For Bisexual Awareness Week, I have a series of guest posts scheduled every day leading up to 5 posts for today (Sept 23rd). Buckle up for some bi visibility! This post (by an anonymous a cisgender woman of Asian descent in her 30s) carries us through the journey of her bisexuality into adulthood and her marriage. (Read all posts in the series here.)
As far as most people can tell, my life is the epitome of heteronormativity. I married the first guy I dated in college; nothing about me (except perhaps my love of sensible shoes) codes me as queer; for all practical purposes, I’m barely out to anyone at all in my personal life at all. As with many bisexual people who do not draw attention to their queerness, or, perhaps, feel that they have no right to claim it, my lack of essentially pass as straight. But precisely because of this, I’ve come to realise that it is all the more important that I find opportunities to self-identify as such, because I think there are more people like me than I have realised, and my hope is that sharing my experience can help anyone of any age feel less alone, just as other people’s shared experiences helped me.
I have a fairly standard closeted-from-childhood-into-adulthood story (even though at the time it felt like anything but). I was a cisgender girl with crushes on other girls (including – and especially – older ones) since I was old enough to start having crushes (3rd grade). I had no words for these feelings and was simultaneously unaware and in denial of them – that is, until one day in ninth grade, walking home alone, I finally admitted to myself that the dank pit of dismay in my stomach that had been there all afternoon from my best friend giggling over a picture of some guy she’d met at a swim meet was because it meant she would never like me the way I liked her, and the words in my head were suddenly as clear as wind chimes:
I like girls.
Actually doing anything with this knowledge never actually occurred to me. Like many children of East Asian parents, I long internalised and epitomised the message ingrained in me from childhood: get good grades. Follow the rules. Be responsible. Don’t waste time on unproductive pursuits, like hobbies, friends, a social life, romance. And I was (and still am) excellent at following instructions.
At the time, I reasoned (realising only years later my own deeply internalised homophobia) that if pedophiles could control their inappropriate thoughts around children, so could I too. Anyway, this all must be because I was attending an all-girls Catholic school, and once I was in university and exposed to boys things would change completely, right? I just had to date and sleep with the first decent guy who showed interest in me, prove to myself once and for all I was capable of sleeping with men (and I could! “Not hating it” meant it was a success, right?) Then all my inconvenient feelings would finally evaporate, right?
I just needed to stay with him long enough, right?
By the time I decided to bring up getting married (out of practical reasons, since we weren’t going to break up anyway, and I assured both of us the right to an amicable divorce if things didn’t work out), I had resigned myself to the belief that I would always love women that way, and that lacked the capacity to love men that way – because, if I could, I would know by now. I justified my choices by promising myself that what I felt inside wouldn’t make a difference in my outward actions. I would be loyal; my behaviour would be irreproachable.
This all could have turned out terribly wrong for me – I could have gotten pregnant, could have ended up with someone abusive – but instead I lucked out by having the privilege of sharing my life with one of the kindest, most considerate people I have met. Other people have not been so lucky. And even then, I only mentioned my feelings for women with him once over the years – one night lying in bed, staring into the dark, telling him that it doesn’t matter and it changes absolutely nothing – and then neither of us ever broached the topic again for nearly 10 years, until one day I realised that continuing to deny such a fundamental part of me to the person I knew I loved most in the world – and to myself – was not something I could continue to do for the next 10 years and beyond.
Going through life feeling unable to tell anyone my deepest thoughts, while failing to find my experience represented or openly discussed in public, made my existence feel exceedingly solitary, but simultaneously and contradictorily also secretly quite common. In my mind, everyone privately had some attraction to the same gender, and they were either in denial or (like myself) admitted it only in secret, or brave noble souls who chose an honest life on hard mode over an easy life of safe complacency. In my mind, I had elevated being out to an act of virtue and self-sacrifice – only those brave enough to live honestly with their sexuality deserved happiness, and those who weren’t (like me) didn’t. And yet, at the same time, I groundlessly (and rather insultingly) believed that people who could not be with the opposite sex simply just weren’t trying hard enough to make themselves.
