It was on this date, June 23rd in 2014, when I came out to myself.
It was on this date in 2014 that I changed my life forever by proclaiming my own truth to myself.
It was on this date in 2014 when I sat in a chair in my therapist’s office and finally, at long last, I uttered the words “I am bisexual” out loud.
That was the first time I had ever heard myself say those words. It was truth. It was honesty. I was 34.
The strange thing was I didn’t feel like some giant and unbearable weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. I had heard of coming out as being this great relief, at least that’s how I always imagined it feeling. I thought that I would feel the same. In fact, the opposite happened and I was completely caught off guard by it.
My therapist and I had worked out a contingency plan in case I ended up homeless after coming out to my girlfriend, who lived with me. One of the biggest reasons I was even in therapy was because I had an unprecedented fear of being abandoned. The type of abandonment that I dreaded wasn’t just people literally abandoning me, but the notion of feeling utterly alone and devoid of a person’s presence. Both of those types of abandonment had occurred to me before in my life.
My dad committed the proverbial act of going out for a pack of cigarettes and never really coming back. No, he really didn’t go out for cigarettes but it was pretty much the same thing. Yes, he did smoke but he was leaving us for his mistress (who later became my evil step-mother). That happened just days before my third birthday. Later in my life, when I was 19, he decided to take my mother to court so he could stop paying his $150 per month child-support. The worst thing about it was he called me a few weeks before my graduation to make sure I was going to graduate. Having been held back in 8th grade, that question wasn’t out of the ordinary for me. But, contrary to what I was thinking, he asked me so he could use that as a reason to stop child-support payments. He had to pay until I was 18 or finished school. I was planning on going to art school in Philadelphia but that was undermined when my mom got the subpoena and my dad won the case.
I was so angry that I called him and told him that he had pretty much robbed me of my chance to go to college since my mom was going to use that money to pay for my housing.
I was so angry that I told him not to come to my graduation ceremony.
I was so angry that I told him, “Dad, I love you but I don’t like you right now”. Those were the last words I ever said to him. He hasn’t spoken to me since and honestly, as a right-wing, conservative, Pentecostal, he would’ve disowned me anyways if I was still talking to him and if I came out to him. I still miss my dad and I still love him but honestly speaking, I know my life is easier to live without him in it.
My step-dad was more of a father to me than my biological father ever was. He wasn’t technically my step-dad, my mom and he never married, but it’s the easiest and most apt way of labeling my relationship with him. He dated my mom for 12 years and was always there for my mom, my sister, and me when my dad wasn’t and when my dad should have been. My step-dad attended nearly every soccer game of mine. My dad never came to one game (I played for 8 1/2 years). My step-dad was there for my sister when she was in and out of the hospital with kidney issues. My dad had to be yelled at by my mom to come see my sister in the hospital. My step-dad encouraged communication and reconciliation between my mom and my dad. My dad blamed my sister and my step-dad for all of his unhappiness in his life.
One day in 1997, my mom told me that my step-dad had a seizure the night before and was in the hospital. Turned out he had brain cancer and a huge tumor in his brain. The last time I saw him was on a sunny day out at Dulles Airport where he worked. As my mom, my sister, and I were about to leave, we all said goodbye. He gave me a long, tight hug. He told me he loved me. I told him I loved him too. That was the last time I saw him. Those were the last words we said to one another. That was the first and only time we ever told each other that we loved one another. He died later that year.
In 2014, just after I came out to myself, I was worried sick that something similar would happen to me. I was worried that my girlfriend of (then) 15 years would break up with me and kick me out of our apartment. This worry, combined with previous experiences of abandonment (the two examples above are just two of many times of abandonment I lived through) created a downward fall into the vortex of major depressive disorder and social anxiety disorder. At my worst, I would have un-triggered panic attacks, became suicidal, and had insomnia so badly that I was only sleeping for four hours maximum per day. This created the perfect storm for me to crash out of grad school and having to leave Columbia University due to the orders of my social worker, my therapist, and my psychiatrist. From June 23, 2014 until around Thanksgiving of that same year, only my therapist and I knew the truth about my sexuality.
Eventually, during a conversation while having dinner at a restaurant, my girlfriend figured out that I was hiding the truth about my sexuality and I came out to her right there in that restaurant. Feeling claustrophobic and anxious other diners would overhear my coming out conversation, the two of us left and sat on a bench in Washington Square Park. I told my girlfriend everything, including my fear she would leave me and kick me out. She assured me that would never happen. That was when I broke down and cried like I haven’t cried since my step-dad’s memorial service.
My girlfriend and I would end up going to Bi Request the following week. Bi Request is a twice-a-month social and discussion group focusing on the issues and challenges facing everyone in the Bi+ community. They became a part of my recovery and, more importantly, they became my chosen family. I’ve missed only four meetings of Bi Request since December of 2014 and marched in NYC Pride with them in 2015 (and am about to again for NYC Pride 2016).
I had come out to all of my family members, my girlfriend’s family, and my friends by June 25th of 2015. It was such a relief to march in Pride that year knowing I was truly being myself and there were about two million other people on 5th Avenue and Christopher Street cheering on the more open and honest me. I’ve shared my story with the #StillBisexual campaign, participated in the Bi Visibility Day 2015 performance at the LGBT Center in New York, met with national-level bisexual leadership, and now find myself sort of mentoring new members to Bi Request and committing acts of micro-advocacy for the bi+ community (think of the idea of micro-aggression but with advocacy (maybe that’s a topic for another entry)).
Things haven’t been smooth for me at all since I began the coming-out process two years ago. The baseline of my happiness has oscillated wildly and at times I am so exhausted by it, I seriously contemplate checking myself into the psychiatric ward of the hospital. But I have also learned tools and coping mechanisms from my therapist to be able to navigate the tidal waves of my mental ocean. More importantly, I have embedded myself into the bi+ community like a hungry tick. And just like a tick, I don’t want to ever leave. There are many things about me that I am still trying to figure out, learning about myself, and adopting into my new self but, for the first time in my life, my sexuality finally feels stable and I feel comfortable and secure with it. In fact, I love being bisexual. And I love all of the people who have helped me get to that place of loving my sexuality. I also want to thank them all (they know who they are), especially my girlfriend (now of 17 years), because without them, who knows what shape I would be in today. Hell, who knows if I would’ve even lived to this day. I love you all and I thank you all for helping me find my way through one of the biggest trials of my life.
I have found my tribe.
I have found my people.
I have found myself.
-Matthew A. Sandusky