At the Shallow End

Janine Kishi sat at her computer desk, hands folded on her lap, facing her younger sister and taking deep, calming breaths. She had to stay composed. It would be unlike her to go to pieces over this. She’d been planning for days what to say, composing speeches in her head, imagining Claudia’s response, rehearsing in front of the bathroom mirror. But in the end, what it all came down to was fairly simple: Just two words.

She just had to say two words and she would be done.

The problem being, of course, that she’d only ever said those two words to one other person—and while that one person had been understanding beyond all belief, maybe in some ways that made things worse. The one single person who had actually understood, who had reassured her that there was nothing to worry about or be ashamed of, was gone forever.

Janine scooped up a particular pair of diamond earrings from where they sat on her desk and held them tightly. They were all she had, now, and while she was above such silly things as superstitions, still she felt stronger just by holding them.

She looked Claudia right in the eyes and said,

“I’m bisexual.”

The sisters stared at each other in dead silence. All of a sudden the air in the room felt heavy, too heavy; like it would smother them.

“Oh,” said Claudia, but the silence fell around them once more as soon as the syllable left her lips.

What felt like forever passed before said silence was broken once more by Claudia, since Janine didn’t know what else to say. “So... you like boys? That’s not so bad. You can just date a guy and no one else will ever have to know.”

All Janine could do was look down at her lap. Her shoulders slumped as she formed a response in her head, going over each word carefully before she even began to speak. The words she’d carefully prepared beforehand suddenly felt inadequate. And here she’d thought that telling Claudia would be... well, not easy, but somehow less painful than keeping it bottled up inside. “Well, yes, one could put it that way. I certainly wouldn’t.”

“I don’t get it. If you just date boys…” It was evident that Claudia thought she’d hit on something major here; obvious from the proud smile on her face that she thought she’d solved some problem that Janine had been agonizing over.

She was only trying to help.

If only it were that easy. After making the decision to actually tell Claudia, the last thing Janine wanted to hear was You can keep hiding it.

Janine shook her head. “It doesn’t work that way. It’s— it’s not a conscious choice. Attraction is disconnected from one’s intent, Claudia.” Seeing the blank, uncomprehending look on her sister’s face, Janine went on, “What if Mom and Dad—no, what if society at large were to forbid you from dating boys with blond hair? Brown, black, and red hair would all still be acceptable, but blond would be off limits. How would you feel about that?”

“That’s not the same thing,” Claudia protested.

“It is to me.”

Claudia appeared dumbfounded, but slowly—slowly and wonderfully—comprehension dawned on her face. “Oh,” was all she said, in a quiet tone of voice.

The dreadful silence stretched on. Janine tried to breach it by smiling, but all she could manage was an awkward half-upturning of the corners of her mouth. Awkward was her constant state of being, she thought, so it really could have been a lot worse.

She did manage to relax slightly, unclenching the fist that was wrapped so tightly around the earrings in her hand.

“Congrats,” Claudia finally said. “On coming out, I mean. That’s what you call it, right?” Janine nodded. Claudia added, “I never would have guessed.”

“Well, no, I had hoped not.” At Janine’s response, they both managed to chuckle nervously. Claudia ran a hand through her hair. Janine was able to catch a glimpse of the earrings she was wearing—a fluffy white cloud in her left ear and a rainbow in the other. Janine lifted a hand to her mouth to suppress a smile, wondering if Claudia realized how significant her choice of jewelry was.

“Actually,” said Claudia, “you’re pretty lucky now that I think of it.”

“Lucky?” Janine’s lips pursed in confusion.

“Yeah! Here I thought you were... well.” Claudia trailed off, waving a hand in the air. She wasn’t about to say a huge frumpy wet blanket, but Janine knew she was thinking something along those lines. “But it turns out your dating pool is twice as big as mine. Wow.”

Janine sighed. “No it isn’t.” If only.

“Sure it is. You can pick from both guys and girls.”

Janine could actually feel the irritated tic threatening to show in one of her eyes. “It doesn’t work the way you’re thinking, Claud.”

“How come?”

“Even if I do accept that I can ‘pick from both guys and girls’, ignoring the possibility of a partner whose gender is neither male nor female—and certainly the number is low enough that I can treat said possibility as insignificant statistically if not in practice—it still does not follow mathematically that my pool of potential partners is double that of a heterosexual. Let us assume that I can select from any eligible heterosexual or bisexual male, or homosexual or bisexual female. From there–”

“Oh god.” Claudia buried her face in her hands.

“–accepting the commonly-touted statistic that heterosexuals make up ninety percent of the population, and tentatively assuming that half of all non-heterosexuals are bisexual—which,” Janine hastened to add, “is pure conjecture on my part, as there is still much research to be done in this field—that leaves me with ninety-five percent of the male population to select from, and ten percent of females. Of course this is only a rough estimation, but even so the numbers still–”

“Okay, I get it! Jeez!” Claudia groaned, flouncing to her feet and toward the door. “Now I remember why your dating pool is super shallow.”

“Gee, thanks.” Janine rolled her eyes. She just couldn’t help getting carried away, but Claudia should have been used to that by now. But there was just one thing… “You… won’t tell Mom and Dad, right?”

Claudia softened, resting her hand on the doorknob. “Never in a million years, Janine.”

Janine nodded. She finally smiled. “Thank you.”

As Claudia left the room Janine turned back to her computer, feeling better than she had for quite some time.