I Didn’t Know I Was Bisexual

by Rev . Dr. Janet Edwards

I like being born in 1950. It feels so central. It’s easy to calculate how old I am. Last year I hit classic retirement age. I also hit marking about 20 years out to myself, and the world, as bisexual.

This means I know I am capable of loving people of more than one gender.

This also means I have lived about two-thirds of my life unconscious of my sexual orientation. Or, more precisely, wrong about it.

If you asked me for the story of my youth with regard to sexual orientation, I would try to paint for you a picture of cloudy murk broken occasionally by bursts of thunderous lightning. Let me try to explain.

First of all, you have to understand that sexuality was never spoken of. Never. It was not spoken of at home, school, church—anywhere. Lucy and Desi Arnaz on “I Love Lucy” had separate twin beds as did Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore and all the other couples on TV.

No vocabulary was offered to conceive of sexuality in any way I remember until a class in the last semester of high school called Human Behavior and Development.

Without the words, I am sure you see, there was no context given for sexuality of any sort.

Most autumns, my uncle who lived in Pasadena, CA, came to visit with his friend, John. That’s all that was ever said—”his friend, John.” My great aunt on my mother’s side never married and had a woman friend with whom she bred show dogs. Nothing was ever said.

When I look back, I can see that what I did pick up from the silence around sexuality was tension and fear. I lived in a cloud of wordless unconsciousness, but somehow, I knew what to fear.

And I knew that fear could strike like lightning.

Through my teens, I went every summer to a girls’ camp on Cape Cod until it was sold for real estate development. I loved that community and many of the young women there. I can look back and see how sexual attraction was a component of my feelings sometimes, but I had no concept of that at the time.

Through those years, my best friend and I were campers, then counselors, together.

One summer there was a new counselor who took a disliking to us. She spread a rumor that she has seen us kissing in the pinewoods. This was one of those thunderous strikes of lightning—I felt deeply afraid. I knew it to be untrue, and yet I was afraid.

Looking back, I’d say, I unconsciously knew it could be true, and I knew enough to be afraid of that.

And even though I was in my teens during the rebellious Sixties, I was a good Presbyterian girl in Pittsburgh—a quiet and conservative Presbyterian town.

I had no thought of dating until I went off to Radcliffe College and then only thought of boys. I knew of the “dykes,” a particular group among the ‘Cliffies. And they also set off that lightning strike of fear in me.

I conformed to the straight path before me; I never thought to do anything else.

I was blessed to enter Yale Divinity School with Chris Glaser, one of the courageous gay pioneers in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), who came out in our first semester together.

And my roommate at YDS came out to me as lesbian sometime that winter. We remained friends after she left school. I supported them both, and I became a “straight ally,” though that term was nowhere to be found in my world at that time.

It’s also important to point out that “straight” and “homosexual” were the only options I knew of at that time, so there was still no word for me as bisexual.

I hope you can understand this: I had feelings for women, but I didn’t know I had these feelings.

What these feelings prompted in me—what I did feel—was confusion and fear. I continued to follow the straight path, marrying when I was 31 years old. But I wasn’t straight.

In the 90’s, I became a public advocate for LGBTQ people in the church. That’s when the acronym “LGBT” first entered my vocabulary.

Through the Taskforce on Ministry with Sexual Minorities in my presbytery, I became friends with some wonderful lesbians.

During this time, I finally began to grasp that what I had felt as confusion all my life was actually attraction to women. I began to consider that I might be lesbian.

But my experience did not strike me as the same as how the lesbians I knew spoke of themselves.

I love my husband, and I didn’t have the exclusive interest in women they seemed to have.

I’d say I had used “LGBT” for about five years before I finally realized that I was the “B” in LGBT. It literally came as a lightning strike one lunchtime when I was admiring a woman in front of me in the line at the local Taco Bell.

But this time, I felt my feelings separate from fear, and I had a name for them so that I could finally see: I am bisexual.

How different times are now! We swim now like fish in a sea of sexual language and imagery. The sea I swam in growing up felt like one that lacked sexuality at all.

I do not wish on anyone the decades of cluelessness, confusion and sudden fear I experienced.

Our present world certainly has its own challenges, and of course, some still grow up in a 1950’s kind of silence. For me, as I advocate for people in the LGBTQ community—that’s good to keep in mind.

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Comments (1)

Rev. Countess Cooper

Rev. Edwards,
Rev. Edwards,

Thank you for articulating the experience of a 1950s silence. I had a similar experience of silence, born in 1969 in a conservative African-American household. My mother was born in 1926, so she had the same values of which you mentioned. The silence is deafening, so I am now working to break the silence. Thank you for this inspiring story of confirmation. Your story validates my understanding of being bisexual in a world that seems more comfortable with tucking me into a straight, gay or lesbian rubric. Worst than stovepipes and silence, the black is still virulently and unabashedly critical with little movement towards a brighter future. Thank you for your story and your voice.


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