September 27, 2016

WU students embrace their bisexuality

Kayley Withers, Ellie Duff, Erin Coleman and Scott Lunte were growing up in different environments when they identified as bisexual. One’s first same-sex crush was on a Disney character.

Erin Coleman had a crush on the villain in Sleeping Beauty.

Kayley Withers wanted to kiss her best friend Katherine Young.

Ellie Duff started crushing on a lesbian senior in high school.

Scott Lunte discovered around middle school that he wasn’t what others called “normal.”

These Webster University students began to question their sexuality in these moments. They identified as bisexual.  Some still do today.  It’s a term that brought them some discrimination.

Webster professor of anthropology and sociology Andrea Miller said discrimination against bisexuals does not always come from  heterosexuals. As a sociology professor, and being bisexual herself, Miller has studied bisexuality for years.

Miller said there is a difference between homophobia and “biphobia.”  Homophobia usually originates from those who identify as heterosexual. She said those who are homophobic want to keep homosexuals and heterosexuals from associating with each other.  Miller said biphobia mostly comes from the gay and lesbian community.

“Biphobia is usually when gay and lesbian people tell bisexuals to pick a team,” Miller said. “They (homosexuals) say you can either be gay or straight.”

These people would disagree and say they didn’t come to identify themselves by choice.  They have attractions to both men and women.

Kayley and her best friend

Media Communications major Kayley Withers always thought she was straight. She had not even questioned her sexual orientation until she became friends with Katherine Young.

Soon she started to feel something for Young.

“I realized that that feeling might mean that maybe I wasn’t straight,” Withers said.

Withers kept those feelings hidden for a few months. She wrestled with the idea that she wasn’t heterosexual.

“I had truly believed I was (straight) for so long,” Withers said.

One night in June 2014, Withers had accepted that she was in love with her best friend and began to label herself as bisexual. Withers and Young have been in a relationship ever since.

The first person she came out to was her father.

“His opinion is one of the most important ones in my life since we are close and I admire him so much,” Withers said. “I was terrified of what he would think, and I was honestly worried that he wouldn’t love me anymore or look at me the same way.”

Before she was able to get the words out, Withers started to cry. Her father, a conservative republican, knew she was struggling and stopped her.

“He told me he already knew and that no matter what, he would love and support me as long as I was happy in my relationship,” Withers said.

Withers said that since coming out, her father, while still retaining some of his personal beliefs, supports the LGBT community and has welcomed her girlfriend into the family.

Withers’ father told her mother and her older sister that she was bisexual. She said her mother had different views from her father. Her sister was the same way.

Withers said there are days when people really support her relationship with Katherine.

“There are other days where it feels like people have nothing better to do than to judge us,” Withers said. “I don’t exactly fit in because many people stereotype, and based on stereotypes, people assume I’m straight.”

Ellie and her high school crush

Ellie Duff discovered her sexuality during her sophomore year of high school. She attended Booker T. Washington High School in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She said while Oklahomans were not very accepting of homosexuals, Tulsa itself was different.

Duff’s parents were part of the United Church of Christ, where she said it was common to see homosexuals in attendance. She described the church as an open and accepting environment.

Duff developed a crush on one of her close friends, a lesbian senior, during her freshman year of high school. Around her sophomore year, Duff identified as bisexual when she fell in love with another girl.

“We dated for about a year on and off,” Duff said. “I haven’t had a serious relationship with a girl since.”

Duff is currently in a relationship with a Webster student named Drew Anderson.

Duff was raised in an accepting environment. The idea of homosexuality was never hidden from her when she was younger.

Her father, who died five years ago, was the first to find out. She described her relationship with her father as a close one. Duff said her father picked up on all the hints.

“I would say that a friend was coming over and is going to stay the night,” Duff said. “He said, ‘Okay, dear, just a friend, sure, sure.’”

Duff said her father was always supportive of her sexuality.

“He told me we could go and check out girls together,” Duff said.

Duff said her brother would often make fun of her for being a tomboy, joking at school about her being “gay.”

“I told him, ‘Well, maybe I am gay,’” Duff said. “That took him by surprise.”

Meanwhile, Duff said her mother was slower to accept her sexuality. She said her mother wanted grandkids. But Duff said her mother eventually came around to it.

Erin and identity

Erin Coleman’s first crush on someone of the same-sex was not a real person, but a cartoon character. She was attracted to Maleficent, the villain from the film “Sleeping Beauty.”

“I didn’t think that it was a queer awakening, but it totally was,” Coleman said.

Her first female, human crush was a teaching assistant in fourth grade, but Coleman was still attracted to men.

“My mom has gay and lesbian friends, but I didn’t think it was an option to be both,” Coleman said.

At first, Coleman did identify herself as bisexual. Now, she said she does not have a sexual orientation. She said she is not attracted to a person based on gender alone, but believes attraction is arbitrary.

“I am pretty much 100 percent sexually fluid,” Coleman said.

Scott and the role reversal

Student Government Association Senator Scott Lunte believes common public perception is that the mother is more accepting of sexuality than the father.

He says that’s not the case for him.

“I had expected my dad to be the one who was upset about this seeing his son was no longer a man and that my mom would be the one to tell me it was all okay,” Lunte said.  “It was actually the opposite effect.”

Lunte, who is currently in a relationship with a man, said since telling his parents about his sexuality, his father is closer to him than he ever was before.

“He wants me to know that they’re (his parents) are still there for me,” Lunte said.

His mother, however, has grown more distant from Lunte.  He said there was a three-month period where their relationship wasn’t as strong as it used to be.  That seems to be changing.

“In recent weeks, we’ve been getting toward where it used to be,” Lunte said.

Lunte said whether or not his mother will fully embrace his sexuality is still a mystery to him.

“I think she still has that hope in the back of her mind that I’ll go back to being with women and that I will decide that this was just a phase,” Lunte said.

The “B” in LGBT

Miller learned from interviews with bisexuals that many feel uncomfortable going to LGBT-related events. She said she has faced the same discrimination that deters other bisexuals from joining the community.

“I’ve been to these events, and people have asked me what I was doing there,” Miller said.

Miller believes people don’t have a clear understanding of the term “bisexuality.” She said it is a term people are uncomfortable talking about because they believe one person cannot be attracted to both genders.

Her goal is to make the discussion more comfortable.

“I’m concerned about the invisibility of bisexuality,” Miller said. “I don’t think, as a society, we know how to talk about it well. That’s what I want to change.”

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