Well, no, wait. The truth is, I hesitate to use the word "essay," because that implies some modicum of vague professionalism, and, as you guys know, that is not my wont. In actuality this is a tl;dr word vomit on the topic of bisexuality, because sometimes I just want to talk about things! There wasn't an incident that provoked this, really--I saw a couple things on tumblr that made me go buh?, I've had a couple of RL conversations lately that made me go Really?, so here this is.
As always, the following things are true:
1) I am just a girl on the internet with a lot of feelings, and I don't claim to know shit about shit.
2) This is written from my perspective, dealing with my experiences as an American, cigendered bisexual woman. They're not the same as everyone else's! They're not the same as anyone else's, come to that; every human experience is unique, and no two people feel/act on/deal with things the exact same way.
3) If I have inadvertently offended someone, I apologize profusely, that was not my intention! Let me know and we'll talk about fixing it. ♥
All that said:
So, we're going to start with my Coming Out Story, or, to use a less weighted title, A Convoluted and Largely Hilarious Tale That Involves Me Falling Off of a Ladder in The Throes of Confused Passion. It is a story that I have told many times--to friends, in front of classrooms as part of that group I was a member of in college, and once, memorably, in front of a sorority full of very hot, very straight girls. "Does bisexuality mean you have to date two people all the time?" one of them asked me, honestly curious, after that particular session; for the record, no. No it does not.
But that is not for this part of the post! It will come later. This is the introduction, so, without further ado, here is how I figured out I was bisexual: I figured out I was a lesbian.
No, wait, let me start again; when I was seventeen, following years of being ridiculously boy crazy, I accidentally fell madly in love with my best friend. And let me be clear: when I say "ridiculously boy crazy," I mean it. That girl in your sixth grade class sending boys notes that said "I like you! Will you be my boyfriend? Please check yes or no," you remember that girl? Yeah, that was me. I loved dudes. Did I know what that really meant? No. Did I really care? Noooope. I had what my mother called goldfish relationships, because they tended to last about as long as an average carnival-won goldfish lives; I went through boys like it was my job description, generally baffling them completely by ordering them around for three weeks and then breaking up with them with brownies to soften the blow.
Am I proud of this? No. But these are the facts, and I am reporting them honestly.
A thing I didn't understand until I realized I'd fallen in love with my best friend: all those years I'd been boy crazy, I'd been girl crazy too. I just didn't really know that was a thing you could be, because my parents--who are open, accepting people, but err on the side of assuming I'll figure shit out on my own--had kind of neglected to mention that being gay was a thing. By the time I figured out that Sherri and Kerry down the street were not in fact in a Golden Girls type situation, I was a freshman in high school, and bisexuality wasn't something that had ever been mentioned to me. There were girls whose friendship I cared about a lot more than anyone else's, but I liked guys, so I couldn't be a lesbian!
Oh, cut me some slack, I was 14.
Anyway, point being, fourth of July before my senior year of high school I was watching the fireworks, whispering inside jokes with this girl who had become my closest friend, and it hit me like a ton of bricks: oh shit. Oh shit. OH SHIT, DUDE, I DO NOT WANT TO BE HER FRIEND AT ALL. Good places to have this realization: alone in your car, alone in your house, alone in the woods, ALONE SOMEWHERE. Bad places to have this realization: sitting on a blanket with the object of your freshly-realized affection while her boyfriend is seated approximately half a foot away. I believe I said something like, "Oh, a person! I see them! I'll just--yeah, go, say things, bye," and ran off like a headless chicken. Then I bummed a cigarette off of some guy who was leaning against a fence smoking what was, in retrospect, definitely weed, and went and hid behind a tree and freaked the fuck out.
I was in love with a girl. I was in love with a girl! But I had dated boys before, I had said I ~loved~ boys, and what little I'd heard about bisexuality was that it didn't exist. How could I be in love with a girl? The world did not make sense, and I spent the rest of the summer in a confused haze of "WHAT?!?!" and "Wow, she looks really hot in that top, doesn't she, JESUS, THINK OF SOMETHING ELSE." There may have been cold showers; we don't need to talk about it.
