Choose one. This is the phrase that dominates the minds of many bisexuals. Growing up, I never felt this pressure because I had never really thought about my sexuality. It wasn’t like I didn’t have feelings; I had crushes, of course, but they never dominated my psyche the way they seemed to with my classmates. All of the crushes I had in elementary school were on girls, but something felt missing.
It felt as if a piece of my consciousness was absent. The worst thing was that it felt like everyone around me had everything together. They understood how they felt, and they never had second thoughts about who they liked or why they liked something, which made me feel isolated.
Fast forward to the beginning of puberty, and I had just moved across the country from Oregon to Columbia. I was trying to adapt to Midwestern culture but found it difficult. The school I had transferred to was pretty homogeneous: white, conservative, upper-class. Compared to my past, this was a massive change. It felt as if I had descended into some parallel universe where Escalades were the main form of transportation and being a brunette was abnormal. At this school, I made some great friends, whom I still have to this day, but I also witnessed something I had never seen before; the word gay wasn’t meant as a mere way of describing one’s sexuality. It was an insult.
“That’s so gay.”
In the past I had friends whose parents were same-sex couples, but it wasn’t really something that was seen as deviant from the norm. It wasn’t any different than having a different eye color; it was just a benign part in the makeup of one’s own individual identity.
Moving also presented another challenge: it was the first time I was bullied on a regular basis. I was called gay and didn’t fully understand why being this was seen as negative in the eyes of some of my peers. I wasn’t an incredibly athletic kid, so I didn’t follow sports and was occasionally sort of effeminate since most of my friends and family growing up were girls.
This latter part of my upbringing was used against me. People would make fun of the way I walked, talked and just about every trivial thing I did in my day-to-day life. It was all considered “girly,” which, of course, there is nothing wrong with that because femininity and masculinity are social constructs. As an 11-year-old boy, however, this was the worst thing I could’ve been called. The other facet of this whole thing that drove me crazy especially was that I exclusively liked girls.
Finally, in the summer of 2014, I began to put the pieces together. I realized I was attracted to men and women; however, this wasn’t the time I began to come out to anyone. My family and close friends were all supporters of the LGBTQ + community, so they were not a deterrent. Instead, the stereotyping and the bullying that I had experienced left me with fear.
People assumed I was gay for much of my life, and I didn’t want to validate their preconceptions. I didn’t want to let the bullies win. I thought that if I came out, I would be doing a disservice to the LGBTQ + community, not only because I liked fashion, art, music and had effeminate characteristics, but also because I still am attracted to girls.
In my journey to discovering and accepting my sexuality, I came across the idea of bisexuality being a cover-up for being in the closet. As much as the community tries to be inclusive, there is an obsession with putting members into the boxes: you are either gay, or you are straight.
“You can’t be both.”
In my efforts to learn more, I began to educate myself on the bi community and researched the point of view a minority of gay men and lesbians have: that bisexuality doesn’t exist, or that bisexuals are not a relevant part of the LGBTQ + community. These actions are part of a larger issue known as bi-erasure, which is the act of deliberately or subconsciously dismissing bisexuals and bisexuality as a whole. In other words, bi-phobia.
Unlike my gay counterparts, I didn’t have resources which were specifically dedicated to my sexuality and helping others like me find their place in the community.
While being gay on its own comes with societal drawbacks, the privilege that homosexuals possess in comparison to bisexuals is that no one feels the need to question their authenticity in or outside the community. The irony of a gay man or lesbian persecuting a bisexual is, in my opinion, incomprehensible. Yet some homosexuals turn around and inflict that same sort of hate upon bisexuals because they don’t fit into their arbitrary categories.
Sexuality is a journey that one goes through in understanding oneself and not allowing others’ critiques. My journey, however, is not yet over; in fact, it is far from it. What I realized is, that if my future partner is not willing to accept or understand my sexuality, then he or she isn’t someone I want to be with.
No one should have to feel the need to put themselves into a box. Labels aren’t for others’ convenience. Labels are meant to be a reflection of one’s own unique identity.