With Pride, From Rural Idaho
Dedicated to Seneca and Dagny for leading the way, in boats and otherwise. To the Canyons River Crew for their rainbow inflatable kayak fleet. And to Casey, for letting me, and us, grow.
Hi, my name is Emerald. And I’m bisexual. I’m a lot of other things too. I’m a girlfriend, a sister, a daughter, a friend and an advocate for Idaho’s guides. I’m an Idaho guide myself, an angler, a whitewater boater, an adventurer, and a born and raised Idahoan. I’m just as happy at a hotel with 1000 thread count sheets as I am setting up my tent in the rain. Sometimes I wear heels, sometimes I wear Chacos. I’m a Gemini. I’m an avid book reader and a writer. If you meet me, chances are all of these labels and images will come out before my sexuality does. But if you think about it, when was the last time you introduced yourself as explicitly heterosexual? We assume that everyone is heterosexual until proven otherwise, which doesn’t necessarily make sense given 4.5% of U.S. adults identify as part of the LGBTQ (lesbian/gay/bisexual/transsexual/queer) community.
It’s taken me a year to figure out how to write this, and draft after draft of discarded pages. I’m bi, but I pass easily as straight. I’m in a long term, monogamous relationship with a masculine, heterosexual dude with nice facial hair. I’ve had crushes and flings with women, but never a long term, “out” relationship. As a member of the queer community, I’m about as privileged as you get - white, cis-gendered, middle class, straight-passing, femme.
And wait, let’s back up, because I know a lot of these terms still aren’t used in our outdoor communities. Let me define a few things. Talking about this can be like scouting a rapid with a friend, then realizing at the bottom that the “small lateral on river right” entrance marker they were talking about and the one you saw were two VERY different waves.
For me, bisexual means I’m sexually and romantically attracted to both men and women. The place I live hasn’t put me in touch with many non-binary people, but if someone has a non-binary gender identity, I’m guessing it probably wouldn’t be a deal breaker for my attraction. And… for me, that’s it. I’m cis-gendered, meaning I identify with the gender assigned to me at birth. I consider myself femme because I love expressing my femininity in the way I dress and engage with the world. I’m straight-passing because in addition to presenting feminine, I’m in a monogamous relationship with a man.
Being bisexual doesn’t inherently mean that you can never be happy with only a man or woman. It doesn’t mean you’re promiscuous, or wild, or want to have threesomes all the time. There are certainly people that are bisexual AND participate in all those things, but there are also people who are bi, monogamous, and in relationships with all the love and strain of the relationships you’re used to (...“would you clean the cooler after you use it already, and get your hair out of the shower drain?! I love you.”)
I’m attracted to both men and women and could see myself living happily ever after with either. I’m not fake lesbian or fake straight. I’m somewhere in between and for me it’s about the person - their confidence, their brain, their passion, their body, their way of seeing the world, their sense of place. I’m not attracted to every woman I meet any more than I’m attracted to every man I meet. I’m not secretly trying to steal your girlfriend. Really. Even if we go on a five day river trip together. Because I already have a long-term, monogamous partner who I am committed to and he is very excellent behind the oars thankyouverymuch.
I came out to myself about three years ago, and to my boyfriend and some close friends a year ago. I often wonder why it took me so long to acknowledge my queerness. I don’t come from a homophobic family, church, or community. If I had brought a woman or non-binary person home to meet my parents and friends, it would’ve been like, “Oh hey, cool beans, wanna go for a hike.”
But I think there’s enough homophobia still saturated in our world that it was just easier to tell myself these experiences were “girl crushes” or flings. It took moving out of my wilder days and into my later twenties to realize it wasn’t just about exploration, it was part of who I am.
When I admitted to myself I was bi, puzzle pieces fell into place. It was a mega-crush that glued me to the hip of my best-friend at fourteen. There’s a reason “Vicky Christina Barcelona” was my favorite movie as a teen. I was flirting that night when I stayed up until two AM talking with my classmate on that field course. The connection with that guide was about more than just wanting to be like her… and on and on.