Then a miraculous thing happened. My friend, who I'd assumed was a lost, straight cause, dumped her boyfriend, left for college, and confessed her love for me over one of the many six hour phone calls that colored those first few weeks of my senior year. Shit was amazing. We talked about what we were going to name our someday dogs, I flew out to where she was living and spent a fabulous weekend eating garlic bread and figuring out how girl parts worked, and I came to a conclusion.
I was dating a girl. I loved her. I had dated guys before, but never felt like this about them. Deep in the throes of my seventeen-year-old first-love insanity, I melodramatically thought to myself, "I will never love another!" There was poetry, guys. It was atrocious. But, in any case, all of my churning thoughts on the topic had come together: I was in love with a girl. I would never love anyone else. I was a lesbian!
Here is how coming out to my parents went:
Angsty Teenage Me: So, I'm a lesbian.
My Mother: No you're not. Pass the potatoes?
Angsty Teenage Me: HOW DARE YOU INVALIDATE MY FEELINGS
My Mother: …wait, were you serious? You're not going to shave your head, are you? Please tell me you're not going to shave your head.
My Father: Hey, you missed your curfew by five minutes.
Angsty Teenage Me: WELL, I AM A LESBIAN. [Note: No, I have absolutely no idea why I thought this would be a good segue. I was a lot of things as a teenager, but rational was not one of them.]
My Father: Yeah, I know, what the hell does that have to do with your curfew?
Angsty Teenage Me: I…wait, you know?
My Father: What, did you think I thought you and [Girlfriend] were just friends? I pay the phone bill, don't be stupid, nobody talks to their friends that much.
Angsty Teenage Me: But if you. I mean. Do you and Mom not talk?
My Father: Oh, that must be why she's worried you're going to shave your head.
Angsty Teenage Me: I…you…buh….
My Father: Don't be late again. Also I think you might need a pair of Doc Martens.
I SWEAR TO GOD, THAT IS HOW THAT WENT DOWN. They try very hard, my parents. They are very accepting people, they have gay friends, they are for gay marriage and think discrimination of all forms is disgusting, they watched and loved all six seasons of the L Word. They're pretty much the best you could ask for in a lot of ways, but they are, at the end of the day, straight, cisgendered baby boomers who have lived their whole lives in Ohio, and it is hard to teach them new tricks. My father genuinely thinks all lesbians own at least one pair of Doc Martens, no matter what I say. I think he might think they're issued. My mother still implores me not to shave my head, having apparently never realized that I am aware that my head is round like a basketball, and I am not keen to show that to the world.
POINT BEING: I came out to my parents as a lesbian. Then I came out to my friends as a lesbian. Then I spent a glorious six months dating my gorgeous, brilliant best friend, and another (less glorious) four months breaking up with her. Then, single and, if not pleased about it, at least resigned, I was working late at the bookstore that employed me one night when the new guy came up behind the ladder I was standing on. He leaned one hand against the shelf, smiling up at me, and said, "Hey, I finished shelving the cookbooks, let me help you finish up here or I'm going to end up getting paid for rereading The Corrections."
The haze of lust was all consuming, you guys. I stared down at him, at his weak chin and scraggly blonde hair and noodle arms and nerd glasses, and wanted to bang him like a screen door. I was a lesbian. He was a dude. He was a dorky looking dude (which, as it turns out, is my kryptonite, but I didn't really know that at the time)! The world, again, made no sense at all.
"Erp?" I said, and fell off the ladder. The bastard caught me; it didn't really help with the whole confusion thing. At all.
I will not go into the subsequent process of sorting my shit out. It involved a lot of terrible poetry, some looking at porn with my head cocked to the side like I was appraising it for auction, a couple of ill-advised hookup choices, and a relationship with a guy who ended up being a gigantic douchenozzle, though he was very good about not comparing me to a Girls Gone Wild DVD after I threatened to attack him with a staple gun if he did it again. The important part is that I realized that bisexuality, contrary to what I'd long heard, did actually exist. I could be sure; I was experiencing it first hand.
