Oops, I Forgot to Come Out: On Bisexuality and Carrie Brownstein

I admit that I can’t claim to have been influenced or shaped by Sleater-Kinney or riot grrrl overall. I’m a little young and a little not cool enough—but I was aware of The Woods in 2005 as a sophomore in high school and the song “Modern Girl.” So something like nostalgia struck me when I saw Carrie Brownstein’s memoir, Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl, and I knew I needed to devour it immediately.

What I was expecting was standard memoir fare: childhood tribulations, riot grrrl retrospectives, girl band ups and downs, stories of touring and concerts and hookups and drugs. What you get from Carrie is some of that, yes—the way she writes about her mother’s anorexia is particularly raw, and her experience in Olympia during the riot grrrl movement and the Pacific Northwest overall deserves its own space in a cultural anthropology reader. What I wasn’t expecting was her endearing neuroses, the way she wrote about disappearing through music, finding her family in Sleater-Kinney and how the band became a living, breathing entity.

But the pages that Carrie dedicates to her Spin magazine outing hit me hardest. At the time, Spin was the largest national publication to have covered Sleater-Kinney, and an exciting music photoshoot and interview turned into a public outing before Carrie had the chance to even explore what she would even come out as.

After the Spin article was published, Carrie received an awkward phone call from her father (who would come out himself years later). He asked if she had something to tell him, referring to Spin’s spilling of Carrie’s brief relationship with her bandmate, Sleater-Kinney frontwoman Corin TuckerCarrie was at the young and experimental age of 22.

“I felt like the ground had been pulled from underneath me… If you haven’t spent any time deliberately and intentionally shaping your narrative, if you’re unprepared, like I was then, then one will be written for you. And if you already feel like a fractured self, you will start to feel like a broken one. That’s how I felt the day I was outed: splintered and smashed. I had not yet figured out who I was, and now I was robbed of the opportunity to publically do so, to be in flux.”

Sleater-Kinney in 2002Sleater-KinneyPhoto by Anthony Pidgeon/Redferns

The bi coming out experience is its own kind of unique, mostly because the bi experience is one that is often shrugged off by both the straight and the queer community. In a 2013 study from the University of Pittsburgh School of the Health Sciences, researchers found that “Overall, respondents were generally negative in terms of their attitudes toward bisexual men and women, with almost 15 percent of the sample in disagreement that bisexuality is a legitimate sexual orientation…Of note, respondents who identified as gay or lesbian responded significantly less positively toward bisexuality than those identifying as bisexual, indicating that even within the sexual minority community, bisexuals face profound stigma.”

The chief researcher on the study said that “Having hard data to back up why a bisexual person might feel the need to be secretive about sexual orientation, something that can lead to higher depression and many other negative health outcomes, is very useful to people trying to fight stigma and marginalization.” The stigma against the bi experience makes the process of coming out that much more complicated. So I felt my heart break when I read that Carrie was forced to confront her sexuality and claim it after it had already been confronted and claimed for her.