Am I Bisexual? Is That The Word?

Hello. It’s been a while.

It’s been a while because I’m not a woman anymore && I’m not sure I ever was && of course I was because if I didn’t have a roadmap for elsewhere, how could I have possibly understood myself to be there? && I could’ve been a woman because the category of woman is really large && I used to call myself gay && sometimes I even said lesbian even though I couldn’t figure out why the word made me uncomfortable like a too-tight shirt && one time, I did try out those they-them pronouns way before I understood myself to be not-woman.

It was on a mountain, surrounded by other queer people, plenty of whom were not-women too. In fact, it was at A-Camp (five days of activities for queer adults that this very website used to run), the first year we had pronoun stickers. We, the writers, always arrived before the Campers, to set up and gossip and be in community with each other. The lodge was still sparse and we, in matching tee-shirts, looked bright like candy against the brown carpet, each and every one so distinct from each other and yet perfect as a group. I have always wondered what our collective noun would be: a gleeful of queer writers, a panoply of queer writers, a coven, a murder, a spate, a loudness, a bravery, a swarm. Why choose only one? The tables were the tables everyone imagines at any large event—hard, textured plastic in a dirty off-white or else wood with water rings and vague hints of craft paints past inexpertly mopped up before they began to harden, to become permanent. The stickers were laid out in the registration line—fill out your form, choose this thing so unimportant && so fundamental. I looked down at my options—printed on tiny paper circles and colorful like M&Ms against the drab plastic-wood-paint-marks. Palatable. Friendly. I picked up two: she && they. Added them to my name tag. Went about my business; people used both. Mostly they used “she.”

It was easy to forget limits at Camp for a lot of reasons, not the least of which was the size of the trees. Hulking firs that reach into the sky like hairy fingers, bounded only by their own strength to continue growing upward and the environment in which they’re rooted. It was easy to forget that I am only one person, that I begin and end at the edge of my skin as it meets the chill air, when faced with the sides of mountains crowded with hundreds, thousands, of the same tall tree under which I was sitting. Expanse is the word. If you have never been to a place like that, I will tell you: it is self-melting && self-atomizing; you flow to cover everything, boundless, and it tucks you in to its vastness and you begin to understand that the world is so much bigger than you ever imagined before. So much possibility. I even forgot about the stickers on my name tag. I was busy sublimating.

On the last day a Camper walked up to me, said, “I see you have they-them pronouns on your name tag. I’m really sorry. I’ve been calling you she-her this entire time.”

My whole body squirmed && I was keenly aware of it && it’s limits && my personhood && that my body isn’t really separate from me all at once. I felt like I was a glowing beacon, that everyone was Witnessing me && I felt invisible to everyone && I felt hyper-visible-invisible to myself, as though I had time traveled and understood something from my future, just the barest touch of it, that I could not yet comprehend.

“It’s okay,” I replied. “I put those on there mostly because other people use those pronouns for me, not because I feel any particular way about it.” It was honest && it wasn’t true.

I did not understand that I was filtering my identity through the expectations of others. I do not know how much of it I still do && does it matter if gender is social? Doesn’t some part of it live in the way other people relate to me? && I am using the perception of others to justify the things I want && cannot possibly admit to wanting && are so fundamental that I do not understand I am even experiencing a longing.

A partner, after I came out as trans, doubled down on the word “lesbian” to describe herself. We are not together anymore.

That is the short answer, not the whole answer.

A partner said to me that testosterone would be a deal-breaker. I put off starting testosterone for a year until I couldn’t. We are not together anymore.

That is one answer, but not all the answers.

A partner said to me “is this for real this time?” when I talked about trying those he-him pronouns. We are not together anymore.

I pressed my gender flat with my own hands to suit other people’s sexuality, to replicate the idea of who I was when I arrived in this community with open, pleading hands. That is the story. But not the full story.