Then I had to come out again. This…did not go well.
Less Angsty Teenage Me: So, this is kind of awkward, but I'm not a lesbian, I'm bisexual.
My Mother: I knew you'd realize you were really straight!
Less Angsty Teenage Me: That's…that's not what I…
My Mother: There's just something about a…well, a penis--
Less Angsty Teenage Me: OH MY GOD STOP TALKING NEVER TALK AGAIN OH MY FUCKING GOD THINK WHATEVER YOU WANT JUST DO NOT FINISH THAT SENTENCE WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU JESUS.
Less Angsty Teenage Me: So, as it turns out, I'm bisexual.
My Father: I don't really think that exists, but hey, I guess I could be wrong, whatever you want to call yourself.
Less Angsty Teenage Me: Really? Jesus, try harder, Dad.
My Father: Wait, shit, this means I have to worry about you getting pregnant again!
Less Angsty Teenage Me: Hey! What the hell are you trying to say there?*
My Father: Well, I'm not saying I think you'd get--it's just, you know, on the table again.
Less Angsty Teenage Me: I don't know why I talk to you sometimes.
[*Note: my reaction here was less "Hey, are you implying I am sexually active?!" and more "Hey, are you implying that I don't use HELLA PROTECTION?!" I think my father assumes it was the first; I allow him the delusion, because we live in a carefully maintained stasis where I, his only daughter, do not ever actually admit that I have sex, and he can go on pretending that I play Parcheesi with significant others. End of note.]
All in all, not exactly the neatest coming out story ever, but here's a secret: as far as I know, none of them really are. In fact, most stories about things that matter in life are not neat. That's just how shit goes.
Anyway, I told that story for two reasons. One: street cred. Now you all know that I am a bumbling fool! Two, and more importantly: coming out is weird, and I don't just mean to other people, I mean to yourself. Sexuality is complicated and fluid and different for everyone and there is no instruction manual. It just happens to you, like an unexpected rainstorm or a run-in with the Doctor; there is no predicting it, it often leaves you wet when you were expecting to be dry, and it is, generally speaking, bigger on the inside.
Yes, that was a hideously disgusting joke and a Doctor Who joke mashed into one sentence; I can be two things! See what I did there?
Here are some questions and/or statements I get or have heard about bisexuality. Some of them have come from people I'm close to, others have come from random people/the internet, but all of them are, I think, worth discussing.
Wrong. In fact, bisexuality being a myth is a myth; I see how you could have gotten confused. But here it is, straight from the horse's mouth: I have dated guys, I have dated girls, I have fucked guys, I have fucked girls, I have loved guys, I have loved girls. It's been awesome, terrible, life-altering, horrifying, intriguing, mystifying, brilliant, beautiful and, a couple of times, muddy. It's also all been entirely real. Would I say that being in love with a guy is exactly the same as being in love with a girl? Of course not--being in love is different every time, regardless of the sexual and/or gender orientations of the people involved. I dated a guy I went on hikes for, because I loved him; I dated a girl I watched Red Sox games for, because I loved her. If hike guy had asked me to root for the Red Sox, I would have told him to go fuck himself; if Sox girl had asked me to go hiking, I would have laughed in her face. It's all relative.
Point being: if bisexuality is a myth, so am I. Suck it.
Despite my best attempts to convince her otherwise, in any period of time where I am not actively involved with a woman, my mother persists in thinking this. At eighteen, it would have left me twisting in the wind of agonized LISTEN TO ME DAMN IT; now I mostly let it roll off my back like it is water and I am a mildly irritated duck. Is this to say that a parent, grandparent, sibling, close personal friend, not-so-close personal friend, healthcare profession, ANYONE disregarding you in re: your own fucking sexuality is a trivial thing? Of course not. It is a terrible feeling, in part because because it suggests that someone else knows the intimate details of you better than you do, which is awful and demeaning and stabbity face making, and in part because being heard by the people you love is deeply important in any arena. The following is an understanding I have come to, personally, regarding my--personal!--feelings on this topic. They are not meant to invalidate anyone else's feelings, or suggest that this is how everyone feels/has felt/should feel, just so we're entirely clear.
