The Super Bowl party was at the rabbi’s house, and while I don’t enjoy watching sports on TV, it’s hard to pass up fried macaroni and cheese balls. My son is more of a sports fan than I am, and while I have an extensive hockey jersey collection, he’s the one who can actually sit and watch any game on TV. During most of the football game, I sat socializing with folks, including my ex-wife, who was also invited.
The way we get along, any bystander could innocently assume we are still happily married. I could say we are “Happily Divorced” but that hilarious and sweet Fran Drescher sitcom is part of my reason for writing this piece. I love the way the show displayed a divorcing couple who remain close despite the husband coming out as gay, but it really bothers me when the same is assumed of me.
Four years before we married, I told my heterosexual partner I was bisexual. Our marriage lasted over a decade and produced a wonderful child and a continued close and loving co-parent relationship. Like many couples, my marriage ended as a complicated result of many factors, yet I am truly blessed that it has been so amicable.
However, among some family and even at the LGBTQ congregation I’ve attended, my divorce is compared to those situations where the husband later revealed he was gay. I appreciate their attempts to empathize, but no, I didn’t hide anything from my ex, and my divorce is not a result of my bisexuality. Moreover, my ex has courageously dealt with chronic mental illness since before we married. One person suggested my ex’s suicidal depression might have been caused by my sexuality. No, my sexuality is not to blame for my ex’s mental illness, just like it wouldn’t cause diabetes. My ex moved out in order to live a different life, to be her better self, and I’ve committed myself to the same type of journey.
I’m very lucky to have many loving and compassionate people in my life, but many of them perpetuate Bi-Phobia and Bi-Erasure, maybe without even knowing it. Erasure of bisexuality is a pervasive problem in which the existence or legitimacy of bisexuality (either in general or in regard to an individual) is questioned or denied outright.
We all make assumptions about a person’s sexual orientation. The only person who really knows is the person themself. I’m lucky to be at the beginning of a new relationship with a really special man who is finishing Cantorial school. This doesn’t mean I’m gay. There is a reason for the “B” in LGBTQ. It means I’m a person whose romantic love is not limited by gender (or clergy membership).
My boyfriend recognizes and values my sexuality. He didn’t automatically think my history in an opposite-sex relationship is meaningless because now I’m involved in a same-sex relationship. A number of people find this confusing and share well-meaning, but hurtful, advice and comments. Without realizing the effect of their words and knowing looks, they have told me the way I feel about my sexuality doesn’t matter. Their words attack the truth of my own awareness. They think I must have been a repressed man forced to hide in a heterosexual relationship. In fact, I was a bisexual man in a heterosexual marriage, and now I’m a bisexual man in a same-sex relationship.
Thinking in even more relatable terms, I’m a divorced parent navigating dating.
Dating again after divorce is not easy, especially as a parent, not to mention being bisexual and Jewish. I first enlisted the help of a local non-profit service called Cleveland Yentas. Supported by volunteers, donors, and grants, the Cleveland Yentas hope to strengthen and support Jewish Cleveland by matchmaking for local single Jews. I worked on my application, but the online form only allowed me to check one box for seeking either a male or a female. I wanted to be matched with a great person but was open to either a guy or a girl. At the very bottom was an open text box titled “Anything else we should know?” There I found my opportunity to explain, and also suggested they adjust the language and options on the online form. Our sexual orientations as well as our gender identities are on a diverse spectrum. A step on the road to equality has to be encouraging the expression of our own awareness to others.
Telling my son that I was dating someone was daunting. I had read through resources about parenting through divorce and waited until I was as sure as I could be that my new relationship would be long lasting. My son has seen family and friends in same-sex relationships and we’ve read a number of age appropriate LGBTQ books, my favorites being “The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher” by Dana Alison Levy and “Better Nate Than Ever” by Tim Federle.
I shouldn’t have been surprised that my son’s reaction to my news centered more on the long-term future of the new relationship than it being a same-sex relationship. Years ago, I had gotten a marriage equality sticker that included the veterinary emblem from a vet school fundraiser. My son’s innocent first interpretation was that by having it on my car, I was showing support that boy dogs should be allowed to marry boy dogs.
I’ll admit, being in a long-term heterosexual relationship didn’t force me to pin my sexuality on my sleeve. When I was exposed to hateful speech about sexual orientation and identity, I could and sometimes did stay silent. I didn’t feel encouraged to speak up. I’m most ashamed of my silence at those times and that’s where part of the blame really lies—not on my sexuality, but my silence.
However, I’ve tried to lead by example, even if it has been historically passive. With LGBTQ books in my house, Human Rights Campaign stickers on my car, and memberships in and support of LGBTQ groups, I have been here with my truth for anyone to find. All you have to do is ask, but don’t assume.
Back at the Super Bowl party, I met a female same-sex couple and their kids. One mom happily remarked how nice it was that straight folks’ cars, including mine, had marriage equality stickers. After the party and much too late, I thought of my perfect response. “Thanks, my boyfriend likes it, too.”