How Did We Get Here? 6 Bi People on Coming to Their Identity for Bi+ Week 2020

It can feel like people on the internet ~have it all figured out~, and like the stuff that’s amorphous and opaque from your end of the screen is neatly categorized and easy breezy on the other. As is so often the case, however, that is merely an illusion created by the funhouse mirror of our digital universe! As an example, here’s some bi+ members of our team sharing their journey of how they arrived at their current place of bisexual identity, such as it is.

Adrian , Contributor

Coming into my bisexual identity happened verrrrryyyyyy slowly and then all at once! For so long, I thought the way I felt about girls was something distinct from the way I felt about boys. I thought kissing girls meant something different than kissing boys. I thought I liked being at queer parties for the music and the ~vibes~. I spent college dating boys and making out with girls at parties and being a Really Devoted Ally until one night in the spring of senior year I was at a Lauren Zuniga and Andrea Gibson poetry reading and the words “I’m queer” slipped out of my mouth and landed hard in the center of my whole life. Three days later I went home with a girl for the first time, and over the next five years I dated people with all kinds of genders and grew into my own experience as a genderqueer trans person. Most of it was messy as heck and I wouldn’t change a thing.

Claiming bisexual identity in particular roots me in a history of activism, community, and the work of dismantling heteronormativity through the unique experiences of bi people and communities. As a non-binary trans person married to another non-binary trans person, loudly naming myself as bi feels important to counteract the biphobic, transphobic beliefs that “bi means two” and only cis men and women who date cis men and women are really bisexual (and inherently transphobic). Bisexuals have *always been here* disrupting binaries and being hot all over the damn place! We do this alongside all queer folks who use all sorts of words to describe how they exist in the world and who they love and fuck and build community with. Language evolves, communities evolve, and we are still showing up and fighting and never letting go.

I love being bisexual because it transforms the way I see the world from the roots. It forced me to let go of so many beliefs that feed violent power structures and gave me what I needed to generate something new and nourishing. Bisexual people possess an expansive view of love, sex, relationships, embodiment, and the world. That vision is a superpower, and it belongs to us no matter what our relationship configurations may be.

Happy celebrate bisexuality/bisexual visibility week, my loves. Your hair looks incredible.

Casey , Contributor

I actually feel pretty confident that I will identify as bisexual for the rest of my life, which feels wild to write! The journey, however, has been pretty bumpy. In retrospect, I think I have been bisexual all along, at least as far back as I can remember. But I didn’t have the words for it, and the possibility did not exist in my imagination for a long time. In high school I oscillated internally between thinking, “Well I can’t be gay because I’ve had crushes on boys,” and ‘Well I can’t be straight because I’ve had crushes on girls.” (I had not yet learned about the existence of nonbinary people, plenty of whom I’m also attracted to). Some bisexual media representation would have been great! Honestly, as wonderful and life-changing as Willow’s queer arc on Buffy the Vampire Slayer was, it might have really changed my life as a big teenage fan of the show if the storyline about her sexuality had acknowledged that bisexuality was even a real possibility, let alone actually crafted Willow as a bisexual character. So I went from being straight as a default to identifying briefly as bisexual in my early twenties and then coming out as gay and identifying that way for almost ten years until going back to bisexual. Full circle. Sometimes your younger self really knows what’s up! I don’t know why I didn’t just stick with bisexual! Well, I kind of do. I wish I had had support to continue identifying as bisexual all the way through and that the queer communities in various cities where I lived had been more explicitly bi-friendly. But it’s always hard to assess how much biphobia is coming from the outside and how much is internalized. I am quite happy where I am now, and thank goodness because I really don’t want to have to come out again.

KaeLyn Rich, Writer

For several years, I resisted the term “bi” and embraced “queer.” Yet, I came out as bi and I’ve always been somewhere on the spectrum of bisexuality/non-monosexuality. I was one of those people who thought “bi” wasn’t inclusive of non-binary genders and was, thus, reductive and antiquated. This was the early aughts and “queer” still felt like a political identity as much as a sexual orientation. I took great pleasure in writing in “queer” on forms that only gave three choices: gay, straight, bisexual.

That said, my sexual orientation has always been bi, in the definition of the word as having attraction inclusive of people of the same gender as me and people of a different gender than me. Bi. Two, but not binary. And I’ve come all the way around. I identify intentionally as bi now as a way to make bisexuality more visible. Queer still feels right, and when I tell people I’m queer, they immediately think “gay” and then jump to “lesbian.” I want to be clear about who I am, for myself and for other bi people around me.

I’ve known I was bi pretty much since I figured out puberty. I was attracted to Devon Sawa and Christina Ricci in Now and Then. I also figured out pretty early on that I was attracted to people who had a gender expansive gender expression, though I wouldn’t have called it that at the time. I didn’t have a lot of models for being young and bi, though. There were no out bi women and very few gay people at my high school. I came out to myself and my parents and close friends as bi when I was 17, picked up queer identity in college, and came found me way back to bisexual identity as a grown adult.

