In the Blog
The Invisible Bi Woman
Illustration by Erin McPhee
You’ve probably heard that stereotype about bisexual people just being confused. Well I was confused for a long time. In high school it slowly began to dawn on me that I found certain women attractive, even though the heartthrob hall of fame on my bedroom wall told another story. It was filled with popular celebrities at the time like Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor and Tobey Maguire.
Eventually I started to realize there were others. Angelina Jolie, Nicole Scherzinger from the Pussy Cat Dolls, and eventually some of my closest friends. I wish I could remember more of my crushes but it gets hazy, and complicated. Mostly because it wasn’t something I was really able to articulate, and not something I heard my friends talk about either. Whenever it was brought up it was always more of a joke, like, “I have such a lady crush on so and so.” I also never saw any characters in the media who expressed desire for more than one gender. If you were a hormone-raging teenage girl it was encouraged to shout from the rooftops that you loved Justin Timberlake, but if you had a thing for Lindsay Lohan, or Hillary Duff, well, not so much. In hindsight I think some of my friends felt the same as me, but they didn’t label themselves as bisexual. I went to a Catholic school of mostly white cis-gendered, heterosexual teens, so taboo-breaking didn’t happen often.
Instead of giving a voice to these desires I stuffed my feelings away. And by stuffing them away I mean I started watching a lot of lesbian porn. Anything I could find really. Shitty clips downloaded on BearShare, erotica that I bought when my parents weren’t paying attention, or grainy, Euro-porn on late night TV. But when I started talked about porn with my friends I learned something really intriguing. Some of them watched girl on girl porn too. And they didn’t identify as anything but straight, so what did that mean for me? I had no fucking clue.
Later in high school I did end up fooling around with some of my female friends, but it was usually at parties, involving lots of alcohol and male spectators. Even though I kissed a few girls and I did like it, I was more focused on whether my boyfriend didn’t mind it (or more specifically, found it hot). As for whether or not it was innocent, well, that’s hard to say. At the time it certainly felt like it, but I actively sought out those situations and was often an initiator, so it’s obvious I wanted it.
It wasn’t until university that I started to notice more signs. I would become close with women and realize that I was obsessing over them, that I was overprotective, and that I talked about them endlessly. It was like I started developing feelings without knowing it, and I would go through endless cycles of denial and confusion over what those feelings meant. Were we just friends? Did the fact that I admired a woman’s beauty but didn’t always develop sexual feelings mean I wasn’t actually bisexual? Were my sexual urges just a weak fantasy I had conjured up to convince myself I wasn’t straight? Was I subconsciously just trying to identify myself with the LGBT movement? Would I ever be brave enough to even openly call myself bi? And most importantly, in my mind, what would people think if I did?
I felt trapped because I just wanted a straight answer about my sexuality (no pun intended) but without all the potential judgement. I remember talking to a male fuck buddy about it once and as I agonized over my fear of people’s rejection he casually enquired why I felt I had to have a label at all. And while I respect a person’s choice to reject identifying labels I’ve always found them comforting, like a solid anchor for my jumbled, messy existence. I just wasn’t ready to make bisexuality my own yet. It was scary, unknown territory, but at least I was starting to question things.
It wasn’t until a few years ago that I started meeting more people who identified as bi, pansexual or queer, and I could finally give myself permission to talk about it. I guess I had to find my clan before I felt safe enough to speak up. I came out as bisexual to a feminist workshop group last summer and while it left me feeling quite vulnerable it was extremely liberating to speak my truth in front of so many people. Over time I’ve slowly been telling more and more friends and some family, at my own pace, when I feel ready.
It’s kind of funny because for the past four years I’ve also been in a serious relationship with a cis-gendered man. And while he has always validated and supported my identity, by merely dating me his presence deflects it. Through no effort of his own, his role in my life sends a clear message to society; heterosexual man dating a heterosexual woman. Clearly this isn’t his fault, but it leaves me feeling like my identity is easily erased. We live in heterosexist and monosexist society, where people are first of presumed to be straight, and second, according to certain visible markers, gay. Bisexuality is never part of the equation. I’m guilty of it too. Even though I’ve tried to make a more conscious effort not to assume someone’s sexual identity or pronouns when I first meet them, I still find myself looking for clues as to whether they’re straight or gay. It’s a hard habit to break.
Now I’m just trying to be more open about my identity and find my own bisexual community. While I’ve always felt pretty comfortable at gay/lesbian events and groups, it’s hard to find bi-specific spaces. That’s something I’d really like to change because being around people who can relate to loving and desiring more than one gender feels very validating. It feels like I’m taking off the invisibility cloak for once and everyone can finally see me.
Check out the list of resources below to learn more about bisexual identity, bi-activism or how to get involved in Toronto’s bi community.
Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Sexual Revolution. Shiri Eisner
Bi Any Other Name: Bisexual People Speak Out. Loraine Hutchins and Lani Ka’ahumanu
Getting Bi: Voices of Bisexuals Around the World. Robyn Ochs and Sarah E Rowley
The Bisexual’s Guide to the Universe: Quips, Tips, and Lists for Those Who Go Both Ways. Nicole Kristal and Mike Szymanski
Adriana Rolston is a bisexual, sex-positive feminist who loves writing about the intersections between sexuality, gender and queer identity. She graduated from Ryerson’s journalism program, spent three years peddling vibrators in sex shops and is currently working on publishing the first issue of her zine Get Some, a collection of sex-positive stories.