Heidi grew up in a town of about 7,000 people. She would describe it as “small as heck” and “very conservative.”
She grew up in the countryside with her parents and two older sisters, Emily and Annie.
“They’re cool; my parents are pretty open for the most part,” she said. “I have a good relationship with my entire immediate family.”
And she knew from a young age that she was “the youngest that’s different from the rest.”
Starting in middle school, she started realizing that she found other girls attractive, but couldn’t really pinpoint what was happening or why she felt that way.
“It’s difficult [to remember a time where I knew I wasn’t straight] because I like everybody,” Heidi said. “I always had crushes on guys, but then I would see some women and say, ‘Wow, what is this feeling? I can’t be gay.’ And in my mind, I’m thinking, ‘I’m either gay or straight. There can’t be an in between; what am I?’
“Being attracted to multiple genders seemed to complicate things a bit because I never knew if I just found random people of different genders attractive in the shallow ‘oh, they’re pretty’ sense or if I was truly attracted to them. I think that’s part of the reason I didn’t truly know for such a long time. And It didn’t help that I fought those feelings at every turn.”
Through high school, she remained confused and closeted. It wasn’t until her sophomore year in college when she could put a label to what she was feeling.
“It was a lot more of an open space that I felt more comfortable actually exploring that side of me,” she explained. “Just two years ago or so was when I really knew that I was bi.”
Heidi knew that this attraction to multiple genders would render her different from her peers in high school, so she kept it behind closed doors out of fear.
“I didn’t want to be judged, and I was terrified of losing my friends and those close to me,” she explained. “They were progressive enough, so I didn’t think I would really lose any of them, but there’s always that fear of when you have female friends that they’re going to think you’re attracted to them.
“Throughout middle and high school I think I knew, but I was too gay-panicky. I was just a little bit too confused. College definitely helped because there’s enough diversity to make me a little bit more comfortable.”
In early fall of 2019, Heidi started becoming more comfortable with the way she was feeling and decided to start slowly telling people, just to see how they would react.
The first person she told was Kaitlyn, an old high school acquaintance who convinced her to help at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh’s student newspaper.
“I set my preferences for men and women [on Tinder], and it was terrifying,” she said. “So I think I just texted [her] right away like, ‘What do I do with this?’”
Heidi chose to tell Kaitlyn because she knew that she’s been out since they were in high school together.
“I was really comfortable telling you because it was easier,” she said. “I thought, ‘Well, she’s not going to judge you.’ It was comforting because [she] was very supportive about it; I remember that much.”
She then came out to her current girlfriend, Kelsey and a friend, Ben, shortly after when they were all at work together one night.
“Ben is nonbinary and Kelsey is gay, so it was nothing new to them,” she explained.
Coming out to Kelsey and Ben and them brushing it off was comforting to Heidi because it felt normal.
“It didn’t feel weird, and that kind of helped me become more comfortable with it,” she said. “They didn’t brush it off in a bad way.”
In December 2019, she continued coming out to people she was comfortable telling. Nearly everybody knows now, except for relatives she doesn’t really talk to.
She also decided to come out because she was talking to Kelsey and couldn’t keep it secret as to why she was smiling at her phone all the time.
“I was texting her a lot and I was very happy,” Heidi explained. “I knew that I couldn’t have this insane crush on somebody without telling people because I felt like my sisters would get super suspicious. I realized I had to tell.”
The first person in her family that she told was her oldest sister, Emily. She lived with her at the time, and one night during finals week in December 2019, she felt the need to let her know.
“I had a little glass of alcohol because I needed a little bit of courage,” she said. The conversation went like this to Heidi’s recollection:
- Emily came home from work late one night.
- Heidi: By the way, I have a date.
- Emily: Ooh, yay!
- Heidi: … with a girl.
“She screamed so loudly — I swear the entire neighborhood could hear it,” Heidi said of Emily’s reaction.
She then told her other sister, Annie, the day after when she was driving Heidi home from work.
“I pretty much just told her and she went, ‘Oh, wow!’ Pretty uneventful.”
And a few days following telling her sisters, she decided to come out to her mom between the end of the semester and the holidays. When Heidi came to terms and did it, she started crying.
“Why are you crying? You know I wouldn’t care,” her mom said.
But Heidi was afraid to tell her dad.
“He’s relatively conservative, so I wasn’t sure how he was going to take it,” Heidi explained. “But according to my mom, he took it well.”
Annie and Emily wanted Heidi to come out to their parents on Christmas by putting something in a present for them to open, but she turned that idea down quickly.
“It was pretty nice to have all of my family be fine with it.”
And reflecting back on her experience just over a year ago, Heidi realizes that she’s OK with how it went.
“My coming out story is boring, but I’m happy it’s boring,” she said, “because nothing horrible happened. It’s awful to think that there’s still a large number of LGBTQ+ individuals who are being harmed because of their identity.”
Her and Kelsey have been together over a year now, “and it’s pretty freakin’ great,” she said. But there was still a fear at the back of her mind.
“Before we started dating, I was scared I had gotten my identity wrong because it’s not black and white,” Heidi added. “But I am very secure in my relationship, and we are very happy together. I can’t envision a time before I knew I liked girls.”
Heidi realized that a difficulty in her journey was pinpointing an identity before telling anybody. She wanted to be sure, but even now she says she isn’t 100% certain.
She also had an internal conflict about identifying as bisexual would make it seem as though she was excluding the trans community.
“It felt like the right label for me, but I was afraid that it implied that there are only two genders. I’ve since learned more about the label, and I’ve learned that it means attraction to multiple genders, not just male and female like some might think.”
Heidi said that learning about sexuality in school and other ideas within the community would have been helpful for her in her journey, and added that it would also combat the stigma surrounding the queer community.
“[It would also] ease the cognitive dissonance that tends to occur when one might start to notice attraction to the same gender or multiple genders.”
And for those who can’t or choose not to come out, Heidi said that things take time.
“Just wait and see, because I never really thought that would be an option for me. I was very much stuck in that conservative mindset, and I was terrified of myself for that reason,” she explained. “But once I got out [of my hometown] — this is what everybody says; it’s kind of cheesy — it gets better.
“Once you leave that kind of a space, things really open up for you, and it definitely gets a lot better. So I really hope that anybody who isn’t able to do that can at some point, if not to their family, at least to a group of friends.”
She also said not to adhere to those dismissing sexuality as “just a phase.”
“I had heard so many negative stereotypes, specifically pertaining to bisexuals, and I was afraid people would think I was just confused.
“And don’t let people shame you into coming out before you’re ready. Coming out is an extremely difficult thing to do and no matter when — or if — you decide to do it, I hope you feel validated by those you love.”
Editor’s note: This article was originally posted March 9, 2021.