There must be some sort of cheat code for being about to understand what it is that we are. Surely? Or something that at least comes with age? Experience?
Sorry if that’s crushed anyone’s dreams of being able to self-identify with a thousand per cent confidence or foresight of the future.
That’s just not how these things work.
There will always be doubt or insecurity or fears that you’ve made the wrong decision or ‘come out’ prematurely before you fully know what you want. Well, sucks to that, because to ‘know what you want’ relies on you knowing ‘who you are’. Not only that, it requires you to know ‘who you will be’ in the future. There is a pressure to somehow be able to predict and label your life before it has happened. You don’t expect authors to write the chapter title before they’ve written the chapter, so how can we really be expected to self identify and self-label with confidence when it has become such a politicised overwrought anxiety for many.
Speaking for myself (as I wouldn’t wish to erase the countless individuals who take pride, solace and security in embracing a title), I find the whole thing extremely stressful. Not only the commitment to a label for the rest of my life, but the notion that in going public, everyone else gets to/has to bear witness to how I live my life according to that declaration. Do I live my life ‘gay’ enough or am I ‘straight passing’? Do I do enough for the community? Am I denying a part of myself by not always shouting about my sexual identity? Am I a bad person for not always being fully comfortable in who I am?
These are questions we all inevitably ask ourselves and there’s no right answer to any of the questions, just like there’s no ‘right’ way to do ‘be’ gay.
This difficulty in self-identifying and the pressure to ‘come out’ and then ‘be true to who you are’ often caves in on the weight of its own importance. This is more of a compulsion or feeling of responsibility to other people than making me feel more at ease with myself. This is particularly true of the various social and cultural implications of being bisexual. So many TV tropes have individuals who are flighty, cheat on their partners, have gratuitous threesome sex scenes, and generally aren’t respected or given dignity in their portrayal. It has made it difficult to know where you stand within that reception of bisexual people.
Am I ‘bi enough’ or does the fact that I’m in a relationship with a person of the opposite gender mean that I pass as straight and don’t experience bisexuality in the same way as those with same sexual partners? All of these anxieties and self comparisons are tied up in the notion of permanence. The threat that we might have made a mistake isn’t the recognition that our feelings aren’t valid at this moment, but it’s the awareness that sexuality is fluid and things change.
We understand this more than most.
I really have no particular excuse for being in the closet for so many years: I live in a neat, affluent, not un-progressive town in England, and my friends have never given me reason to question them. My parents express no obvious bigotry beyond that which is attributable to their generation and always ply me with the well-meaningly cloying sentiment ‘we’ll love you whatever happens, you know that right?”. Oh what fun it is to be the ‘whatever’ caveat in a declaration of unyielding love.
Of course, there is a way of testing that empty phrase. Through a fortuitous series of clunky accidents and misunderstandings, I came out for the first time in a sticky leathery booth at Patisserie Valerie and said those immortal words (with trembling hope in my own conviction) ‘yeah, I’m gay actually’. It didn’t matter that I addressed my scone when I said it, the words were out and cooled and settled alongside my woefully over-steeped summer berry tea. Great. Sorted.
As I adjusted to life ‘out’, I still felt lost, somehow.
I wasn’t suddenly surrounded by a fabulous new Burberry Jonathan Van Ness-esque rainbow poncho of protection, nor indeed, was it a weight off my chest. Coming out didn’t mean that I expelled my insecurities, or, in saying the words, rendered them unalterably, permanently and unshakably true. In the back of my mind, I also realised that I still needed to fling myself out the closet again, this time, to my parents.
Picture how you felt when you were summoned to the Head teacher’s office to say your witness statement about a playground fight. You know, objectively, somewhere in the back of your head that you haven’t done anything wrong, but also if you say the wrong thing someone will get in trouble and you might not see them again.
In fact, it meant, to quote a really great line from Love Simon, that I was still holding my breath. This was not out of fear, but rather a weariness that every time I am alone with my mother we are a silence and three sentences away from her blurting out a question that I don’t really have answers for. There is the pressure to come out all guns blazing and knowing yourself.
I didn’t do either of those things and ended up coming out gripping a question mark.
I still have so much of myself to negotiate, understand and express, and find a group of queer peers against which I can rebound experiences, feelings and support.
Superhero films are about to swoop in with some wisdom, so brace yourself, folks. The world does not inherently deserve your truth or identity in a neat ball to be situated within cultural barracks. Yes, the intense angsting of Man of Steel caved in on itself, but Clark Kent’s adopted mother’s wisdom is pretty solid: ‘You don’t owe this world a thing, you never did’, which compliments Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman, which warned similarly that ‘the world of men do not deserve you’. Being gay doesn’t mean I’m a superhero, it doesn’t mean that every time I speak I’m expected to make a speech, or that I have to ‘represent’ something bigger than myself. As my kid sister would sagely say: …and that’s the tea.
It’s not that I feel like my identity has been diluted by having come out, it’s that, nearly a year later, I still haven’t the foggiest what ‘my identity’ might be.
That doesn’t mean that you aren’t bisexual or valid in self identifying as such.
There is no checklist or bodily concentration or numerical value or ‘proof’ other than the way you feel. Generally speaking, the fact you’re asking the question probably means that there’s something there. But that’s for you and you alone to discover. Don’t feel pressure to immediately come out and get if off your chest if that’s not what you feel you need.
Take some time, sit with it for a hot minute. Figure out how you feel about everything before letting everyone else in.
There’s no universal bisexual charter that you can miss or fall short of. If you are bi, then you’re bi.