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Somewhere in between: Reporter shares her experiences being bisexual

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Somewhere in between: Reporter shares her experiences being bisexual

Olivia Moss

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Illustration by Olivia Moss, design by Giping Huang

Growing up, even in a city as liberal as San Francisco, bisexuality was never something people talked about. It was always a given for me that you either liked girls or boys, that you were either gay or straight. So any feelings I had for girls were pushed aside. I knew I liked guys, so that was it. I couldn’t like girls, too.

It was only in 8th grade that I heard the word bisexual for the first time. And, given my history of subconscious crushes on girls, the realization that it was possible to like both girls and boys sparked a long internal battle which ended in the conclusion that I was attracted to both genders.

But with that awareness came consequences. Even though I had discovered the concept of bisexuality, it was still foreign to others around me. While many people, especially in San Francisco, have heard the term, a lot of them don’t really understand what it means or take people seriously when they come out as “bi.” It’s a common misconception that bisexuality is a stepping stone to coming out as gay, or just a phase of experimentation after which a person will inevitably choose a side.

I came out to my mom in freshman year. She had been asking me why I had been going to the Gender Sexuality Alliance club, and after a few stammered phrases about supporting the LGBT+ community, I just said, “Well, I’m bisexual.”

She stared at me for a while, and I got the impression that she didn’t really believe me. After a few more moments of awkward silence, I excused myself and told myself she’d believe me if I started dating a girl.

The second time I came out to family members was even more uncomfortable than the first. It was at a family dinner, and I was wearing a purple LGBT bracelet. My aunt noticed this and asked me if I was “LGBT” or “S.”

I was confused by her phrasing. “S” isn’t part of the acronym. Straight people aren’t part of the LGBT+ community, not for the purpose of exclusivity, but because it would mean including homophobes and anti-LGBT activists in a place meant to be safe for people historically discriminated against because of their gender or sexuality.

Either way, I didn’t want to lie, so I awkwardly stammered, “I’m bisexual?” which was followed by silence and a change in conversation.

That night, I took off the bracelet and was too afraid to wear it for the next couple of months.

Now, when I tell people my sexuality, I usually get a reaction of, “Oh, wow! That’s so cool!” Some tell me, “I’ve never met a bisexual person before.” And still others ask questions like, “But which do you like better?” Reactions like these always make me a little uncomfortable, though I know these people mean well. What’s weird to me is that people treat my sexuality as something unusual or exotic, when I just think of it as a normal part of me.

Design by Giping Huang

My general impression, after being “out” as bisexual for three years now, is that people have a misunderstanding of what it means to be bisexual as a result of the lack of openly bisexual people in media and in real life. People don’t understand that my sexuality never changes. I’m not straight when I date guys; nor am I gay when I like girls. I’m never going to “choose a side” or a gender, only a person.

But “choosing a side” goes past deciding between straight and gay. It’s also an issue of belonging to a community, since neither straight nor queer people have been entirely accepting of bisexuals.

While representation of queer people has become more common in the media, bisexuals are often either absent or misrepresented. It’s pretty rare for me to see accurate depictions of my own sexuality in movies or TV shows. Bisexual characters are often labeled as gay and then straight, as if they’re simply switching between the two. I remember watching “Orange is the New Black” and getting increasingly frustrated as the main character dated both girls and guys but was only described as “becoming a lesbian” or “switching back” to being straight.

This translates to real life, too: people treat me differently when I date girls as compared to guys. I’ve had people ask me, “So you’re a lesbian now?” when I started dating a girl, and I’ve noticed people generally are more comfortable talking about my relationships or crushes on guys.

Bisexuals have experienced discrimination from both straight people and members of the LGBT+ community. They also have higher rates of depression, anxiety and suicide risk than gays and lesbians, according to studies by the American Psychological Association.

I’ve often felt isolated from the LGBT+ community, as if I weren’t really a part of it if I wasn’t actively dating a girl.

Back in freshman year, when my sexuality was only newly discovered, I stumbled across a YouTube video with lesbians talking about why they wouldn’t date someone who was bisexual. As someone who was only newly self-identified with the LGBT+ community, I was deeply hurt by this. I began to question whether it really was wrong to be bisexual, or if maybe I really was mistaken about all of this.

Luckily, despite the reactions I’d seen and despite people’s initial tendency to not believe me, I had the fortune to know other people who had gone through the same thing. I felt very accepted by Lowell’s GSA, and I knew many people who were incredibly supportive of me, all of which helped me to feel comfortable and secure in my identity.

However, I can’t help but wonder about all the other kids who don’t have access to these types of resources — all the kids who are shut down when they get the courage to reveal something they’ve been thinking about for months or even years. Everyone who never sees themselves represented in public spaces or doesn’t feel like there’s a place for them.

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We need to be normalizing bisexuality in media and in our culture. Let’s stop describing bisexuals as “switching from gay to straight” or vice versa. It’s not exclusively a stepping stone to choosing one or the other, and when people tell you something about themselves, it’s not your job to question. Their identity is right because they say it is. My identity is right because I say it is.

Most importantly, we need to start talking about bisexuality as a valid and unique identity. While education about homosexuality is still scarce, education on bisexuality is nonexistent. Both of these things are harmful to young children who may suppress a part of their identity or be confused because they were only ever taught it was okay to have crushes on the opposite sex.

If, from a young age, I had had access to the knowledge that it was okay to like girls or boys or both or neither, my path to discovering myself would have been a lot easier, and a lot shorter.

Let’s all make an effort to be accepting not only of gays and lesbians, but everyone who falls somewhere in-between.

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Somewhere in between: Reporter shares her experiences being bisexual