On facing my fears and coming out as bisexual

Ever since I can remember, I’ve had nightmares about tidal waves.

The nightmares vary in detail; always, I’m on an annual beach vacation with my family — my favorite week of the year — but sometimes, I’m sitting on one of those tacky wicker chairs in the beach house, gazing out the window. Or I’m strolling down the beach looking for seaglass, the sand between my toes, the air tasting vaguely salty on my tongue.

The dreams always start out blissful.

But without fail, The Wave rolls in to fulfill its one true purpose: to swallow everything whole. It’s a dark, menacing wall of water, and there’s no way to escape. Sometimes, when dream-me is on the beach, I try to run, but the tide pulls me in, and the sand swallows my feet so I can’t move. Other times, I can’t remember how to open my eyes, and I run around wildly, blindly, only able to hear piercing screams of doomed beachgoers and the ominous, deafening roar of The Wave.

And every single time, I wake up with a scream caught in my throat, my heart pounding in my chest, my sheets soaked in sweat.

When I was a junior in high school, I asked my AP psychology teacher what these dreams mean. “You’re keeping a secret,” she said. “Whether it’s a subconscious or active process, you’re keeping something in, and it’s overwhelming you.”

I didn’t think much of it at the time, because to be perfectly honest, I thought — and, to a degree, still think — that dream interpretations are a lot like horoscopes: a fun pastime, but not to be taken seriously. Still, the part of me that craved an answer believed it. I was desperate to know why my brain was repeatedly, doggedly trying to sabotage my happy place, the only place where I feel truly, unequivocally at home: the ocean.

Last year — after over a decade of tidal wave nightmares — I developed a crush on a girl who lived in the city I had just moved to. At first, I thought my feelings were just deep admiration for her sense of style and her kind nature, but I started to look forward to seeing her, feeling butterflies in my stomach whenever she was near, nudging as close to her as I could whenever I had one or two drinks in me. Her smile was infectious, and it made my heart glow. Of course, it was just a harmless crush, the kind of crush that happens hundreds of times throughout a lifetime. . . but it meant volumes to me, because it was the crush that made me realize that I couldn’t deny my truth anymore.

My AP psychology teacher was right, in her own way. The Wave was real; I was keeping a secret, even from myself. As someone who grew up in a rural, conservative town, I had had feelings for other girls throughout my life that I just dismissed as, once again, deep admiration or a “girl crush.” Funny the strange ways our brains try to protect us from our inner truths, isn’t it?

But this time, I wasn’t going to run. I was going to open my eyes and stand to face it. I was going to reclaim my ocean.

It turned out, though, that coming out can be a nightmare all on its own. The first person I came out to as bisexual reacted very negatively, prompting me to burst into tears, filled with shame. My impulse was to re-smother this aspect of my sexuality and pretend it wasn’t there. After all, what if everyone I ever tell thinks that my bisexuality isn’t real, that it’s just a way to get “more satisfaction,” that it’s “just a phase,” that it’s a way to get attention? And — worst of all — what if they’re right? What if all of these feelings I’ve had my whole life are really just “girl crushes” that don’t mean anything?

In an attempt to swallow those bitter doubts, I texted my brother one night after a few drinks: “Hey, this is me coming out as bisexual.”

He responded exactly how I needed him to: “Sam, I love you, and I’m so, so proud of you.”

A few months later, I decided to come out to my conservative parents. Two weeks ago, I told them that although I primarily have feelings towards men, I have also been attracted to women, too. After their initial shock (and a cigar or two), they told me they loved me no matter what. They told me they’d always be proud of me, and that I’d always be their daughter. Something inside me shifted into place as I exhaled deeply.

I am bisexual. This is me, coming out. This is me, reclaiming my ocean.

I haven’t had a tidal wave nightmare since.

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