in Brooklyn. Find her on Twitter @KarisRogerson and on her website karisrogerson.com.