GAY NOW, BI LATER

Bi­sex­ual iden­tity’s not just a stop on the way to gay

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It was 1998, I was 14 and as far as I could work out, I was a les­bian. I came out to my fam­ily, came out at school (not fun) and bought all the ap­pro­pri­ate badges and para­pher­na­lia I could find. I had lost my vir­gin­ity to a boy quite un­com­fort­ably not long be­fore and de­cided that sex­ual in­volve­ment with the male species was just not for me. I spent the whole time look­ing over his shoul­der at a Shirley Man­son poster and pre­tend­ing it was her who was panting above me. Draped in rain­bow scarves a few weeks af­ter­wards, it seemed as if my sex­u­al­ity was all mapped out…

To be hon­est, I don’t even think I knew bisexuality ex­isted back then. I was vaguely aware that I felt twinges for men as well as women but as­sumed it was all in my imag­i­na­tion. At my sin­gle-sex grammar school, I con­tin­u­ously fell (un­re­quit­edly) for sixth-form girls and fe­male teach­ers, read my Jeanette Win­ter­son nov­els and sat tight. I fig­ured that if I fan­cied other women, a les­bian must be what I was. It didn’t help that Kent still had a ver­sion of Sec­tion 28 – the law pre­vent­ing schools from dis­cussing LGBT is­sues. The only di­a­logue around ho­mo­sex­ual feel­ings was the odd bit of graf­fiti in the loos and in­sults hurled in cor­ri­dors.

At 16, I got my first in­sane crush on a man. I tried to pre­tend it wasn’t hap­pen­ing, but it was there and it was fiercely real. It wasn’t un­til after he’d found a new girl­friend that I dis­cov­ered from a mu­tual friend he’d fan­cied me too all along. And now it was too late! But fast-for­ward two years and he’s bro­ken up with her and we have a small fling. It all goes wrong, for rea­sons un­at­tached to my sex­u­al­ity, yet once I ar­rive at univer­sity in bustling cen­tral Lon­don I re­alise I am sur­rounded by cute al­ter­na­tive blokes and I am def­i­nitely bi­sex­ual. It’s just taken me years to work it out.

I am not alone in hav­ing come out as les­bian be­fore com­ing out as bi. I asked Libby, the edi­tor of bi women’s web­site Bis­cuit, about her ex­pe­ri­ences. “I came out when I was 14 – it was to­tally be­cause of Ellen com­ing out,” she ex­plains. “I called my­self gay even though I had a vague idea that I might be bi. I used to find men at­trac­tive, but they were al­ways the fem­i­nine ones. My big teen man-crushes were Ed­die Iz­zard and Brian Molko. So, you can sort of see where I con­vinced my­self that fan­cy­ing them was an aber­ra­tion.”

Like me, Libby was ter­ri­fied to con­fess to her bisexuality for years, in part be­cause of a fear of peo­ple’s re­ac­tions. “I knew I was def­i­nitely bi by the time I was 18,” she re­calls. “I didn’t tell any­one un­til I was 21 or 22. It was aw­ful. I had a friend­ship group that was all gay women and they com­pletely aban­doned me. I took a lot of that re­sent­ment into my activism if I’m hon­est. They say bi­sex­ual is the tran­si­tional iden­tity, but for so many women I know bi is where they’ve ended up after go­ing through a les­bian ‘phase’.”

I can iden­tify with this so strongly. I once, not soon after re­al­is­ing I was bi, went to a party with a group of les­bian so-called friends and we did the in­fa­mous L Word chart (is it me or has ev­ery­one played that game?). I racked up a piti­ful four or five con­nec­tions whilst ev­ery­one else was re­ally go­ing to town. I re­marked jok­ingly that if I could in­clude men my quo­tient might be a bit higher, and the girl I’d been chat­ting up said some­thing along the lines of “Ew, bi­sex­u­als are slags”. She had about 100 con­nec­tions. I would de­fend to the death ev­ery­one’s right to have as many lovers as they want if no­body is get­ting hurt, but the com­ment struck me as par­tic­u­larly sting­ing and ironic.

Lisa (not her real name) still hasn’t told any­one she’s bi. “I have a long-term girl­friend and we are due to get mar­ried soon,” she re­veals. “I feel as if ev­ery­one would as­sume I wanted to cheat if I came out as bi. I don’t. I am just ca­pa­ble of at­trac­tion to more than one gen­der. I am deny­ing my iden­tity when I deny that. It hurts me that I can’t dis­cuss my ex­pe­ri­ences prop­erly.” Lisa, just like my­self and Libby, took a while to re­alise what she re­ally was. “I saw a friend get­ting abused for ‘go­ing off’ with a man and I think that was when it re­ally hit me. I thought, ‘That could be me. I like men too, and I have for years’.”

Com­ing out as bi­sex­ual is hard. You’re of­ten faced with ac­cu­sa­tions of “straight priv­i­lege”, greed, in­abil­ity to form monog­a­mous re­la­tion­ships, con­fu­sion… The list goes on. With that in mind, it’s no won­der some of us are fright­ened to tell any­one. Es­pe­cially if we’ve com­mit­ted the car­di­nal sin of ap­pear­ing to shift our sex­u­al­ity over time. The sad re­al­ity is that peo­ple of­ten “get” be­ing a les­bian more eas­ily than they un­der­stand bisexuality. The idea of some­one strad­dling two worlds (so to speak!) is too much for a lot of them. Who are we? Where do we be­long?

After the 50th time a woman in a bar tells you that she’d “never trust a bi­sex­ual”, it’s tempt­ing to stay safe in your faux-les­bian iden­tity. The shame thrown upon us by peo­ple who don’t un­der­stand is im­mense. But my ral­ly­ing cry is: “Please don’t stay in the bi closet, if you can help it!” There are events and web­sites and pub­li­ca­tions wait­ing for you. The bi com­mu­nity is out there and it’s full of bril­liant peo­ple ready to lend you an ear if you need it. Even if you aren’t ready to come out to ev­ery­one, please con­sider com­ing out to some­one.

BISEXUALITY IS OF­TEN SEEN AS A “PHASE”, A HALF-WAY POINT ON THE WAY TO GAY. BUT MANY WOMEN TRAVEL IN THE OP­PO­SITE DI­REC­TION WORDS CHAR­LOTTE DIN­GLE I fig­ured that if I fan­cied other women, a les­bian must be what I was

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