Discovering, Understanding and Fighting For My Sexuality
It took a long time for me to figure out that it’s OK to be bisexual. And not in a “my family won’t accept me!” way. For all of their many, many faults (I became homeless at 17 after enduring years of abuse), I can honestly say that my family isn’t homophobic. No, the issues with my sexuality didn’t come from my friends and “loved ones”. They came from society as a whole. It just so happens that my friends sit within society.
Fair warning: this is a sweary, personal article.
This isn’t an article to say that society is shit and needs to change – although that is true on many counts. It’s more to open up the eyes of those who are cis, hetero and…well… “typical” to use the psycho/socio term. Those who can’t understand facing the fears surrounding sexuality, because they’ve never had to see it from a personal level.
For example, when I first discussed writing this article with my lovely assistant editor and social media manager, Eloise, I baulked slightly. What if my family – who we’ve already established aren’t the most supportive bunch – see this and mock me? Her response came from a place of good intentions but a lack of awareness.
“To be honest, it’s the kind of thing that shouldn’t be a big deal by now. If [son] never told me he was gay but just walked in with a boyfriend I wouldn’t bat an eye.”
Which, hell, good for them! But, naturally, that’s not where my family dynamics lie. And this is exactly the kind of thing I think more people need to understand. I’m more than happy that so many people now consider sexuality as not being a big deal. But the whole “not a big deal” thing comes from a place of privilege. Of course, I did explain my point of view in return:
“Ah see, that’s the thing – and I know you don’t mean this in a mean way, so I’m not taking it like that. But hearing a lot of that discourse sounds dismissive to people who DO struggle with family dynamics.”
Of course, she took this in her stride and was as humble as ever in her acceptance of the misunderstanding. But, I digress. I’m incredibly lucky to now be at the point where I can turn around to people I love and explain why that mentality can hurt. And that wasn’t always the case. Indeed, there are many people – both young and old – who still aren’t comfortable in their sexuality. People who, quite possibly, read this website. This article is for you.
So, let’s go back to the beginning, shall we?
When I was a teenager, I knew I was attracted to women. However, having always been this way, I had nothing to compare the feeling to. How do you know what is “straight”, “bisexual” and “gay” and aren’t we all somewhere along the spectrum, somewhere? For the latter, that’s the discourse that seems to spread around young people. Or, at least, it was when I was a teen.
However, I remember turning to a female friend and asking them if they were ever attracted to women at all. Their response was to scrunch their nose up at me (more likely, they were scrunching their nose up at the thought of being with another woman – but it felt very much like it was at me). Then responding, in disgust, “no!”. This, of course, only added to the confusion. Was it really so bad for a woman to find women attractive?
A few weeks later, I was having a sleepover with a friend, when they said “you’re bisexual, aren’t you?” Remembering the previous conversation and knowing that it had likely spread like wildfire among friends (because nothing is as attractive as gossip, it seems), I mimicked the response I’d seen. Scrunching up my nose, acting disgusted and generally hating myself for being so fake, I scoffed “no!”
But, of course, the attraction to women never went away.
If I could look back at all the celebrities I’ve been attracted to in my life, I can honestly say there’s maybe one or two males in that list. However, in real life, the male:female ratio has always favoured men. In all likelihood, this is simply because more men are sexually available to women, than women are. In the US, only 3.5% of individuals identify as LGB (with 0.3% as transgender, if you’re wondering). Meanwhile, in the UK, the percentage of LGBT+ individuals increases slightly to 5.4%.
That being said, the highest proportion of those self-identifying as LGBT are in the 16-24-year-old range. Of course, I am rather pleased that it seems attitudes towards these groups appears to be slowly – oh so slowly – changing. Still, it stands to reason that these numbers were lower when I was growing up (the WHO only removed LGBT sexualities from the list of mental health disorders in 1992 and Section 28 was abolished in 2000). Even now, the numbers are likely skewed in favour of those comfortable with their sexuality. Of course, even though people are more open to the idea of lesbian and gay couples, my experience of bisexuality is that it has always been seen as a joke.
Bi-Erasure is real. And it sits closer to home than you might think.