It’s been a slow process of learning how to be honest with myself and the people closest to me about my sexuality. I’m still learning, still getting rid of my own internalized homophobia, still getting to know a community for a long time I thought I was only an ally to. I have impostor syndrome every time I talk about it.
I haven’t written about it here because, well, when was the last time you wrote about your heterosexuality in conjunction with some outdoor adventure? It felt too personal to share to the internet, especially as I get pickier about what parts of my life I broadcast.
But if I’m honest with you, I was also scared. A little scared what my rural, small western town world would think. Scared that people would misunderstand and my heterosexual boyfriend would bear the brunt of the confusion. Scared that people would write off the work I do for women and girls as a “WELL SHE LOVES THEM” thing. I was scared my friend’s boyfriends and husbands would get weird and that it would complicate my casual friendships.
But I was mostly scared that, to the existing LGBTQ+ community, coming out would seem performative or bandwagon-y. We just finished pride month. Every company from Smith to Adidas has some sort of rainbow capitalism marketing going on. A friend told me recently she felt like she should be less heterosexual, because it seemed like all her city-friends were exploring queerness. I’m privileged. Knowing how committed I am to my relationship with a man I adore, it seemed better to be an ally than to be out.
Because it’s not about me. It’s about the twenty-six deaths of transgender people in 2018 due to fatal violence. It’s about the kids still being sent to gay conversion camps. It’s about people who love each other not being able to visit each other in the hospital or make medical decisions for each other. It’s about same-sex couples, gender non-binary, and trans folks not feeling safe in the outdoor places and small towns where my boyfriend and I are comfortable.
I’m speaking up about it now for a few reasons. I think it took until my late twenties to acknowledge I was queer because I just didn’t see myself in the LGBTQ+ community. Which wasn’t that community’s fault, but was the reality of growing up in the 90s in the semi-rural west. The lesbians or bisexual women I knew growing up all wore high neck t-shirts and short hair. Bisexuality wasn’t yet on TV or in movies. I didn’t know any out, queer, sequin-loving, get-after-it outdoorswomen in college, particularly bisexual ones.
Acknowledging myself took watching a few out women in my outdoor community navigate their relationships with both men and women. It took reading interviews with Janelle Monae and listening to Hayley Kiyoko’s music. It took watching the “The Bold Type”s bisexual lead character start a relationship with a woman, and still have her straight girlfriends support her and care for her without weirdness. It took seeing the Canyons River crew display their pride, and learning that the outdoors/badass/adventure parts of myself and the queer parts of myself could exist in the same space. It’s been said so many times it’s almost glib, but it’s true - representation matters.
I love my monogamous, long-term, please-wash-the-dishes-before-you-go-fishing-goddamnit relationship. I’m not planning on canceling it anytime soon. I’ll probably appear straight for a while, maybe forever, into the future.
But I also know the importance of being honest with myself and the people who trust me to be real with them (that’s you, I think). I know that sometimes the surest path to acceptance is knowing someone directly. I want people in my town of 3,000 to be able to say they know a queer person or two. I want the outdoor community to stop pretending the LGBTQ+ community doesn’t participate or exist. I want to be able to use my experiences to support and hand the mic to members of the queer community with less privilege and more at stake than me.
And I want some twenty-year-old bisexual woman in fishing waders out there, who loves the smell of campfire smoke AND Burberry Brit perfume, who crushes on women but always ends up dating men because it’s what her community expects from her… I want her to maybe see herself here, and understand herself and who she really is a few years earlier than I did.
For more narratives and information about bisexuality and the LGBTQ+ outdoor community, visit:
About Bisexuality: https://www.glaad.org/bisexual
The Trevor Project for LGBTQ Youth: https://www.thetrevorproject.org/
The Venture Out Project: https://www.ventureoutproject.com/
Out There Adventures: https://www.outsideonline.com/2291196/elyse-rylander-lgbtq-organizer-superhero
The Human Rights Campaign: https://www.hrc.org/blog/an-open-letter-to-bisexual-people-this-pride-month
Bisexuality & Seasonal Work: https://www.autostraddle.com/can-you-see-me-out-here
Florence Given: https://www.instagram.com/florencegiven/