Last summer, I got an internship in the United States. There I met a girl – let’s call her Laura – who got my stomach all tingly. She was cute, and funny, and we ate lunch together and worked at neighbouring desks and went swimming together on weekends. She liked to hug and touch people, and I secretly loved having her hand on my arm. She called me “lover” once, as a joke, and my heart jumped up in my chest. One day I found myself fantasizing about kissing her.
There was only one problem: I was straight. Or at least, I had always thought I was. I liked guys – right? I’d definitely had crushes on guys before. And I still thought boys were attractive. But this thing I had with Laura – that was definitely some kind of infatuation. It was confusing, and I couldn’t ignore it.
So I started wondering, not for the first time, if I might be bisexual.
The first time I wondered, I was still in high school. I thought girls were hot sometimes, and I thought wlw romances were cute, and sometimes when I fantasized I imagined a girl stroking my breasts or kissing my neck. So, like any bookish nerd with an aversion to asking for help, I turned to books and the internet instead of my friends.
The internet told me I was just bi-curious, looking for attention. Scientific papers told me women processed sexual attraction through actions rather than visuals, so that otherwise straight women often were aroused by other women in sexual situations. Still others told me that I was a closeted lesbian, which I knew wasn’t true – because sometimes I definitely wanted a boy to kiss me. So I relented, and accepted that I was just a horny straight teenager who was sometimes attracted to girls because women are weird, I guess. And that explanation held until I met Laura.
If I had asked my friends, I might have come up with a different answer; at the very least we could have all been confused together. But I didn’t, and since the world really, really does not want you to be bisexual, I kept on thinking I was straight until I was confronted with the awkward, undeniable proof that I wasn’t.
And still, I went looking for answers online – my friends were far away for the most part, and I was embarrassed and afraid that my new friends would tell Laura I had a crush on her, or tell me bisexuality wasn’t real. And once again, the internet, this garden of humanity, tried to tell me I was crazy.
If you haven’t actually dated people of all genders, then you aren’t really bisexual. Bisexuality is a myth, it’s just an excuse for girls to get attention. You’re just a lesbian, admit it. You’re just doing it because guys will think you’re more attractive. You just want to have threesomes. You’re just attracted to women because all the guys around you are ugly, just find a hot guy and you’ll be back to your straight self, don’t worry.
The surprising part, at least for me, was that these ideas would just as often come out of the LGBT community. The community whose third letter stands for “bisexual” was trying to convince me that I wasn’t. I was either straight or gay, and neither of those options felt right.
I started grappling with my own internalized homophobia, thinking that maybe I was bisexual heteroromantic, because I was terrified of openly dating another woman. Then I realized that was bullshit. My cousin came out as gay and the entire family was supportive and kind, so I started thinking that maybe I could do this. Maybe I wasn’t crazy, the whole world was. Maybe I was just bisexual, despite having never dated (anyone, ever), despite having only one female crush on record, and maybe it was as simple as being open to the possibility of it.
And then I watched an episode of MTV Braless, hosted by Laci Green. This episode, to be exact.
While I didn’t expect her to finish with the conclusion that everyone was secretly bisexual, the ending still stung me. Laci Green, an open and out pansexual, someone I thought would support people questioning their sexuality, said that being open to bisexuality wasn’t enough. She put conditions to my acceptance. Active and persistent attraction to multiple genders.
I genuinely don’t think Green had any bad intentions in saying this. Watching the video now, it feels like she’s trying to make a useful distinction. But in a world where everyone is telling you that you’re secretly straight, or secretly gay, or just pretending for the sake of attention, that’s exactly what her words sounded like to me. You’ve only had one crush, on one girl, she seemed to say. And you didn’t even date her. That’s not active and persistent. You must be pretending. That single video sent me back down a spiral of self-doubt that lasted months, and it was a long while before I could admit to myself that I was bi.
Now Green is, herself, pansexual and I would never accuse her of dismissing bisexual people; but words don’t always have the effect that we want them to, especially in the context of a world that doesn’t always make sense. Words like these hurt those who are trying to come to terms with their own sexuality. And they especially hurt because they come from a source where most of us would assume are safe. They come from people like us.
Green’s video is, of course, not the worst of it. On the grand scheme of things, it’s pretty harmless. But it does highlight a real problem in the LGBT community: the policing of bisexuality, the diminishing of bisexual experiences, and the idea that others can decide whether or not you “deserve” to call yourself bisexual. And all this contributes to this idea of bisexual erasure. It’s the main reason I haven’t come out to most of my friends and family yet.
Because yeah, my family all accept my gay cousin, but what if they don’t believe bisexuality is real? Sure, there are many LGBT folks in my group of friends, but one of my lesbian friends once told me she believed bisexuals were liars who needed to pick a side. How do you come out in that kind of context? When even the people who should be welcoming you are telling you you don’t exist. You can’t even trust proven allies, you can’t even trust other members of the LGBT community.
And it hurts. It fucking hurts.