In school, bisexuality was spoken about in terms of “attention-seeking”. At parties, many girls would kiss other girls as a kind of party trick. Hell, there’s nothing wrong with this, really. It’s just teenagers being, well, teenagers. The problem is that many of the lads then went forward with their life, believing that sexuality was just another aspect of women that is designed to appeal to men. The kind of blokes who now refer to bisexuality as calling everyone “fair game”. Urgh.
So, I went to the golden oldie that is AOL chat rooms (showing my age). Here, I met Katie (named changed for obvious reasons). Katie was (well, still is) a lesbian who was already out and proud. God bless her, I asked her enough questions to put down a rhino, but she was incredibly patient with me. Even when I panicked that she had spoken to a friend of mine about my sexuality. She didn’t understand why I was so secretive about my bisexuality – but respectful enough to accept my choice, regardless. Likely because she was well aware of the dangers of outing someone against their wishes.
Of course, it shouldn’t have ever been the case that I could only ever open up about my sexuality in chat rooms.
Even within the chat rooms, I was still facing bi-erasure. Members frequently state things such as “give it a few years and you’ll realise you’re gay”. In a 2013 study, 15% of people stated that bisexuality isn’t a real sexuality. Not to mention that people seem to assume that your bisexuality disappears, once you’re in a hetero-relationship.
Recently, I even gave the typical “oh, actually I’m bi” chatter while online gaming, only to be shot down as being a liar or transphobic, because I didn’t say I was pansexual (simply not true. The “bisexual umbrella” can cover a wide range of different sexualities).
Others have fetishised my sexuality, in the belief that bi=threesome. So, now I don’t even correct people when they assume my hetero-sexuality. It’s simply not worth the hassle of defending myself and my attractions. Especially since it already took 25 years for me to accept my sexuality. And, in the online gaming community, many still try to make out that I’m only a bisexual gamer in order to attract men.
Now, I tend not to bother opening up that can of worms unless asked directly. Not because I’m embarrassed, but because it’s not worth the emotional labour of providing explanations, when I’m just trying to game.
But, again, this is all stuff that I face now, as an adult who is (relatively) comfortable in their sexuality.
Growing up, my sister was always the popular one at school. This offered me plenty of benefits, since I will always take pride in being a little bit weird. As it turns out, having an older sister that people respect, also means you get the bonus of their attitude. Nobody bothered with me, because it might mean that The Big Sister would turn on them. For these reasons, my sister was a good yardstick for measuring the response of other people in wider society.
One day, while she was – once again – painstakingly manicuring herself to enter the world, I sat down and took a deep breath.
“What would you say if I told you I was bisexual?” I asked, the words likely barely louder than a whisper.
“I’d say you just hadn’t had a good enough dick.” She was laughing, but must have seen my face. “But you’re not bi. Gay, maybe. Probably just confused. But not bi. Come out with me, we’ll make you straight again.”
“You’re disgusting,” I told her, as she continued laughing. And, heart crumbling, I walked out of the room and promised myself I’d never speak of it again. But now I had another concern. what if I wasn’t bi? What if I was “just” gay and I didn’t really know it? Spoiler alert: totally not lesbian, definitely bisexual.
To her – and most of society, even now – bisexuality was (and is) a joke.
As it turns out, people have very particular imagery, when it comes to LGBT and Pride. And that’s either the flamboyantly camp-as-a-tent lads, or butch lasses. Hell, even I’m torn down by these stereotypes and find myself blown away when I meet a femme lesbian/bi who’s interested in lasses. I hate myself for it, but it’s ingrained into my psyche – classically beautiful women could never be interested in me. They’re all straight!
Of course, that’s all bullshit. Just like anything else in life, sexuality has not one iota of difference in how someone presents themselves to wider society. I’ve met feminine lads and masculine women who were straight and vice versa. Personally, despite my interest on a general scale in women, it wasn’t until I left university that I found myself having a full-blown crush on a lass. Let’s call her Charlotte, for the sake of this article.
Charlotte was absolutely stunning.
But it wasn’t just how she looked. It was how she held herself, how her eyes had a cheeky sparkle to them. It was, well, pretty much everything. She was based in Newcastle, myself in Manchester, and we met at a training weekend for jobs we’d gotten in our respective cities. The second I saw her, I thought “damn, I wish I could look that good” – but, after spending an entire day laughing together, I knew this wasn’t the standard friendship thing.
