My best friend and I are lying in the dark, buried in covers and playing a classic sleepover game: Bed Wed Behead. We’ve known each other for seven years, but only in the past couple of months have I come out to her, and everyone, as bisexual. She lists the names of old middle school classmates or the hottest celebrities in trios for me to choose from: KJ Apa, Shawn Mendes, and Chris Hemsworth as one. But all of them are male. We go through maybe six or seven rounds, a small part of me hoping a girl’s name will pop up at least once. It doesn’t.
There are two thoughts alternating in my head. For one, is she avoiding it, or even forgotten? I’m still newly out of the closet, but she is my best friend—I would think that she’d remember.
The second, a question of doubt ringing through my mind. The thing is, my coming out was fresh, and I hadn’t embraced it or even fully accepted it myself yet. For two or three years, at this point, I’d suppressed my sexuality as so many do, denying it almost to the point of hoping it wasn’t real. To this day, I have to remind myself that it’s okay to find women attractive, even though my ‘bi-as’ towards males remains prominent. I’ve never had any sort of romantic relation with a female, but my sexuality is still a part of who I am. Sexuality is about attraction, not necessarily dating history, and shouldn’t be defined as such. Sometimes it feels like the greater population expects or needs you to act upon your diverse preferences, even if your past is skewed one way or the other.
Society is substantially more progressive than it ever has been, but it’s still far from perfect. We’ve tried quite hard to make being queer normal, and while it’s much more accepted, it has continued to be avoided. “Normal” would be my friend dropping in female actresses and singers and celebrities into our Kiss Kill Marry game just as casually as she would men; I wouldn’t have to ask her to include them, a shallow yet substantial way to validate my insecurities in the LGBTQ+ world.
I’m not your stereotypical outspoken gay girl. I don’t preach constantly about equal rights or march in pride parades or wave rainbow flags around. Sometimes I wish I did some of that stuff more often, but I have this strange fear that I’m a fake. That my sexuality isn’t real.
I used to wonder that the existing normalization and push for equality in the media and the Bay Area has not only desensitized me to the variety of existing identifications, but I’ve tricked myself into thinking I’m not straight. There are two things that disprove that: mainly, I undeniably find women attractive, but also, I’ve still found hardships in our considerably tolerant local community. I don’t feel like I can talk as excitedly about girls versus guys without coming across as a preacher of the so-called Gay Agenda or being selfish or narcissistic. But boy, do people love hearing cute stories about my amazing boyfriend, as jealous as it might make them, if the contortion on their faces is any indication.
My identity has been pushed so far deep down inside of me that sometimes it feels foreign, and the cultural norms that continue to present it as taboo feed my hesitance and reluctance to embrace it.
Where is the balance? I don’t want to have to be an activist or continuously-participating member of the community to still identify myself as a part of it.
I understand the other side of the equation, being a (then) straight person not knowing how to handle or approach these delicate situations. Before I came to terms with myself, a part of me resented all of the hype around it—which was likely a way of denying that piece inside of me, but for so long I wasn’t sure how to approach the topic with a person who identified that way. Should one talk about it more, or pretend it doesn’t exist?
What I have found is that we are generally proud of who we are, and don’t mind talking about our identity. However, the key piece is that while we don’t necessarily want a big drama around us, we also don’t want to be ignored. It was strange to me that when I came out to quite a few people, they merely dismissed it with an “Ok, cool, that’s fine” and moved on. I understand that they were trying to not be offensive and “keep it casual,” but it would have felt more sincere to have heard something along the lines of, “I am honored that you felt comfortable telling me. Thank you. I am proud of you,” because as much as different self-expressions are accepted these days, they can still a big deal to accept internally, then find the courage to share.
My advice to you, reader, is that if you ever are curious about someone’s sexuality, gender, or other possible identification, asking a simple, “How do you identify?” (which is nice and open-ended, since there are so many different classifications) is a safe bet and unlikely to upset who you’re talking with. It’s no worse than asking, “Oh, are you a cat person or a dog person?” if someone owns one of those pets. They also might have both, or like the other but just haven’t had a chance to adopt one of their own. Just as for someone who’s bisexual, they might have a dating history skewed towards one gender or the other, but that doesn’t make them 100% gay or straight. And we don’t want to be treated as such.
What I have found is that people can basically pretend I’m straight. Yes, I like guys, but by only focusing on that fraction of my interest, the other half—the extremely vulnerable one—is chipped away at and not just ignored, but undermined. For someone so insecure in my own identity, this effect is on a level so intense my fear of rejection (from both mainstream society and the LGBTQ+ world) becomes consuming. I am left in the middle, belonging to neither group and hardly understanding myself anymore.
It’s extremely important for society to be both accepting and encouraging of the LGBTQ+ community, for people who are already confident in their identity, but even more so for people like me—who might need that external validation and support to feel safe growing into who we are. One’s awakening or realization is seldom instantaneous or simple. I’m sure every coming out story has some sort of process and evolution behind it and probably took a number of experiences to become certain, as it did for me.
The world of entertainment is already doing better. People are making a concerted effort to increase representation of all demographics in books, TV shows, movies, and other popular outlets. Let’s do the same in our day-to-day lives, with the beautiful spectrum of human beings we know and care about.