The reason my mother thinking bisexuality was a phase doesn't really stick to me anymore: because I know she's wrong. Let me repeat that: I know she's wrong. I am lucky enough to be in a solid place in my understanding of self on this topic, so anyone saying…well…anything about it isn't really going to rattle me or change my mind or make me feel small. My mother could also tell me that I am not a human being but a triceratops dinosaur, but, barring a sudden attack of breaking out in scales, it wouldn't really do shit. I would not be a triceratops. She could think that, but it wouldn't be true. I am bisexual; she thinks I am not, but I am, and her thought process isn't going to be altering my feelings toward, for example, Karen Gillan anytime soon. [I should also put it out there that, while she persists in being annoying about this, she has embraced every girl I've dated, and I know she would again, which is a big part of why her silliness doesn't permeate much. It's just that when I'm not dating a girl, she seems to think that I'm magically straight. Again: new tricks, hard to teach.]
Basically my point in telling you that was this: to the extent that you can, don't let anyone's opinion of what you should or shouldn't be. This is one of those things I believe about every arena of life, and I know, I know, it is much easier said than done. But the thing is, what people think of you doesn't change who you are, and remembering that opinions other than my own were, in the grand scheme of things, worthless, helped me get to a solid accepting place for myself. Which is the most important thing, guys, I promise.
I really, really wish that this was just something a well meaning but badly mistaken sorority girl said to me one time, but it isn't. It isn't at all. People. Think. This. There are even people in the LGBT community who think this--not that first part, at least in my experience, but that second part for sure. I have had conversations with LGBT folk who have said, "Oh, I won't date bisexual girls because I got burned one time," or, "Oh, I won't date bisexual guys because they've always got one foot out the door," or, "No, I won't date someone bi, they always turn out to be straight." I have had this conversation with other bisexual people. It's….not my favorite thing to hear, let's just put it that way. Any other way we could put it would involve tales of me accidentally spitting on people while yelling, and that's really not dignified.
I have twice had the incredible opportunity of seeing activist Robyn Ochs (who is a cool lady, you should check her out) speak, and she talked briefly at one point on this topic. I am--badly--paraphrasing her here, but her essential point was: bisexuality is often thought to mean someone who flits wily nily between men and women at least in part because that's the only way bisexuality is visible. Here's what that means: you see a girl kissing a guy? Straight. You see a girl kissing a girl? Gay. You see a girl kissing a guy, and then turning around and kissing a girl? BISEXUALITY! Or, you know, polyamory, or bicuriosity, or pansexuality, or omnisexuality, or really close friends with fewer boundaries than your average bear, or a girl that feels like kissing whoever she goddamn wants to kiss, fuck right off, thanks! But, the point is, in order to actually physically view someone who is bisexual acting on bisexuality, you have to see them with two partners. And that kind of thing, at least according to Robyn Ochs, has power, even if it's only subconscious.
Here is the truth: bisexual people are as capable of being monogamous as aaaanyone else. While I'm sure there are people out there who prefer to have two partners--and while that is totally fine, there's such a stigma against polyamory and that's such bullshit--that's not an automatic part of being bisexual. At all. And, in a similar vein, you can spend 50 years with a women or 50 years with a man and still be bisexual, the same way you can be a virgin and still be gay--or straight, for that matter. It's not about who you're dating/sleeping with/married to/having babies with, it's about who you are attracted to, the end.