My sexuality doesn’t fluctuate too much, so I think I’ll be bi and queer for life. I still think Christina Ricci is hot and I’m still attracted to women, trans people, and non-cis men who look like Devon Sawa in the 80’s.

Natalie , Writer

I currently identify as bisexual or queer and, oddly enough, coming to terms with those descriptions of my identity caused me more consternation than the actual acceptance of my identity. I started identifying as bisexual fairly early on almost as a default — it was just the word that you used — but as I realized that my capacity for attraction existed outside the binary, I started to wonder if bisexuality was the right fit for me. The lexicon was evolving: not just with the addition of “pansexual” but also in terms of the understanding of what the “bi” in bisexuality actually represented.

Noted Bisexual activist Robyn Ochs’ definition felt right to me: “I acknowledge that I have in myself the potential to be attracted — romantically and/or sexually — to people of more than one sex and/or gender, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree.” When I talk to other bisexual people, there’s near unaminity in ascribing to that idea of what it means to be bisexual.

But while I found comfort in that definition for myself, I still wondered: how do other people see me when I identify that way? So many people come to the table with preconceived notions about bisexuality — namely that it excludes trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming folks — and if I was out in the world, identifying solely as bisexual, was I coloring how people saw me? Did my definition of bisexuality matter outside my comfort zone? I still wonder and worry about this. I’m trying to be more vigilant about being explicit about my bisexuality and not defaulting to the term queer (which comes with a greater sense of community) because I know that the best way to erase those preconceived notions is to be more vocal.

Nico , A+ Director

It was NOT always clear to me. When I was younger, I was a very crush-ridden individual. I had crushes on tons of fellow kids, movie characters, people I saw once on a walk, who knows — and none of it seemed to be ruled by gender. I went through a process that I think was somewhat common where I would go back and forth, when I was 11 or 12, thinking I must be a lesbian and then if I got a crush on a boy thinking I had to be straight. I had never heard the word bisexual. Then, one day, back stage at drama club I was reading Twist magazine I think it was, and saw the word bisexual. That’s all it took. There were lightbulbs, fireworks, all of it. That summer my witchcraft-practicing little bi self followed my best friend to Christian camp because she always went and it was a good way to spend time with her even if singing all the songs drove me nuts. At camp, this other girl with tons of dark eyeliner gets in my face and is like “Are you bisexual?” and told me she was, too!? (For reference, this would have been very unacceptable if anyone at camp found out.) I was so called out. Anyway, we wound up talking some about it, so, happily, shortly after discovering my identity on my own, I met another person in the wild who shared it, which was validating beyond reason. I stayed fully closeted until I was about 14, but it was a start. Nevertheless, a lot of confusion could have been dealt with head-on if queer media had existed in the same way at the time as it does now. When I think of why Autostraddle’s important to have around, I remember the swirl of self-hatred and fear and ignorance and desire I experienced, and I hope it’s a bit better now that we have this vast online resource, and a little more media representation, too.

I still hold onto the bi label because it’s the first one that felt right. I do worry about the etymology of the word reinforcing some false idea of a gender binary, but at the same time, language is adaptive and is here to serve the users of language, so the bi+ label is really what we make of it. When I say I’m bisexual, I mean I’m someone who is attracted to all genders, inherently, by nature, not as something I can put on or take off. Most people initially think that I identify as a lesbian because of my relationship, but that’s not the reality, and I think I’ll probably always identify as bi, unless I gain some understanding of myself that I can’t see or expect right now. I’ll probably never date a cis man again, and I’ll still be bi. It feels important, somehow, for all of us to keep working for visibility…so thank you Rachel for editing Bi+ Week 2020!

Rachel Kincaid, Former Managing Editor

I tried to think about the ‘first’ time I used the term bisexual for myself, and it’s harder than I thought it would be? Was it the first time I was talking with my incredibly obviously obsessive crush at age twelve and said “I mean of course I’d date a girl, like if I liked her, why wouldn’t I?” Was it the time I was fifteen and spooning my best-friend-who-I-didn’t-call-my-girlfriend and she asked “how long have you known you were bisexual?” and I didn’t pretend like I didn’t know what she was talking about? Was it when I came out to my high school boyfriend at 17, with a mixture of urgency to confide in someone and fear about how he’d react? I think in some ways I’m a very literal person, and the reality that I was attracted to people of multiple genders was very obvious to me; growing up in the genesis of GSAs and marriage equality debates, I had a lot of access to terminology that made IDing as bisexual easy for me in some ways.

