Getting Bi Ain’t Easy, No Matter Where You Are: Isaiah
HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Isaiah” is a pseudonym.
I don’t think growing up bisexual or otherwise sexually complex is easy in American culture, regardless of how you’re educated. I suffered through long issues of self-illegitimacy as a consequence of bisexual erasure, which can happen in mainstream culture just as easily as in evangelical circles.
That said, the relationship between homeschooling and the development of sexuality is a complicated one. All things being equal, homeschoolers — especially those with healthy social lives — would have the same basic kind of sexual development as anyone else. But in the largest and most representative homeschooling culture, it’s apparent that all things are very much not equal.
The glaring difference between being homeschooled and publicly educated is the potential for isolation, and that can play havoc on myriad factors of development even if you’re part of a relatively liberal family. The more isolated from the multiplicity of human behavior you are, the more critical every small cultural influence is, and the more damaging harmful beliefs can become. In my experience, there is no place this hits harder than in the development of one’s own sexuality, especially for those who don’t fit easily into archetypal, simplified cultural frames.
As I have mentioned in a previous essay on this site I was raised in a relatively liberal Christian home but studied a fundamentalist curriculum, which was rarely contradicted despite my family’s milder beliefs. The media I watched and listened to, the books I read, and my family life in general never argued with this fundamentalist ideology, and it became a strong part of my reality.
My mother’s inherent empathy and lack of an authoritarian personality wouldn’t allow her to follow the most bigoted aspects of her faith, and she did not “protect” me from certain cultural influences as many other homeschooling parents did. I knew that gay people existed and didn’t think much about it — I simply assumed they were people who fell in love with their own gender instead of the other one. I knew, too, that people sometimes loved other people but didn’t get married to them, or that people could love more than one person at once.
But this knowledge was tempered by severely restrictive cultural archetypes — gay men were like women, gay women were like men, people who loved each other always “should” get married, and so on. My curriculum helped to push these mainstream archetypes into my consciousness too, and went even further as it became more strongly fundamentalist over the years.
All the subjects — history, math, science, Bible, and English — attempted to discuss sexuality in their own way. But they did so in very limited terms, probably to avoid offending the really fundamentalist parents who made up part of their target market.
History and math made poor platforms for propaganda about sex and human relationships, so they were largely free of this particular stain save the occasional Bible verse. Science never mentioned sexuality in any way for over nine years, then one day, in grade ten, a unit about human sexuality and anatomy was introduced. It was ten percent anatomy and physiology, and ninety percent propaganda — mostly the standard lines that define the purity culture and the cult of the “traditional family”. Nowhere in this lesson plan was anything other than straight, male-dominated sex mentioned, even as behavior to avoid — and once the lesson plan was finished, sexuality was never mentioned again until the next grade year.
English and “Bible” both hit the hardest with moral teachings, English doing so mainly through its reccomended reading list and Bible accomplishing the task merely by existing. There was never a fire-and-brimstone shakedown to scare you off from “immoral” behavior — which meant essentially anything but male-dominated missionary heterosexual sex within wedlock — but it became clear very quickly what was acceptable and what wasn’t.
I will give my former curriculum credit for its relative subtlety compared to other brands of evangelical education, but the message still stuck. I can remember being taught about “purity”, which, though emphasized to girls, made its point with boys too. Through cognitive dissonance or ignorance, I actually never perceived my curriculum’s obvious prejudice against homosexuality (which was never actively acknowleged, just hinted at constantly) or its extremely black-and-white morality with regards to sex and marriage, both of which I had been raised to perceive in a more tolerant way.
None of this mattered to me for much of my childhood, of course. I began to develop sexually fairly early and have always possessed a somewhat high sex drive, but I didn’t begin to have any issues until after my pre-teen years.
I grew into a teenager in an environment much more isolated than where I lived as a child, and for various reasons fell into a state of chronic but functional depression for several years. The overwhelming feeling of illegitimacy in my sexual identity was a major factor in perpetuating my depressive tendencies, and to this day can act as a trigger for depression. When the agonizing confusion I felt in my early teenage years finally stopped, and I realized the cold truth of my own variances in sexuality, I became mentally paralyzed with the idea that there was something wrong with me, something that I could not find a way to fix.
I was a torrent of repressed emotions nearly all of the time, afraid to express myself for fear of being thought evil or crazy in some way. In the depths of my mind, my instincts constantly pushed me to feel as though there was nothing at all wrong with me, that I was legitimate and had every right to exist as I was, whatever that may be. But without any cultural context or knowledge that bisexuality or sexual fluidity existed, I could never fully accept this idea. Whenever the disharmony between my instincts and my fear and guilt was brought to light, depression would take hold again and I would feel inwardly dull for hours or days. This was by no means the only reason for my depression, but it was probably the largest single factor at any given time. It peaked and finally began to slip the further I moved from the religion and curriculum I was raised with, and now that I have abandoned them completely, only their murky shadows remain.
I can’t say what was unique about my homeschooling experience, as it relates to sexuality, compared to a conventional education. It would be much more clear-cut if I identified as simply “straight” or “gay” — and likely more predictable too.
I’m sure those who are homeschooled in a truly evangelical environment — not the milquetoast one I was raised in — would prefer the risks of being bi in public school to the almost certain abuse and erasure they would suffer at the hands of fundamentalist families. But being bi, and especially learning that you’re bi, is usually a difficult and traumatic experience in both mainstream culture and the various homeschooling subcultures. Bisexual and sexually fluid people are far harder to stereotype and classify than people who identify as gay or straight or transgender, and as such have very little cultural presence, often being treated as mysterious and alien or vicious and predatory when they are given a space to exist at all. The ease with which bi and fluid people can get out of the game by simply sublimating part of their identity and identifying as merely “gay” or “straight” compounds the problem.
The fact is, having any sexuality that’s difficult to stereotype is hard no matter where you come from. When I was depressed all those years, I craved one thing more than anything else — existence. I didn’t need acceptance, permission, or tolerance — just the right to exist. In short, I needed to not be erased. But if you were to ask me whether it would have made a difference had I not been homeschooled, whether I would have been allowed to exist had I been sent to a conventional school instead, I can only say that I don’t know.