The following post is by Jason Bilbrey, our Director of Pastoral Care here at The Marin Foundation. You can read more from Jason at his blog, www.jasonbilbrey.com
I was homeschooled all throughout high school. I had a job gathering shopping carts from the Lowe’s Home Improvement Store parking lot at closing time. I’d get home close to midnight, wake up my younger brother and we’d tiptoe to the living room where my sleeping parents’ worst fears would be realized: two back-to-back reruns of Friends, followed by a Seinfeld. We sat close to the TV with the volume turned low and fed our ferocious hunger for all things secular.
It was from Friends that I first learned about one-night stands, drugs, and abortion. And it was when Phoebe brought her guitar to a third-grade classroom that I first learned what a bisexual was.
Some men love men.
Some women love women.
Then there are bisexuals,
but some just say they’re kidding themselves.
Ten years later, that refrain would echo from somewhere deep in my subconscious on the night my wife came out to me. She was bisexual.
It was December 2011. We had been married for four years. We had a two-year-old daughter. And I knew how this was supposed to go. I had seen it happen in season one when Ross’s wife left him for another woman. It was the first time we ever talked seriously about divorce.
If you had stopped me on the street the day before and asked what I thought about bisexuality, I probably would have given a fairly dispassionate response, something along the lines of “bisexuals are attracted to both men and women.” I certainly wouldn’t have recited verses, neither from the Bible nor from Friends. But I suddenly found myself very dogmatic.
My conservative upbringing had taught me that homosexuality was a threat to the family, a threat that suddenly seemed very real. The sanctity of marriage–our marriage–felt under attack, just as I had been warned. I was becoming more traditionalist by the minute. Even though I understood why my wife had repressed this side of her sexuality until now, unready to come out even to herself; even though my wife hadn’t cheated on me and stated flatly that she never would; even though my wife was, she explained, attracted to me and other men as well as women…I couldn’t help feeling betrayed. Like our marriage was a joke.
“I feel like you’re not hearing me,” Courtney said finally, head in hands. “I don’t want a divorce. Of course not. I chose you. I’m attracted to you. I made a commitment to you and I meant it.” She was right. I wasn’t hearing her, and it was a long time before I could. I had to listen to her talk about all this, of course, because Courtney wouldn’t let me pretend like nothing happened. That was my inclination: to coax her back in the closet. She wouldn’t have it. She wanted to be out. Vocally out. She wanted to stand in solidarity with the LGBT community and combat the stigma that society casted, a stigma that I bought into and buckled under. And it was there, within our monogamous marriage, straddling that fine line between commitment and imprisonment, that I listened. I had to.
The above photo was taken right around that time. I can see the exhaustion on our faces. (Not to mention, why is my wife carrying our bags and our daughter, while my hands are empty? I know there’s a metaphor in there somewhere.) It’s to my Courtney’s credit that we made it through that season. She was both patient and tenacious. She fought for our marriage.
And she won me over.
This is simply what it came down to for me: I chose to believe her. I gave myself permission to accept her experience at face value and to empathize. I say this as if it was a single event. It wasn’t. I’m still choosing to let my wife teach me and (if we want to go really biblical and maybe a little subversive) to submit myself to her in love.
And of course we came out…together. To her family. To mine. To our church. Even if we were a monogamous, straight couple with a family, our marriage was decidedly not traditional, and we told people about it. It felt humbling to be on this side of that conversation.
Courtney helped me to open my world up, not only to her experience, but also to those of other LGBT folks–experiences that hadn’t fit within my world before. I listened afresh. It’s not that I immediately identified with every story I heard, nor endorsed every viewpoint, but I was willing to let competing ideas sit together in conflict. It’s a process I’m still engaged in.
That’s what led me to work at The Marin Foundation. And having been through this journey, it’s now my privilege to hear other people’s stories, and walk with them through their journeys. That’s actually the majority of what I do here. And I love it. So shoot me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or comment on this post. I’d love to hear your story.