Fifteen years ago, I became a vegetarian.
I’d never really liked meat, unless it was a neatly trimmed chicken breast or the hyper processed junk you get at McDonald’s or other fast food places. Juicy homemade burgers made me gag. I had little interest in steak. I hated pork, and would nip tiny bites into the back of my mouth, swallowing them whole just to avoid tasting it or feeling its texture.
We had family stay with us during summer when I was young – aunt, uncle, and cousin. For medical reasons, they had adopted a vegetarian diet, so we provided as much vegetarian fare as possible. Before this, I had no idea you could opt out of eating meat. I learned a few years later from my cousin that my mother had taken her aside to ask her not to encourage me towards vegetarianism. But the desire not to eat meat was already strong in me. I became vegetarian shortly after their visit, to my parents’ dismay.
I grew up in a fairly homogeneous community in the central Albertan countryside; my school didn’t have any students of colour until I was thirteen. I wasn’t really aware of any queer classmates until halfway through high school. I don’t remember ever learning what gay meant; likely it was while I was very young, hearing one of mom’s theatre stories and her describing one of her classmates from university. But gay and lesbian were the only “real” alternatives to heterosexuality.
My cousin and I got closer as we both grew older, and she has been both friend and role model for me through the years. I figured out what bisexuality was in junior high and high school, but it was still one of those inconclusive terms that didn’t apply to anybody really. I knew gay kids, but bisexual was just a dubious label slapped on girls that liked to make out with other girls, as a way of turning on their boyfriends.
And then my cousin came out as bisexual. I know my mother was resistant to her coming out at first – it’s just a phase – but my cousin was the first queer person I really had any strong relationship with. She described her various coming out stories to me, and I was both awed by her strength and thankful I would never have to do it myself. (Or so I thought.) She talked about her relationships with both men and women, and it seemed so amazingly natural.
As the years passed, I began to realize that I, too, was bisexual. My cousin’s coming out had inadvertently placed road blocks in my own mind. I had attempted broaching the topic of a crush I had on a girl with my mother, and she had told me that it was a normal admiration crush, and didn’t mean anything. My mother likely just wanted to reassure me that the feelings were normal and not necessarily an indication of sexual orientation. But combined with her reaction to my cousin’s coming out, I had great anxiety with coming out to my parents.
By the time I came out to my parents, years after my cousin, “bisexual” was a more respected and valid identity. My cousin had paved the way for me. They were unsurprised, in the end, and didn’t care whom I dated, as long as I stopped bringing home jerks.
But I still had to come out to my cousin.
Because of the vegetarianism thing years earlier, I was hyper-aware of how my cousin had come out as bisexual first. I feared accusations of imitation. I felt like I was just copying her, wanting to be cool and cultured and different. I even questioned myself, wondering if I truly was bisexual. Maybe it was just an effort to emulate my badass cousin?
I wanted to tell her in person, and visited her in Ontario.
I worked myself up in the guest room, wringing my hands and feeling nervous. My cousin’s partner came in and asked me what was up. I came out to him, and he looked flabbergasted. Why on earth are you nervous about telling her? was his general sentiment. He told me that I should definitely tell her, and that it was not something to stress about.
Three years ago, I came out as bisexual to my bisexual cousin.
And she thought it was totally awesome.