By Gigi Engle
“Bisexual is just a stop on the way to Gay Town,” my mother said to me years ago from her lounging position on her bed, General Hospital on in the background, “and you are absolutely boy-crazy”.
I was about 14 years old, and this was the first time I’d tried on the label “bisexual.” After this interaction, I quickly stuffed it away, feeling embarrassed. My mother said I was simply trying to be rebellious—that I was using the term “bisexual” like all teenage girls did, to try and be unique and cool. To this day, I don’t know how many teenage girls actually say they’re bisexual for attention, but it took very little convincing for me to believe I was doing exactly that.
I knew that I looked at my girlfriends differently than my heterosexual peers. I stuck to my best friend in high school like gum on a shoe, never leaving her side, always following her around and dropping everything to be wherever she asked me to be, no matter what I was doing. I justified my behavior by lying to myself: Wasn’t that just how friends are supposed to behave? I liked her short-shorts and her long, tanned legs because I wanted her legs to be my legs, right? And I admired her full lips because I wanted her mouth to be my mouth?
I’ve been a sex educator and sex journalist since 2012. I’ve openly written and spoken about my sexual escapades, heartbreaks, and infinite curiosities with zillions of people across the internet for nearly a decade. However, I didn’t start openly referring to myself as bisexual, or even mention being with women at all, until 2017. I had long ago convinced myself that I wasn’t queer. My mother had said it couldn’t be true, so I took that as fact, even when examining my own sexuality for work. After a particularly vicious breakup with an ex, I just couldn’t pretend everything was fine anymore. I wanted a chance to explore who I was and see what was out there for me, whether it was love with a man, a woman, both, someone else. I was finally ready for it.
In the end, I did end up with a cisgender man. I’m a bisexual woman in a “straight” marriage. I’ve only ever had a relationship with one woman—semi-serious—and a handful of female lovers. So, where does that leave me? Does that mean I’m not bisexual enough to call myself queer? I believe that I can, but I’m sick of having to make my case to others.
There are definite upsides to being in a committed relationship with a cis man. When you appear straight in a heteronormative world, people leave you alone. No one has ever asked me to kiss my husband at a dive bar as a way to “show off” for straight men the way many sapphic couples are asked to regularly. In that way, I openly state I am privileged. It’s sad that we live in a world where the person you love defines the way you navigate life, but here we are.
There are negatives to my situation too. It’s harder because I am in a constant state of “reminding” everyone that I’m bisexual. If I could opt out of public conversation, I can’t say I wouldn’t. Having to constantly defend who you are is tedious and often downright demoralizing. Since I’m a sex educator, I don’t have that option. Owning my identity is at the heart of what I advocate for: the right to freely express who you are without judgement.
In my private life, I find myself being questioned regularly by family and friends. I have gay siblings, so it’s often been said (sometimes as a joke, sometimes really not as a joke) that I’m trying to “jump on the gay bandwagon” for attention. I cannot tell you how uncomfortable this makes me—and I write about my vagina on the internet for a living.
In my public life, I also find myself questioned regularly—in these instances, by total strangers. At the center of being a so-called “public figure” is a very real debate about whether I’m queer enough to be queer. The internet can be an absolute cesspool—I receive at least one rape threat a day—there is a lot of joy there, too. While trolling is a constant part of the reality of being a woman on the internet (gay, queer, straight, or otherwise), I’ve found an absolutely wonderful community of bisexuals. They are a small but loud minority.
Anytime I’m feeling down about myself and start to listen those old whispers in the back of head that say I’m a liar, I turn to my bisexual siblings on Instagram and TikTok. I scroll through Gabrielle Alexa’s “Bi-Girl’s Club” page and fawn over the strength she has. Gabrielle is a well-known bisexual femme advocate and all around badass, and people like her that make being myself less scary. If you’re not following her, get on it ASAP.
I still struggle with who I am on a daily basis. I don’t know what it takes for some people to believe women, but apparently saying I’m bisexual is never enough. If I were with a woman, I imagine people would just assume I’m gay. Look at actor-activist Cynthia Nixon (pictured above). She’s bisexual and married to a woman, and everyone calls her a lesbian. As Nixon said in 2012 in an interview with The Daily Beast, nobody likes the bisexuals.
While I no longer reject the term “bisexual,” I understand why Nixon hates it. People really do “dump all over us,” as she put it.
The thing about your sexuality is that it isn’t up for discussion or debate. It doesn’t matter what your behaviors are, who you sleep with, or who you love. Only you get to define yourself because you’re the only one who knows who you are and how you feel inside. The fact that anyone even thinks they’re allowed to weigh in is absurd.
I hope telling my story will help other confused bisexual people feel comfortable using whatever labels they want. Whoever you are, wherever you are—I see you. Your identity is valid. Bisexuality is valid. You are whoever you say you are, and you know what? The world is turning around. The more we stand together and fight for queer voices to be heard, the stronger we are.