Closets Are For Clothes

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I was 34 years old when I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I had lived with bipolar symptoms for upwards of twenty years prior to my diagnosis, but stigma and a lack of access to healthcare prevented me from receiving an accurate diagnosis and starting on a path towards recovery.

After my diagnosis it took me some time to come out of the bipolar closet. It was a process. My partner was the first to know. She had become convinced that I was bipolar several years prior to my diagnosis, and eventually she made me getting help a condition of our relationship. She also provided invaluable support and encouragement as we began the process of recovery and healing together. After that I came out to close family and friends, and then to colleagues, and then on social media and finally to everyone else through this blog. Being bipolar became an essential part of my public and private identity.

This June my partner and I separated. It had been a long time coming. Things had fallen apart between us and seemed irreconcilable. We had been together for twenty years, and during that time we developed a number of unhealthy, even abusive, habits. We needed a break, perhaps even a permanent one.

I am happy to report that after a five month long separation my partner and I are back together. I moved in with her a little over a month ago and things have never been better between us. We each used our time apart to heal and to do some self-exploration and self-discovery. Since we had literally lived our entire adult lives together neither of us had ever really had a chance to articulate an identity that did not include the other. We needed a break to figure ourselves out and then to try to come back together in a much more healthy way.

During our time apart I was afforded the opportunity to admit to myself what stigma and self-loathing had prevented me from doing for decades. At 38 years old I decided that it was time to start coming out of another closet, at first to myself and then to my family and friends.

I am a bisexual man.

Through high school I denied and ignored my same-sex attraction. I pretty much always had a girlfriend. Shortly after high school I began dating the woman who would become my spouse and partner. I would not need to consider same-sex attraction ever again, it seemed.

None of that was “for show” or anything. I was and am sexually attracted to women. Very much so. I wasn’t faking it then any more than I am now. Many see bisexuality as a stepping stone towards homosexuality. That participates in biphobia and bi-erasure and is, frankly, incredibly offensive. I do wonder, however, if my fear of being without a girlfriend for any period of time in high school and beyond stemmed from my same-sex attraction and a strong subconscious desire to refuse to acknowledge it.

I didn’t understand bisexuality at that time. I subscribed to a kind of unspoken “one-drop rule”. Same-sex attraction meant you were gay. I wasn’t gay, therefore same-sex attraction was to be repressed and completely ignored.

Toxic masculinity forced me into the closet, much like it did with my bipolar. With mental health toxic masculinity feminizes any expression of emotional or psychological “weakness” or vulnerability. Toxic masculinity also feminizes same-sex attraction in men. As I grew up fully prescribing to this definition of masculinity it created another barrier preventing me from living as my authentic self.

It is extraordinarily difficult to break the shackles of toxic masculinity. It took a personal crisis and a ton of self-work for me to be able to do that when it came to my mental health. It took another personal crisis and another ton of self-work for me to do the same regarding my sexual identity.

Like my exit from the bipolar closet, leaving the bisexual closet has been an incremental process. First I came out to my partner, then close family and friends. After that I started to come out on social media and now, with this post, I will be out pretty much everywhere.

I have been asked why I would bother to come out at all. Obviously if my partner and I didn’t work things out, and then I started dating a man, I would have to come out. But why now? Why when I am still in a “straight” relationship?

It is difficult to describe the impact that living in the closet has on your mental health. It is confining, suffocating, and exhausting. It can lead to self-hatred, chronic depression, substance abuse, and an increased risk for suicide. Many people who live in the closet, like I did, will separate their same-sex attractions and feelings from their self-identity, repressing them and keeping them out of their conscious awareness. This dissociation and repression can lead to increased anxiety about, and even disgust with, their own feelings and attractions.

Can you imagine living that way? Can you imagine hiding your own sexuality not only from others, but from yourself, and being disgusted with yourself every time it starts to surface?

I can. I lived that way for decades.

In light of that the question shouldn’t be why I would bother coming out now. Instead it should how I could stand staying in for as long as I did.