I went to bed that night, with a sore stomach from giggling when a thought hit me like a ton of bricks. You really like this girl. For the first time since my teenage years, I was forced to once again come to terms with the fact that I was sexually attracted to women. For some, I imagine this feeling would be quite freeing. However, for me, it brought me back to those feelings of absolute terror.
And then guilt. Many others have it much worse than me. I’m pretty confident in my ability to understand that, of those I know, nobody would ever judge me for who I’m attracted to. I didn’t have to worry about what my family thought anymore, because we don’t speak. Meanwhile, my friends were either all allies or members of the LGBT community themselves. So, what was wrong with me? Why was I struggling so much to accept myself?
That night, I cried myself to sleep.
The next day, Charlotte and I had a good laugh. But, when she came close to put her arm through mine on the lunch break, I made excuses and pulled away. When she whispered in my ear, I stayed completely still – scared that if I’d turn my head and catch her eye, I’d end up kissing her passionately.
I really loved her company, but I didn’t want to scare her away with my stupid feelings. Because someone as gorgeous as Charlotte could never be attracted to me – and I at least wanted to know her as a friend. I didn’t learn a single thing that day about my job, but I learned that I hated myself and my stupid brain for all its stupid feelings. For the first time in my life, I just wanted to be normal.
She walked me to the station at the end of the day, we shared a hug, added each other on Facebook – and never spoke again.
In classic Wendy style, I then spent the next few weeks researching everything I could about sexuality.
Thank God for the internet (no, not like that, get your mind out of the gutter, folks). Because it has definitely changed since the olden days. At the time, I was 23, and wandering deep into the YouTube hole. I was watching every “coming out” story that was available and I spent a lot of time crying. Partly because I still had no idea how to just accept myself and partly because I was in no place, mentally, to be having such an identity crisis.
It’s no secret that, for many of the reasons given above – and many, many more that others have to struggle with – people who are bisexual can suffer from a wide range of mental health issues. One study suggests that those who identify as being bisexual ” were more likely to report identity uncertainty, conceal their sexual orientation, and have a weaker sense of connection to the LGBT community.”
While I don’t believe that my OCD diagnosis (which was given at around the same time) is directly related to my sexuality, it certainly doesn’t help with the spikes of anxiety. For others, however, the direct correlation can be easily noticed.
The LGBT community as a whole often suffer from disproportionate levels of mental health problems. Reasons likely range from their mistreatment from others, through to struggling with their identity, in much the same manner as myself. When I was homeless, I saw multiple people in hostels because they were LGBT+ – their parents had kicked them out. Having someone who is biologically programmed to love you, reject you… because of your own, personal relationship with love. Well, that shit stings.
For those reading this, who are currently struggling with rejection, I have this wisdom for you:
When I asked my psychologist why some families felt it was easy to toss aside their children, he was careful to explain the fundamentals. Some people are incapable of stretching their definition of love outside of what they grew up with as normal parameters. This is not your fault. Your feelings of rejection, anger and the full gamut of pain and even false hope, when they try to get in contact again – are all natural. And, here’s the kicker, you don’t need to feel that biological loyalty to them, in return.
These days, aged 30, I am confident in my sexuality.
I know, I know. It took me an absolute age to get here. But all of this, the self-hatred, the confusion, the shoving of feelings back down to the tiny box in the brain, which should only ever be inhabited by the disturbing memories of accidentally seeing a parent naked… they’re all – as far as I can tell – part and parcel of the bisexual experience. Unless you’re one of those super-confident, self-aware people. In which case, kudos to you! I’m not at all jealous.
The judgement of others has waned since I had my kid. Most likely because it’s easier for others to believe I’m a straight-up, straight-shooting, straight kinda gal. but, honestly, if I ever met a Charlotte again? Hell yes, I’d shoot my shot, this time. I’ve taken enough bruises to the ego to know that most people who turn you down aren’t judging you for your sexuality. Indeed, I’ve had people tell me they wish they were into women so they could be with me – and, hell yes, I’m holding that one close to my chest. I earned that ego boost.
