Christine, Wondering

Random Musings of a Human Becoming

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Being Bi

A couple of weeks ago, in the throes of election angst, I got into a spat with an acquaintance about whether sexuality is a choice or a predetermined part of one's nature. The context was a meme that was going around that highlights the absurdity of anti-gay marriage sentiments, and in the course of the argument she tried to tell me that my parents' unhappy marriage is the reason why I have chosen bisexuality as an adult.

Surprisingly, for me, I didn't blow my stack and rain down eloquent fire upon her head; just calmly pointed out the fallacies in her assumptions. But it's got me thinking a lot about my experience of growing up bisexual.

I was a very sheltered child, and had very little access to (or interest in) popular culture. I didn't listen to the radio; my TV intake was carefully monitored and approved; my mother read no magazines; and while our house was full of books, those that were not children's books were limited to sci fi, fantasy and old-school whodunnits. In a pre-internet world I simply had no access to anything beyond a vanilla, heteronormative world-view.

Around the ages of 5-7, kids go through a first stage of having "boyfriends" and "girlfriends" as they begin to mimic adult relationships. I had a "boyfriend" during this phase, because I was a girl. But I can also distinctly remember becoming emotionally attached to female friends. If they had been boys, these attachments would have been crushes.

Boy-girl relations broke off for a while after that, as my year group passed through the "boy / girl germs" stage. Around age 10 they picked up again and began to look like real relationships on the upswing towards puberty. Here, again, I knew when I was crushing on a particular boy, but couldn't explain the way I became attached to other girls. There was no sexual or particularly physical element at this age (no more than there was with the boys!), just an overwhelming desire for closeness. I would become enamoured of the way a particular girl looked, spoke, moved, thought; and I'd want to hold on to that somehow.

Sometime around this age I learned about homosexuality. One of my aunts was openly lesbian and my family were accepting of the fact. I was never given any negative or judgemental attitudes about homosexuality, and certainly never remember being bothered by it. I knew I was attracted to boys, so I never considered applying the label to myself.

As I progressed through my (still extremely sheltered) high school years, the boy-crushes and girl-crushes continued apace. I was very shy, anxious and socially inept, and often longed to get close to female friends but had no idea how to manage it. I was occasionally accused of being a lesbian, partly because I didn't have the social skills to attract boys and thus didn't date; and partly because I would often blush and stutter when talking to girls whom, had I known it, I found attractive.

It wasn't until I finally hit university that I learned about bisexuality. Between the liberal-minded university environment, access to my own TV and the advent of the internet, I became aware of the fact that people could 'swing both ways'. Unfortunately, I was also exposed to someone - I don't remember who, or where, or why - opining that girls who came out as bi were just looking for attention. How I wish I'd never heard that!

I can quite clearly remember the moment when I realised that the label 'bisexual' was mine. I was 19. It was the day after I'd had an explicit dream about my then-best-friend, who I had been close to since high school; and it was around the same time as I'd had an overwhelming urge to work a lesbian character into a book I was writing, and write a sex scene for her. I was lying there in bed puzzling over these two facts, when it hit me.



"I'm bisexual".

Unfortunately for the me of the next 10 years, I decided right away that no-one could ever know. Firstly, I thought I'd be accused of attention-seeking and drama (I felt the same way about asking for help with persistent depression; keeping my head down and my mouth shut was a common theme for me). Secondly, I wanted A Husband And Kids, and I "knew" that allowing myself to become involved with a girl would mean giving those things up for ever.

So I buried the knowledge deep. The crushes didn't go away, but now I actively pretended that they were just "intense friendships". I remember one class in third year in which I had two crushes - "Jolly Tammy" and "Dainty Diana", I called them - and wondering how I could change the chatty in-class friendships into something stronger and closer. I couldn't accept or acknowledge my desire to be with girls, but I couldn't stop the feelings.

This was the status quo throughout my 20s. Crushes, male and female, came and went. I had a few relationships with men (mostly unsatisfying and/or unpleasant), and a few long stretches without. I considered listing myself as bisexual on dating sites; I occasionally described myself as "bi-curious", "slightly more towards the bi end of the scale" or "bi but not actively so" to people I only knew on the internet. But I was far, far too scared of the consequences to ever own up to it in my real life. Or so I thought.

Late last year I made a new friend, who shares many of my opinions and values, and whom I respect a great deal. And she announced her bisexuality on her blog. This began a watershed for me. Another friend whom I'd met at the same time was a young woman I found intoxicating. I really, really wanted to be with her. I had not enquired about her sexuality, and she had a boyfriend besides. But between those two elements, something snapped. It took several months to work up the courage, but I came out. First to the friend who is also bi, secondly to my brother, then here on my blog, and then slowly to friends and family as it became relevant or necessary.

(It's not entirely relevant to the story, but... the intoxicating young lady read my blog, and it turned out that she is bi too [and thought I knew!] and a week after I came out I spent an evening kissing her... it was a brief interlude as I left for London at the end of that week, but it still sparkles in my mind as one of the most breathtaking experiences of my life).

Of everyone I've told about my bisexuality, only one person has had an "aha, I thought so!" reaction. He too is bi, and had picked up, to my delight, the blushing-at-girls thing. I spent so many years disclaiming that as "I just blush when I laugh!" and it was funny and wonderful to find that someone had pegged its true cause.

So here I am, a lifelong bisexual woman who is finally comfortable in her own skin. I've got friends who are fine with my sexuality (having shed those who are not), I have a boyfriend who is also bisexual, and I've got enough confidence to know that my family can like it or lump it and I'll be fine (so far they've been fine or neutral, thank goodness).

When it comes to the question of sexuality being a choice... no. If a sheltered 5-year-old can unknowingly identify as bisexual, then any adult who claims it's a lifestyle decision can go jump in a lake, with my compliments. It's not. It never has been, and it never will be.


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