by Kristen Rogers
Being bisexual can be a marginalizing experience in both queer and hetero spaces. As a bisexual, feminine presenting woman of color, I’ve been told everything from “you just haven’t come out as fully gay yet” to “you’re not really queer, you’re just curious.” I’ve even had potential partners tell me “I would never date you because you would cheat on me with someone from another gender.” These comments are all based on harmful stereotypes of bisexual folks as promiscuous and closeted. Not only have these beliefs been damaging to my queer identity, but at times they’ve also caused me to question the integrity of my sexuality.
For most of my life, I’ve struggled with being bisexual. It has taken me a long time to become comfortable with my sexuality. I remember realizing my attraction to women as a young girl but not identifying as queer because I was also attracted to men. I kept up the façade that I was straight by only showing interest in men, presenting myself in a more conventionally feminine manner, and limiting my interactions with queer individuals.
Instead of actualizing my queer desires, I actively chose to deny myself of my true sexuality and suppressed my longing to be with women. Mostly I did this because I did not believe that others would accept me, but also because I had not yet accepted myself.
I didn’t start to come out until college when I fell in love with a woman. Even then, I was embarrassed to kiss her or hold her hand in public. I didn’t want anyone to perceive me as gay because I had grown to be ashamed of my needs. I unfairly demanded that we keep our relationship a secret because I had internalized a fear of my own queerness.
We eventually broke up and karma hit hard when I fell in love with another woman years later who was significantly older than me, well established at her job, and completely closeted. I was introduced to her friends as “my friend” (if I was introduced at all). Her family only knew me as her “roommate” (who always attended family events). She hadn’t told any of her family members and told me she assumed they already knew.
In truth, I was not being recognized as her partner in the way that I needed and did not feel validated by the relationship. Having a closeted partner was hurtful for me, especially as I was trying to grow into accepting my queer identity.
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Now that I am finally accepting my queerness, I fear that my sexuality is defined by others based on the gender of my current partner. That isn’t fair to me, or anyone. Why is my bisexuality simply not my own?
There is a long, oppressive history of women’s sexuality being forcibly defined in relation to others, especially when it comes to women of color. When considered property of husbands and slave owners, women have been repeatedly denied the rights to sexual autonomy. In addition, the hetero norms of society assume that all women are straight unless the woman can show her sexuality is otherwise and people feel entitled to determine a person’s sexuality solely based on the gender of their partner.
I, too, used to believe that I would be straight as long as I ‘dated straight’. Out of fear, I spent many years exclusively dating men and ignoring my woman crushes. I found myself holding onto the privilege of being a queer person with the ability to pass as heterosexual. The very idea of the awkward questions that people would ask after coming out was enough to convince me to continue play-acting straight.
Hiding behind a mask of heterosexuality was my way of prioritizing that everyone around me feel comfortable. It was easier for me to pretend to be straight than explain to my friends and family members that I’m attracted to people of my gender and other genders. But living this lie was eating away at me. At the end of the day, I am not straight and pretending to be straight was ultimately harmful to my confidence and self expression.
Since I’m on the receiving end of a lot of marginalization, identifying as both a woman of color and bisexual, I am leery of dating straight men after coming out. My experience has taught me that straight men view bisexual women as an invitation to invite others into the bedroom. It has also taught me that many straight men assume that just because we are dating, we are both straight.
Being with men is still part of my queer sexuality, but I’m re-negotiating my relationship to dating them. Because I pretended to be straight for so many years, it’s important to me that my queerness does not get washed away by norms and assumptions of hetero-patriarchy. This means that when I’m dating straight men, I insist to everyone that I identify as bi. I still fear others assuming that I’m straight when I am out with a straight male partner. Dating straight individuals used to feel like safety, but now it feels like wearing my queerness in disguise.
I’m still anxious about proving I’m queer enough. I’m now surrounded by queer folks of color who embrace my identity as I learn to embrace it, too. They affirm that my identity matters, and that bisexuality is real, despite what others may say. My queer brothers and sisters circle accepts me for who I am in all of my bi glory.
But nothing is perfect. I’m still figuring out how to date straight people while holding on to my queerness. I’m still learning to brave tough conversations with people about queerness. Being true to myself means not allowing who I date to define me. As for the rest of it? Well, I haven’t quite figured it all out yet, but I’ll let you all know when I do.
Kristen Rogers is a graduate student studying clinical mental health counseling, and the author of a book of poetry, Kristen’s Diary. When she isn’t seeing clients, she’s drinking wine, in downward facing dog, writing a poem, or catching up on Modern Family. Catch up with her at Kristen.firstname.lastname@example.org .
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