And why it’s so easy to assume that I’m straight
“Oh you’re bi? So like, you’ve had girlfriends?”
“Um… not really. At least not yet.”
“Ah, but you must have slept with women right? Made out at least?”
“Come on, can you even really call yourself bisexual then? You seem practically straight.”
It was the first day of class and I barely knew anyone there. While everyone else seamlessly drifted in and out of little conversational groups, I stood out like a sore thumb. And that was when she walked up to me. She was tall, confident-looking and strikingly beautiful. When she admitted to feeling awkward amongst all the socialising, I was surprised; she had an unmistakable air of elegance and certainty to her. “I thought I was the only one feeling nervous,” I said, almost amused. “What! You? You seem so confident!” She replied to me, and we both laughed, realizing we thought the same thing of each other. We became friends rapidly- we spoke about boys and philosophy, we made art together and once on a mellow afternoon, we lay on her hostel bed together, our legs entangled.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I was falling for her. In the safe space of our female friendship, we created moments of gentleness and joy without thinking twice. So when she eventually got a boyfriend, I was glad for her, but it broke my heart a little bit. And I didn’t understand that pain. “This isn’t a real attraction,” I told myself. “This isn’t a real heartbreak. If anything, it’s just a girl crush” In pop-culture parlance, a ‘girl crush’ is a quirky way of saying that you admire a woman. Maybe you find her attractive, slightly intimidating, and more than anything, you aspire to be like her.
I rationalized my initial attraction to women like this. Maybe I sought out women I admired, and secretly wanted to be a little more like them. It wasn’t that I secretly wanted them, right? I couldn’t possibly want to hold their hands, have long conversations tinged with flirting, and then kiss them, right? Right?
I put this question aside and dated men, slept with men, fell in love with men. Sometimes, on a dating app, I would switch my preference to ‘men and women.’ An occasional woman’s profile would pop up, and I would take in her features, her sense of humour, the little sprinkle of details and wonder what would happen if I actually swiped. Of course, I never did. I’d eventually match with men; men whose jokes I would laugh coyly at, get drunk with, make out with, and still feel like I was missing something. Like I was hiding an entire sexual and romantic side of mine.
And I was. For the longest time, it was hard for me to call myself bisexual because straightness came as default. Straightness is assumed from the moment of adolescence, when everything gets tinted with attraction. Undoing this default status required something decisive; like coming out as strictly gay, which would mean never wanting intimacy with men. Or it required proof; a past littered with as many girlfriends as boyfriends. A clean 50-50. Or at least a string of hook-ups with women, with which I could be regarded as ‘bi-curious,’ or something cool and fetishized like that. Straightness doesn’t require proof, or an optic of something sexual to be taken seriously. Straightness just is.
And that’s why I skirted around labels for most of my teens. I wanted my bisexuality to be something that just was. I often felt out of place with friend group of heterosexual women. Whenever we spoke about desire, it was only about men. And it wasn’t that I wasn’t attracted to men, it was just that I was leaving so much unsaid. Whenever I brought up my attraction to women, some of my friends clamoured excitedly with approval, to prove how progressive they were. But I always sensed a thin sheen of wariness beneath that zealousness. A fear of the unknown, of difference, or even worse- that I may be attracted to them. Sometimes at the end of their progressive-display, they would even emphatically clarify to me that they were very very straight.
At the same time, I felt uncertain about inserting myself into LGBTQ circles. Most people in these circles were vocally visibly queer, and subverted gender and heteronormativity in radical ways. For many of them, there was no going back, no possibility of living in the comfortable shadows of perceived straightness. Many of their stories were full of violence, judgement and resistance. And I couldn’t pretend like my experiences held the same power, at least in a political sense. I was a somewhat-closeted bisexual woman, who had only ever dated men. I had spent my entire life avoiding the violence of being LGBT. And if I continue to date only men, then I can be in joyful, honest intimate relationships my entire life, without ever having to fight or resist discrimination for them.
But when it comes to my bisexuality, loneliness is the most overwhelming emotion that comes to mind. The loneliness of not fully belonging anywhere, of not feeling decisive enough, of feeling only half real. Of feeling the need to prove my desires to a voyeuristic audience, but not having visible proof of anything other than straightness. My bisexuality is lonely, confounding and liminal. It is not hypersexual, or fuelled by imagery of pornographic threesomes as some may gleefully assume (even though there is nothing wrong, immoral, or less valid about it, even if that were the case.) My bisexuality is an everyday creature. Erotic, painful, ordinary, and simply looking for a place to belong. Having written all this, I feel like the only way to tie my meandering thoughts together is with this passage from the bisexual manifesto.
“Bisexuality is a whole, fluid identity. Do not assume that bisexuality is binary or duogamous in nature: that we have “two” sides or that we must be involved simultaneously with both genders to be fulfilled human beings. In fact, don’t assume that there are only two genders. Do not mistake our fluidity for confusion, irresponsibility, or an inability to commit. Do not equate promiscuity, infidelity, or unsafe sexual behavior with bisexuality. Those are human traits that cross all sexual orientations. Nothing should be assumed about anyone’s sexuality, including your own.”
This was written in 1990, long before I was born. And yet it resonates through the years, still searing, still powerfully personal and political, and makes this lonely bi-girl feel a little more known. A little more heard.