Despite this, I still haven’t been in a relationship with a woman.
Nowadays, my new concern is that I’m simply getting too old to do the “first time” thing. Of course, logically, I know that’s bullshit. How do I know it’s bullshit? Well, I use my “how would I react to a friend saying this?” barometer. If a friend said they’re too old for a same-sex relationship, I’d give them a slap round the back of the head and tell them they’re being stupid. So, when I hear myself say the same thing? Yup. A mental slap round the back of the head will do the trick.
Of course, I still worry. But now I know I can enter a relationship – long or short-term – comfortable in the knowledge that I’m allowing the expression of that side of myself. I’m no longer questioning whether being in a relationship with a woman (or not) means I’m “actually bi” or “actually gay”. In other words, I know myself, my wants and my desires. And I’m happy to accept these aspects of who I am – both hetero and homo.
Personally, I have always felt that, as long as you aren’t hurting yourself or anyone else, directly or vicariously, you can do what you want (or who you want, in this case).
Every year, around Pride Month, I see the same disingenuous rubbish that involves major brands changing their logos to highlight pride. And while, on the one hand, I find myself hissing at them from my anti-social corner, I really raise my hackles when I see the same comments underneath. The same egotistical, straight-laced (literally) comments along the lines of “who cares?” and “when’s straight pride?” – and that is when they’re not being directly insulting. Which means I then have to remember that I’m a professional, who isn’t supposed to figuratively scream at strangers on the internet.
The reality is that, for many of us, we can’t travel anywhere we want to go in the world. Because many countries still criminalise sex between people of the same gender – and don’t recognise some genders or sexualities. Punishments include anything from imprisonment to lashings and even the death penalty.
A bisexual friend of mine went to a country in Africa as part of her training in law. Unfortunately, she had to hide any and all evidence that she might ever be attracted to women. She’s one of the best people I have ever met and the idea that she could ever be punished for her attraction to others is still something I can’t get my head around.
Meanwhile, at home, LGBT hate crimes have risen
Of the crimes reported to the 45 police forces in the UK, the number of homophobic hate crimes is seen to have almost trebled. However, this could – partially – be due to the public feeling more confident in reporting the hate crimes. Particularly as same-sex marriage became legal in England, at around the same time these stats were shared.
Of course, if you’re a young person, hearing these details can cause understandable distress. Despite not having some of the same online and in-person communities that many younger folk can now enjoy, I also never had to deal with online trolling. Particularly at a time in my life when I felt vulnerable. Online hate speech is very real, and many members of the LGBT community have suffered and are suffering as a result.
Part of this has led me to feel that “coming out” officially in this way, is going to be dangerous for me.
When I was halfway through this article, I considered shutting it down and forgetting it forever. I even spoke to my colleagues about it. What if I receive hate for being bi? What if my family see this and I’m subject to their abuse, too? I consider myself a resilient person. It’s why I am where I am, today. But, usually, this comes down to the opinions I hold. This will be the first article I’ve written that holds a direct link to who I am as a person.
My opinions can change when presented with new information, my sexuality – for better or worse – has always been unwavering. Again, explaining this to my straight friends and allies is difficult. But, maybe – just maybe – you’ll understand all of this. If you do, then I hope this article is bringing you comfort. If not, well, tough shit. I guess I’ll have to take the crap. I’m happy to do that, if it allows for that slim chance of helping someone come to terms with their own sexuality.
Since I’ve come to terms with my sexuality, I’ve been perfectly happy discussing it, on an “as and when” basis.
In other words, when people ask me directly about my sexuality, I’ll happily discuss this with them. This is, for the most part, a self-preservation instinct – I simply don’t want to get into debates about what being bi actually means. Nor do I want to become someone who states “I am a person from this community, therefore my experiences and personality represents them ALL” because that simply isn’t true.
However, my decision to write this article has come directly from seeing the hate that many members face. Especially online. It took me years of making myself miserable to understand my sexuality – why on earth would I want that for anyone else? I can’t tell you that this is what being bisexual looks like, feels like or is. But I hope I can help readers to understand that having a crisis of sexuality doesn’t change who you are as a person. You aren’t alone. Even if you’re a slightly skewiff person, like me.