When I was seven years old, I went through a phase where I was convinced I was the only baby in the whole world who still needed a night-light. I knew I just had to get over it. I thought if I could power through the darkness through sheer willpower, everything would be fine. So, one night, I unplugged the light from the socket, grit my teeth, and crawled back in bed. I tried to ignore the shadows, the twisted knots in my stomach, and the reality that maybe it was okay for me to need the light.
Then, in fourth grade, I got my first crush on a girl, Amy.* I couldn’t not notice her. I even noticed the annoying things she did—like the fact that she ate her JELLO wrong. It drove me nuts. I would cut my JELLO into squares with the ridge of my spoon and scoop each square into my mouth one at a time, trying my best to keep it as angular as possible, but Amy dug in to hers like it didn’t even matter if her bites were symmetrical or not. I did like how she combed out her long hair with a bristle brush, leaving it to lie flat against her back like brown bramble. I liked listening to her sing “Amazing Grace” on the playground with her church friends. I liked when she smiled so wide I could see the pink banding on her braces.
My feelings baffled me. I genuinely liked boys. I’d even had boyfriends. Whenever I caught myself noticing Amy, I tried to convince myself that every little detail I adored about her—her hair, her braces, even her abhorrent JELLO technique–was like my old night-light: something I could live without if I tried hard enough.
One day, I took a sheet of black construction paper and cut a hole in it that was about an inch tall by a half-inch wide–the same size as the black-and-white portraits in my fourth-grade yearbook, where Amy’s picture lived only a few slots away from mine. I slid the hole in the paper directly over Amy’s face, so she was all I could see. Looking at her that way—an inch tall, devoid of color, and surrounded by a sea of black paper–the entire issue of my feelings seemed manageable. I hoped it would stay that way.
It didn’t. I kept getting crushes on girls. There was Victoria from Freshman typing class, who giggled when I slipped dirty words into my practice exercises whenever the teacher wasn’t looking. Another time, I became totally unmoored over this singer at a coffeehouse. Her cheekbones looked so beautiful under the stage lights that after her set, I locked myself in my car and cried over how badly I wanted to touch them. I wrote a poem about her and saved it in a file marked, “Unpublishable.”
It wasn’t until I was thirty that I started to process things. One night, I confessed to my husband that I sometimes wished he were a woman. I was sure he would want to leave me. Instead, he sat down next to me and said, “You know, I love you know matter what. And you’re probably bisexual. That’s okay.”
I thought–oh. Bisexual. I’ve heard of that. Maybe there’s something to it.
It wasn’t something I’d ever thought to call myself. With my husband’s help, I began exploring it, and these days I feel comfortable using that term for my identity. But at first, coming out to myself felt like grief. I mean, I’ve been with my husband since I was eighteen. We have two kids. It’s not like I can go out and start dating. What does it even mean for a woman who is happily married to come out as bi? What does it change for me at this stage in my life?
I’m still figuring that out. It’s still a struggle. But I don’t interpret that struggle as grief anymore. I see it as a daily opportunity to become more authentic and compassionate.
I came out publicly a few months ago. It wasn’t something I’d initially planned on sharing with the world, but my kids made me change my mind. While I’ve been going through all this upheaval with my sexuality, they’ve been busy growing out of babyhood and turning into little people. They are watching my every move, trying to learn how to grow.
I came out publicly because I realized I have to model what I want them to be. And I want them to be honest. I want them to love themselves no matter what. And I want them to know that it’s okay to keep the night-light on. Darkness is a lonely place–I spent a long time there. I want so much more for my children than that.
– Marissa Rose’s Story as Told by Caroline Siler
Marissa Rose lives and works in Muncie, Indiana, where she advocates and supports everything from early childhood support systems, adult literacy, and trans rights, among other issues. When she’s not advocating, she’s usually writing.
Caroline Siler is a volunteer coordinator with The Facing Project. She recently received her BA in creative writing from Ball State.
This story originally appeared in Facing LGBTQ+ Pride in Muncie, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Muncie OUTreach in Muncie, Indiana.