They're not, actually. Here, let's have some definitions! (Keep in mind--these are based on my understanding and double checked around the 'net, but I am fully aware that they might not be how you use the words, and that is totally okay. I'm writing out the understanding I think most people have, but that does not in any way change or invalidate your use of any given term herein. Your life, your call, end of story.)
bisexuality: sexual or romantic attraction to both men and women.
pansexuality: sexual or romantic attraction not bound to sex or gender identity (or: attraction to people, regardless of the gender binary)
omnisexuality: Okay, this one is complicated--there are people who say it means the same thing as pansexuality, and others who say that it differs, that omnisexuality is someone attracted to people regardless of their orientation as opposed to anything else. I will be the first to admit that I am not sure of the ins and outs of this; I am including both pan and omnisexuality, separately, because I have known pansexual people who would never want to be called omni, and omni folks who would never want to be called pan. And also because, while there are some folks who couldn't give two shits about labels, for others finding the term that fits is a big part of self-acceptance and feeling like part of the whole. BOTH OF THESE THINGS ARE FINE, thus, omni gets it own designation.
THE POINT HERE IS: the definitions are different. I describe myself as bisexual because, while the gender binary plays no role at all in how I see people or form friendships, gender identity is part of sexual attraction for me. There's nothing I can do about it. Note that I said gender identity and not sex--I really couldn't give two shits about the body someone was born with, it's the identity thing that has a hold, god knows why. I tell you this because there are people who would consider this pansexuality, and I have in fact been told that I am incorrect to identify myself as bi rather than pan. I have told these people to fuck off! The term bisexual sits right with me, so that is what I use, and that is okay. Whatever term you do or do not want to use is also totally okay!
First and foremost: this means "If you were going to split your attraction to men and women into relative percentages, what would they be?" It does not, as I thought the first time I was asked this, mean someone wants the answers to the homework for a class you're not in. If you try to explain to them that you're not in that class, they will look at you as though you are speaking in cunning code, but not in a good way. The more you know!
Now, please note: this is not an inherently bad question. I get this a lot from other people who identify as bisexual, and there are, I'm sure, lots and lots of people who can answer it! I'm not one of them; for me, the answer shifts on a regular basis. There are some days when my split would be 95% girls, 5% guys; there are some days when it would be the reverse. I jump between 2 and 5 on the Kinsey scale depending on any number of different factors, up to and including my proximity to photos of Scotty Caan.
I include this question, then, not because it is a bad question, but to tell you that it's okay if you don't have an answer. It's not a fixed thing for everyone, and it doesn't have to be. It doesn't make you less bisexual if there are times when you find yourself overwhelming drawn to dudes, or overwhelmingly drawn to ladies. Sliding scale, folks.
Now, don't get me wrong: if someone were to say this and follow it up with, "And I say that because I am deeply drawn to the inherent level of consideration of queer theory I have found in the bisexual folks I have known," it would still be generalizing, but I would be less inclined to smack them for it. However, usually this statement comes along with the full package of nonsense: specifically, from guys who think that being bisexual means you are their own personal Girls Gone Wild DVD. I once had a guy I was dating, upon hearing that I was bisexual, say, "Oh great, I've always wanted to have a threesome!" as though my willingness to participate in one was a forgone conclusion. We did not date for much longer.
I will say this once: being bisexual does not make you a sex object. If you are a woman and feel like making out with other women in front of dudes to turn them on, that is your call and your right, because it is your body (though I will stop here to tell you that the kind of guys who want that from you by and large turn out not to be worth your time). If you are a guy and you enjoy making out with other guys for the benefit of onlooking ladies, rock on (though, again, someone who sees you solely as a sexual object, regardless of your sex or gender identity, is probably not the best call ever, in my experience). Your decisions are your own, but THAT IS NOT PART OF BEING BISEXUAL. Neither is desire to have threesomes. The only person who gets a say in your choices, sexual or otherwise, is you--being bi is not a choice, but how you act on it is. Anyone who tries to tell you otherwise--that you're obligated to make out with members of the same sex or obligated not to, that you're obligated to do x y and z sexual thing or you're obligated not to, that you're obligated to portray yourself a certain way or obligated not to--is an ASSHOLE. I CANNOT BE CLEAR ENOUGH ABOUT THIS. Don't let people tell you how to be; your choices, your life, your right to consent is yours, always, regardless of your sexuality.