I think in some ways, it’s been more interesting how I’ve chosen to continue IDing as bisexual (after all, coming out is a continuous process, for us in particular ways). I also ID as queer, as do many of us, and am am often aware that using it allows me to drop the signifier bisexual entirely if I choose to. I’m not sure how to articulate what keeps me committed to it – a contrarian streak, maybe, and a love of the parts of us that are not always in vogue, easily legible, or have obvious political or social utility. We talk a lot about queer as a disruptive or oppositional identity, which resonates with me (the term lesbian is certainly also these things, in ways that I love and admire!); I like being aware of the ways that bisexual is as well, if most obviously with respect to how many people would prefer to flatten it and make it something elementary and pedantic and are frustrated in their attempt to do so. It’s interesting that “bisexual” specifically so often comes up when the topic is about someone who “doesn’t do labels” or “doesn’t like being put in a box” because it seems to me so obviously resistant to those types of oversimplified categorizations; I love having the only hard-and-fast commitment being one to possibility and change.

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  1. *CW, brief/vague mention of sexual assault, internalized biphobia*

    I identify as a cis woman and I am married to a woman; we’ve been together for eight years and she is the first and only person I have ever been in a relationship with who identifies as a woman. She also happens to identify as nonbinary and is amazing and full of epic and sexy genders <3 Prior to being with her, I only dated people who identified as cis men. In my early twenties when I was first coming out to myself, I briefly identified as bisexual, before deciding I would never date a cis man again (trauma) so I must be gay (worth noting is that I realize now the problematic nature of assuming gay or queer means only being attracted to my "same gender," which I know recognize is wildly reductive if not outright incorrect!) At the time, rejecting "bi" as a label also felt like a way to affirm my part of "the lesbian/queer women" community, at a time when I deeply longed for a feeling of belonging. Attraction to cis men came up occasionally over the years, but I always set it aside as an anomaly, and recommitted to my identity as a lesbian/queer woman who is only attracted to people other than cis men.

    A couple of years ago, in the c o m p l e x aftermath of a situation wherein I was sexually assaulted by a cis male friend, I realized again that I am bisexual AND queer, but not a lesbian, which was something that was really hard for me to release because I really *wanted* myself to be a lesbian! I had a lot of internalized biphobia I had never processed, which was also bound up in sexual trauma (even other than the most recent assault), so I took myself to therapy, thank goodness. Since I did that work it has been incredibly freeing and exciting to name, embrace, and celebrate my identity. Seeing myself reflected here is so heartening and I am really grateful for the community here and for Bi+ Week.

    That being said, I know the labels and experiences I have do not necessarily represent or reflect the labels and experiences of others! I think the beauty of gender and sexuality is that we get to be messy and complex and ourselves. We get to change and grow, discover and re-discover, and all of it is excellent. I think that all genders and sexualities are valid and real (including mine :-})

  2. I love sharing my coming-out-to-myself/realization moment because it typifies my ‘my life is a sitcom’ trope

    i was thirteen and at a summer camp for nerds. there was a dance, because that’s what junior high nerds need. i met up with two friends, a guy and a girl, and when i saw each of them i had the exact same feeling of ‘oh no they’re really cute what is this.’ i realized that wasn’t hetero, decided i was too socially anxious about the dance to process that, and put off coming out to myself for another two years

    my word has always been bisexual. even as i’ve added queer as an identifier and gone back and forth on ace-spectrum stuff and had the ‘well if i 90% like women and nonbinary people is that even really bisexual or am i just socially conditioned to be scared of lesbianism’ my identity as a bi person has been important. i can’t imagine that changing

    anyway there’s some Sexuality Feelings word vomit!

  3. thank you all for this!

    this part really resonated with me:
    “I’m not sure how to articulate what keeps me committed to it – a contrarian streak, maybe, and a love of the parts of us that are not always in vogue, easily legible, or have obvious political or social utility. We talk a lot about queer as a disruptive or oppositional identity, which resonates with me (the term lesbian is certainly also these things, in ways that I love and admire!); I like being aware of the ways that bisexual is as well, if most obviously with respect to how many people would prefer to flatten it and make it something elementary and pedantic and are frustrated in their attempt to do so.”

  4. I love this so much.

    I’ve been identifying as bi since 1991 ish.

    I started to come out to myself at age 20, in 1990. At the time, I knew of exactly 3 bi people – David Bowie, Virginia Wolff and my friend J. I met J in college and she literally changed my life because she was open about having been with men and women (and also she flirted with me and I kind of flirted back) – and that’s when I realized that being bi was something available to someone like me (and not limited to rock stars or depressed authors).

    Then I spent a semester abroad and when I came back for my senior year I discovered that 3 of my close female friends had come out while I was out of the country – 2 as bi and 1 as a lesbian. And that made it easy and natural to come out. Having my little cohort of baby bi girls also made it easy to declare myself bi – it just made the most sense.

    My pendulum has swung a few times in terms of feeling more straight identified or more queer identified.