It’s hard to say when and how the shift in my thinking occurred. It took time, but I finally started believing straight people when they told me that could not imagine ever being with someone of the same gender and gay people who told me the same, except with someone of the opposite gender. Then, when one day out of the blue I realised that I actually fully and genuinely loved the person I was with, even if it contradicted something fundamental I believed about myself, I had no choice but to release the firmly-held conviction that I was incapable of forming a loving attachment to a man. This raised a question that wasn’t hugely pressing, but was no less baffling – if I wasn’t a lesbian, then who was I? A perfectly adequate word for my situation already existed, but I had never liked the word “bisexual”, and I strongly resisted the label. And since no one would likely ever ask and I had no plans to tell, I decided labeling myself wasn’t important.
Over time, as more high-profile people starting coming out as bisexual in the media and raised awareness around bisexuality, I became increasingly aware of the stigma surrounding bisexual people, which led to (among other things) to physical and mental health disparities in the bisexual population resulting in, among other things, higher rates of high cholesterol, asthma, smoking and alcohol use, risk-taking behaviour, depression, stress, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. It gradually sunk in, with horror and shame, that I was contributing to this entire culture of biphobia with my silence. Sympathising with other people’s bisexual experiences came so easily to me, and yet for my own relationship with my sexuality I’d only felt disdain forever. Finally allowing a bit of compassion that I felt for others was the first step in accepting that I was bisexual, as defined by activist Robyn Ochs:
“… the potential to be attracted – romantically and/or sexually – to people of more than one gender, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree.”
Coming out, to raise visibility and awareness, was now a moral imperative. And yet I still got in my own way. I wasn’t ready to come out to my family, my friends. What to say? Who would even care? What would people think? Such questions, and more, continued to cripple me.
One day, after furtively watching The Handmaiden alone in my hotel room on a work trip and being moved to tears for reasons I couldn’t identify (it probably had much do with watching two women who looked like me falling in love on screen and getting a happy ending) it struck me: here was something that resonated with me so very deeply on a gut level, and yet I didn’t feel like I could share it with the person with whom I shared my life and everything else. That felt wrong. So when I got home, I clumsily, haltingly, shared this exact sentiment with my husband, while driving, eyes on the road, so that I didn’t have to see his response. It wasn’t much, but it was the first of many conversations.
Then came Killing Eve.
If The Handmaiden made me cry, Killing Eve made me obsessed. It made me join stan Twitter, for crying out loud.
For the first time, I was unabashedly sharing my interests, this side of me, with like-minded people. When I shamefacedly told my husband the reason I’d been up late 3 nights in a row was because I was feverishly cranking out a fanfic after KE 1×08, he guffawed and told me he was glad I had found a passion.
The Killing Eve fans I met on Twitter were all enthusiastically and exclusively gay for women, which was extremely fun to be around but also made me uncomfortable about sharing my sexuality. I was afraid that revealing I was in a relationship with a man would be off-putting, or ruin the conversations I was having. But hiding it felt increasingly disingenuous in a place where I was finally feeling “myself”, so one day I decided to slip “I’m bi” into a conversation, and… no one minded. The world continued to turn.
“I’m bi.” It was that simple. It was that easy.
I’d like to say that I followed this up with a thoughtful, calculated coming out in my real life. Instead, I came out at my place of work – before anywhere else in my life – as the result of an impulsive desire to win an argument. Someone said something I didn’t agree with in a work chat, and, feeling a little heated, and forgetting this wasn’t stan Twitter – I’m sure everyone can relate to this – I decided to make my point more persuasive by throwing in “as a bisexual person” to bolster my position (otherwise known as the identity fallacy). I’d typed the words before I realised I’d brought a cannon to a toothpick fight. Of all the ways to reveal my sexuality, something that had been such a massive weight on me my whole life – I did it in Slack at work.
But, again – no one minded. I don’t even remember if I won that conversation. And what better way to normalise bisexuality than by showing that it really was No Big Deal.
Being able to be honest with myself about who I am has been liberating, but I still have some ways to go in real life outside of my liberal, North American East Coast workplace. Conversations with my husband continue; when I told him this essay was turning into the entire story of my sexual identity discovery, he said, “I’d like to read that!” reminding me how much I still have to share. My sister knows. I’m still not out to my parents, and I’m not sure I ever will be. I’ve told one close friend from college. I’m still working on why it’s so hard for me to disclose everything, but I’ll get there. I’m not sure who in my life will be the next to know. But eventually, they will.
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