I used to tell people I was gay because it was the road to least resistance. If I was gay, most strangers wouldn’t delegitimize my sexual orientation, they wouldn’t question whether I was hiding a different truth. But, in fact, I was. A year-and-a-half ago, I came out as bisexual.
Up until now, at age 29, the greatest love of my life has been with a woman, but I enjoy dating and having sex with men and women. Even as a kid, I thought it was strange that boys were limited to liking girls and vice versa—but my sexual education didn’t even mention the existence of gay and bisexual orientation, so I figured everybody felt the way I did, we just chose to engage with the opposite gender because those were “the rules.” Now, well into my late 20s, sexual fluidity is still something I’m learning about, and a part of my identity that is often challenged.
I can’t tell you how many times I heard from family, friends, and complete strangers, “If you like women, too, why bother coming out at all?” Bisexuality isn’t given the same weight as coming out as gay, especially if people don’t consider it a legitimate orientation. When you come out as bisexual, straight people tend to think it’s just temporary, that you’re experimenting, while gay people think it’s merely the first step toward admitting you’re gay. “I said I was bi at first, too,” gay friends would respond in a supportive tone, as if predicting the future of my sexuality.
After I came out as bi, I encountered more labels than I ever expected. As a bi man, I am often assumed to be a top within the gay community, as men are the insertive partner when intimate with women. There is a biphobic undercurrent that I’m promiscuous, “can’t pick a side,” and am fortunate to enjoy intercourse with both sexes.
In particular, gay men love to label—and sub-label—each other. The distinctions are even programmed into gay dating apps: top or bottom, masc or fem, bear or twink. Labels are powerful and ubiquitous. They unite and divide.
In identifying as bi, I’ve been able to connect with other bi people (whether in person or online) who helped me feel less alone. Still, for all the empowering conversations I’ve had, there are skeptics who shame my identity. When the way you feel in your heart is continually probed and questioned by so many people, you begin to question whether what you feel is legitimate. The continued scrutiny challenged my bi identity and encouraged self-reflection.
Eventually, as I continued to educate myself about bisexuality and the issues we face as a sub-community, I’ve found the best defense against biphobia and bi erasure is simply existing and staying visible. I’ve resolved that bisexuality challenges people’s understanding of sexuality and attraction. But that’s their problem, not mine.
Ultimately, frustration led to an emotional maturity and even wisdom. It’s made me a stronger and more open-minded individual; and I’ve learned how heteronormative the concepts of love and relationships can be, and why, as a member of the LGBTQ community, these ideals don’t suit me and don’t have to. I don’t need to explain myself to anybody. If my sexuality eventually sways one way or the other, then that’s what happens. For now, I like men and women, and if others can’t wrap their heads around that—well, too bad.
And, lastly, to the community that’s welcomed me in so many ways, I don’t need to adopt labels to make sense to you—because I make sense to me.