How Elizabeth Gilbert Helped me Accept my Bisexuality
Last night, my friend Rebeccah and I met at the Lincoln Theater in Washington, DC to see Elizabeth Gilbert talk about her new book, City of Girls. The book focuses on NYC show girls in the 1940s, telling the story of promiscuous women who were not ruined by enjoying their sex lives. I can not wait to read it! But this post is about how Elizabeth Gilbert helped me accept my sexuality and became one of my LGBTQ role models. Happy pride month y’all!
When I was a dumb 19 year old, I studied abroad in Ghana. I had just broken up with my first girlfriend because an entire summer apart seemed an impossibly long time to endure. I was studying dance and so of course fell into a flirtation with one of the drummers. “But how could this be??” I agonized. Hadn’t I just spent the last six months coming to terms with the fact that I was a lesbian? And now I’m flirting with a man? I felt confused and alone- I was too scared to talk about it with anyone since being gay wasn’t exactly accepted there.
My roommate Kelly was reading Eat, Pray, Love and as any good fellow expat will do, passed her well-loved, highlighted copy down to me. In the book, Gilbert finds that each city she lives in embodies a word- Rome is sex, NYC is ambition- and she searches for a word that encapsulates her own essence. She eventually stumbles across the word ‘antevasin’: “it means ‘one who lives at the border.’ In ancient times, this was a literal description. It indicated a person who had left the bustling center of worldly life to go live at the edge of the forest where the spiritual masters dwelled. The antevasin was not one of the villagers anymore- not a householder with a conventional life. But neither was he yet a transcendent- not one of those sages who live deep in the unexplored woods, fully realized. The antevasin was an in-betweener. He was a border-dweller. He lived in sight of both worlds, but he looked toward the unknown.
In the modern age, of course, that image of an unexplored forest would be figurative, and the border would be too. But you can still live there. You can still live on that shimmering line between your old thinking and your new understanding, always in a state of learning.
I’ve spent so much time these last years wondering what I’m supposed to be. A wife? A mother? A lover? A celebate? A glutton? A traveler? An artist? A Yogi? But I’m not any of these things, at least not completely. I’m just a slippery antevasin- betwixt and between- a student on the ever-shifting border near the wonderful, scary forest of the new.”
Reading this gave me permission to identify as bisexual. I thought “Yes! I too am an in-betweener!” I no longer fully belonged in the city of heteronormativity, but I also wasn’t fulling diving into the forest of gays. I exist in-between, at once part of and apart from both worlds. While it may sound simple, this revelation lifted a huge burden off my shoulders. I felt free to be who I was instead of trying to force myself to give up one part in favor of the other.
Years later, Gilbert herself came out, proclaiming her love for her best friend Rayya. While she didn’t say if she identified as bisexual, pansexual, or lesbian, I think it’s safe to say she is still living with us on the border, defying labels and conventions.
Who are some of your LGBTQ role models? What helped you come out or accept yourself? Let me know in the comments!