How Madonna Helped Get Me All the Way Out of the Closet

It took many years, and a little help from a pop star, for me to come out as bisexual.

“My boyfriend.”

I looked at the words, a bit surprised I’d managed to type them, the still-hesitant part of my brain working out possible revisions: Friend? Dining companion? Just use his name and leave our relationship to one another unsaid?

It was 2014, and I had recently been assigned the nightlife beat by Creative Loafing, an alt-weekly newspaper in Charlotte, NC.

Covering nightlife in a sleepy-for-its-size city like Charlotte can be something of a challenge—George Washington once called it a "trifling place," and that's still got some truth to it—so I was forever on the lookout for anything out of the ordinary.

When I found myself one night, alongside my then-boyfriend, in what felt like a scene from a movie or music video, dozens of late-night diner goers singing along to Madonna’s “Borderline" at a restaurant called The Diamond, in the queerest zip code in both Carolinas, I knew I had a story.

But I also had a problem: Do I finally out myself publicly?

When I had moved to the city upon graduating from college, I was still deeply closeted. My heart had been recently broken by a woman, and as far as anyone knew I was straight. Meanwhile, I had known I was bisexual before I had even heard the term.

I had gotten crushes on both boys and girls from an early age, and as I got older and became sexually aware, none of that changed. I still found myself more or less equally attracted, albeit now both physically and emotionally, to men and women.

When I realized that, much to my confusion and dismay, not everyone feel the same way I did on the matter, and that only half of my sexuality was accepted by the larger society, I made a pact with myself to only honor the “straight” part of me.

This was, of course, a doomed proposition that at times reached to the farcical and required a level of self-awareness that was untenable and exhausting, even if I did manage to keep my first sexual experience with another guy at bay until I was in my late twenties, when I finally succumbed and hooked up with a professional sword swallower. (Yes, really, and yes, I know how made up that sounds.)

As difficult as it was to live in the closet, I found out it was even harder to live half-in-and-half-out of it.

I had my first boyfriend before I was out to my family or most of my friends. I still cringe at the memory of yanking my hand out from his before walking into a bar, because I was afraid there might be someone inside who didn’t know I was queer.

Several years later, sitting in front of my computer screen, about to out myself on a larger scale, there was still some hesitancy.

David McNew/Getty Images

WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - JUNE 09: People marching with anBi, a bisexual organization, carry a bisexual flag in the 43rd L.A. Pride Parade on June 9, 2013 in West Hollywood, California. More than 400,000 people are expected to attend the parade in support of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

I was no longer refusing to hold guys' hands in public, despite having by then experienced what sadly seemed like an inevitable right of passage: A car passing by yelling, “Faggots” at myself and a guy I was seeing at the time, in that very same "queerest" zip code. But I still wasn’t all the way free.

I was out to my immediate family, who were all supportive, as well as to my close friends, and even to some who were not so close. But I hadn’t made any grand coming out statement on social media, or made a point to call or text everyone to let them know the news. I was running a policy of, “If you ask, I’ll tell,” and otherwise, you can find out through the grapevine.

Publishing this article would decidedly not be that. This would instead be me Out with a capital “O,” as in cousins, aunts, uncles, coworkers, and whoever else could all find out, kind of Out.

Frankly, I wasn’t sure how well it would be received, even if I felt most would be supportive.

Then I thought about the subject matter again. I was celebrating a random explosion of communal joy, all centered around a Madonna song.

Madonna: Queer icon, sexually liberated being, and general badass whom I could now see in my mind’s eye giving me, “Bitch, really?” side-eye that not only made me feel shame for all the years I had denied my true self, but also ridiculous for even considering the possibility of carrying on the charade any longer.

If I was going to keep playing around in the closet, I best leave Madge the hell out of it!

Michael McDonnell/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

1979: Portrait of future American pop singer Madonna looking away from her reflection while sitting in front of a mirror with a tube of lipstick in her hand, New York City. Her hair is short and dark, and she is wearing a black scooped-neck top. Madonna had just moved to New York City and was studying dance. (Photo by Michael McDonnell/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

So, no, that “boyfriend” had to stay. In fact, I added in a couple more for good measure.

I would later laugh when my friend who worked at the restaurant told me his coworker asked if he'd read the article that girl wrote in about everyone singing along to “Borderline”–having made the heteronormative assumption, and obviously not having noticed the byline.

I laughed again, a couple years later, when my dad, in an effort to underscore his support, said he had told several people he had a gay son.

“Thanks, Dad. But I’m bisexual,” I said.

“Oh, right, bisexual,” he said.

When you’re queer, you’re never really done coming out. And when you’re bisexual, coming out all too often includes having to reaffirm your bisexuality when you are called gay, often by well meaning people although not always, or, when partnered with an opposite-gendered person, are assumed to be straight.

While it may still be an ongoing journey that at times feels overwhelming, it is also so much preferable to the stifling atmosphere of the closet that the struggle barely registers, and now the Madonna in my mind’s eye nods in approval instead of sneering in dissent. No one needs a pissed off Madonna kicking around their head.

Michael Tran/FilmMagic

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 08: Singer/songwriter Madonna performs onstage during The 57th Annual GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center on February 8, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Michael Tran/FilmMagic)

As fortunate coincidence would have it, shortly after the publication of the article, the publisher of QNotes, Charlotte's LGBTQ paper, reached out to my editor at Creative Loafing to see if she knew of any LGBTQ writers that could help with arts and entertainment coverage. She had not been previously aware of my sexuality, but thanks to the Madonna story she thought of me.

Upon her recommendation, I began writing for a publication I had previously been too hesitant to even pick up for fear my sister, with whom I lived at the time, would question why I had it in my possession. Writing for QNotes marked my entry into queer media, and over the past few years most of my work has been in that space.

Moral of the story: Never even think about going against Madonna, even if she's just in your head. And if you can come out, do. It may not be a non-stop singalong dance party, but it is still pretty great compared to the tortuous closet. It's, if you'll forgive me, a borderline worth crossing. (Come on, you knew that was coming.)