I think people think this joke is funny; it's not. I think people think this joke is original; believe me, BELIEVE ME, it's not. And this is not to say that I don't happily make jokes about my sexuality--hell, for years I had an awesome button on my bag that said "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood and I took both," until I tragically lost it. But! The reason this joke isn't funny is because it suggests bisexuality is some kind of opt-in clause, like attraction to members of more than one sex is something people do to have a better chance of getting laid.
Like any other sexuality, bisexuality is not a choice. Born this way, etc. No one is waking up and saying, "Today, I think I will also feel attraction to members of my own gender! Yes, good show." We're not greedy. We're not just trying to widen the dating pool (another thing I hear all the time). We're not "on the train to Gaytown"--thanks, Sex in the City, that was awesome of you--and we're not "just confused." We're bisexual. It's a thing. Look it up.
Refer anyone who says this to you to question three. If they say it again, seriously consider breaking up with them; it means that on some level they view you as being untrustworthy because of your sexual orientation, and that's really not cool.
Being bisexual does sometimes put you in the relatively unique position of having to come out to people you're sexually or romantically involved with, which doesn't sound like a big deal until you think about it. If you're straight, the person you're dating knows that, because they're dating you. If you're gay, the person you're dating knows that, because they're dating you. If you're bi, you may find yourself in the position of having to come out--although, of course, you're not obligated to, NO OBLIGATION, YOUR LIFE, YOUR CHOICES, I should get that tattooed on my forehead.
Here's the thing: it shouldn't matter to anyone, but sometimes it does. Sometimes people are stupid and think it changes you as a person, or means they can't trust you to be faithful, or [assorted other nonsense]. That sucks, but remember, it's not on you! That's their damage, not yours.
Here is what I think of as My Personal Manifesto when it comes to my sexuality; it may apply to you, and it may not. If it does, feel free to use it wherever; if it doesn't, feel free to ignore it entirely.
To Whom It Shouldn't, But May, Concern:
I am bisexual. I am not trying to be someone I'm not; I'm not trying to deny something I am. I am not confused, greedy, or going through a phase. I'm not looking for your validation--I can do that for myself--but hey, your support would be nice. I am a ~unique and special snowflake~, but that's because I'm a human being, not because of who I'd like to fuck. I'm not interested in threesomes based solely on the qualification that one interested party has a dick and the other has a vagina. I am looking for a fulfilling, monogamous relationship with someone who understands, supports, and respects me, but I don't have a problem having some fun in the meantime. I am not a sex object. I am not a toy. I am no one's Girls Gone Wild DVD.
The fact that I am bisexual does not affect my ability to be a good daughter, sibling, friend, or significant other. The fact that I am bisexual does not define me as a person. The fact that I am bisexual does not mean I am going to leave you because you do not meet my secret bisexual needs, though I do reserve the right to leave you for other reasons, up to and including you being an ass about my sexuality. The fact that I am bisexual is not something I am obligated to talk about, but I'm not obligated to shut up about it either.
I have the right to use whatever word fits to describe myself; I have the right to change my mind about what word that might be. I have the right to tell you if, and why, a joke you told offended me. I have the right to be seen for who I am, not who I am attracted to. I have the right to smack you if you try to put me in a sexual situation you assumed (but did not ask if) I would comfortable with. My decisions about how I relate to and act upon my sexual orientation, like all my other decisions, are my own. I will shut you down if you try to tell me otherwise.
Most importantly: I am the same person I was before you knew I was bisexual, and will continue to be that person regardless of how you choose to react. How we proceed from here is on you, not on me; I'm going to be who I am, and if you have a problem with that, it is your problem alone. I like who I am, and you are not going to change me. Quite frankly, you'd be out of bounds to try.
Love and Kisses,