    I’ve talked here before about coming out for the 2nd time in my 40s, after I realized that I’d accidentally bi-erased myself after being married to my husband for 12+ years and that I felt like I was living a lie of omission.

    I also struggled with feeling not bi enough. Robyn Ochs’ definition really helped me re-embrace being bi. As did the idea that one could be bisexual and hetero or homo romantic.

    • I posted after you, but wanted to let you know that I feel the same about bi-erasure. I have been with the same man (I am a woman) for 42 years. We constantly have to talk about how I am bi and what that means for me and our politics.

  5. i like the term queer, but i think some folks may relate to it as a political statement as much as about sexuality. that may not feel like a good fit. and i’m pretty cool with the old terms personally, so i don’t experientially understand where the difficulty is for others. i feel nothing but empathy for those who do find it difficult.

    perhaps we could all just be alphabetual, accepting all the letters without distinction. then the question would just be ‘are you into it, or no?’

  6. ” It’s interesting that “bisexual” specifically so often comes up when the topic is about someone who “doesn’t do labels” or “doesn’t like being put in a box” because it seems to me so obviously resistant to those types of oversimplified categorizations; I love having the only hard-and-fast commitment being one to possibility and change” – I don’t ID as bi but I LOVE this as a way of looking at it.

  7. I identify so hard with Casey’s “But I didn’t have the words for it, and the possibility did not exist in my imagination for a long time. In high school I oscillated internally between thinking, “Well I can’t be gay because I’ve had crushes on boys,” and ‘Well I can’t be straight because I’ve had crushes on girls.”” For awhile I thought I was asexual because I didn’t find one group more attractive than the other (and frankly sometimes still do because I’m still not sure that I experience sexual attraction like other people do even though I’m fond of the activity). Weirdly, it was signing up for facebook in 2006 that made me realize I could in fact click both boxes (and later I learned that there were way more than two boxes).

  8. I don’t know the exact day I realized I was bi, but I’ve managed to narrow it down to the last week of November 2011. I was newly 21 and had a crush on a college classmate. I came out to a coworker and then to my best friends that same week.

    For many years I felt I had lost too much time and come out too late, like I missed the chance to go through my teens knowing myself fully. But now I look back and think I was just a baby and I came out when I could, when I was ready to process it.

    I thought crushing on boys meant I had to look no further because even though I knew the term bisexual I had only seen straight women and lesbians portrayed in media. So liking boys probably meant that was it? I sometimes made out with girl friends and once my bff and I took a shower together and we stared at our naked bodies and giggled. We were 13 and we knew we weren’t supposed to do that but just laughed it off and repressed it for years.

    I was in a relationship with a cis guy from ages 14 to 19, so I was just comfortable being a sexually active teen and getting good grades. Yes, I read fan fiction, and yes, I had queer friends and yes, I CARED A LOT about getting marriage equality but I thought that just meant I was an ALLY.

    Turns out, I’m 100% bi all of the time. Coming out was a huge step towards loving myself and taking a better care of my mental health. It also helped me a lot in accepting my body. I’m a fat bi tomboy femme and I’m proud of it.

    Happy Bi Visibility day, everyone!

  9. I identified as trans and ace from ages 16 to 27, but then started developing a sex drive and then it’s “I guess I’m bi now? That’s another thing I have to learn to deal with, so annoying.” Though it was over a decade until it felt like either of those labels *really* mattered, since I was in no position to start transitioning and I only ever dated bi men (not on purpose, either it was a coincidence or something weird was going on) so as far as most people were concerned, I was a gay man in denial, which was a pain.

    In recent years I lived and breathed the kind of environments where it’s easy to forget that cisheteronormativity even exists, at least until the global plague made me a bit of a shut-in.

  10. I feel very fortunate to have realized that I am bi during the late 1970’s. I worked on a gay rights campaign and fell for both a woman and a man, took the first gay studies class at my University (where I was told by a man in the back of the class that bisexuality does not exist) all within one year and felt great about my choice. The woman unfortunately had not yet come to grips with being a lesbian. I have been with the man I met at the gay rights campaign who thought I was gay and who I thought was gay, and we have been in love for 42 years. The comments about bi-erasure in long term relationships had the most resonance for me since it looks like a heterosexual marriage and we know it is not. If I were with a woman for this long it would look like a lesbian relationship. Either way, I know I am bi.

  11. “I call myself bisexual because I acknowledge in myself the potential to be attracted, romantically and/or sexually, to people of more than one gender, not necessarily at the same time, in the same way, or to the same degree. For me, the bi in bisexual refers to attractions similar and different to my own.”
    — me

    To all of the beautiful bi+ people out there: You are beautiful. You are enough. We see and love and respect you.

    Happy #bivisibilitymonth to all.

    Love from your #bimama (if you want me to be this for you)

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