I will never again cultivate a romantic relationship with a cis person on purpose, not in this life. I have been hurt too badly, too often, by too many people. T4T only. Inscrutable genders from outer space to the front, those that can be best described as “smell of campfire” && “a great pink shape.” && those best described as “a single chandelier earring dragging across your chest while we fuck.” && those who describe themselves as “common grackle sounds” && “the sensation, but not the taste, of warm tea.” && “James Dean, but with tiddies.” && all the people with all the genders I haven’t thought of yet, that no one has thought of yet, least of all themselves.

So far, only one of those genders is mine and I’ll not say which, not unless I trust you enough that you have a fist inside me, but the point is this: can I really be called gay anymore, if I am interested in so many people with genders that have little in common with mine, with each others’, save for an illegibility in the eyes of cis people? Is gay the word?

I started testosterone in January of this year. I was really scared to do it; so scared that I worked to take everything scary out of it. Scared to find the doctor; friend found the doctor. Scared of doctors; saw a trans woman. Scared of needles; got topical. Scared of quickness; low dose. All the fear in the world didn’t mean I didn’t desperately want it. I could tell because I thought about it all the time.

Two things had been stopping me: my singing voice, a partner who didn’t want me to do it. I knew the second reason wasn’t a good one, deep down, so I hung everything on how my voice felt in my body when I belted. I used to be an actor; I was a very good actor. I sang well enough to snag speaking-only roles in musicals. I was never good but it didn’t matter; I loved it. I loved ringing my own body like a bell. Loved singing the powerful songs I’d grown up singing. The day I thought the phrase, you know, do you really think you won’t feel at home in your voice? You’ll find different songs and you’ll love them just as much, I sobbed with my mouth open in my therapist’s office. Because I knew then that I would start testosterone no matter what; it was terrifying, wanting something so bad as to leap into the dark.

I somehow got through that January day with the box of hormones siren-singing to me in my backpack. Drafting an essay. A dinner with my editor and my agent. The long subway ride home. I sat on my bed and stared at the carpet and cried. “I’m so nervous,” I said, “I’m so scared.” A partner sat next to me, the same one who had called it a deal-breaker. She rubbed my back and pressed her lips into a thin line as I squinted into the tiny-print pamphlet, folded so many times it was a small square the thickness of a novel. It warned of how easy it was to accidentally dose a cis woman in bold. A danger to women and children if they touched it when wet, or anytime before the afflicted area was washed with soap and water. I became obsessed. “Don’t touch me. Did you touch me? Wash your hands.” I never slept shirtless on the nights we were in the same bed.

“Are you afraid your transition might negatively impact that partner? Because she doesn’t want you to do it?” my therapist asked me. I have an excellent therapist; she is trans, an art therapist and when I asked her once, based on her décor choices, if she was a witch, she said “I don’t self-identify as one.” My therapist’s office had a big window that opened out onto Koreatown; the façade of the building was under construction and there was scaffolding outside the window for months. Occasionally while I was crying into the plants and crystals and sets of markers, a construction worker would walk by and pretend not to see me. My therapist would close the blinds.

“Of course I am,” I said, because it was obvious. To me. To me && to her && to the construction worker, even. The one scary thing I couldn’t mitigate at all; it had nothing to do with me && my choices.

“You know,” she said, “it might.”

I am not really into computers anymore && there’s a part of me that really still is. Because time is meaningless && my past interest deeply impacts me, even though I no longer watch every Apple event with bated breath, no longer write a technology column. I find technology to be an apt descriptor && a source of magic language && a locus of stress && a way to understand a man-made world. It is in this miasma of future-present that I came across the “and” operator. &&. The logical conjunction that commands action if and only if all of its operands are true.

Every year, I teach my undergraduates a little binary on the first day of class. I make them answer questions about their lives using only true or false. I ask them to reflect on what was lost. Sometimes they tell me about a sense of frustration. I tell them that the work of my class is to wrest nuance from a machine reliant on binary, 0-1, false-true; a machine that was made for violence, with exponential advancement powered by violence’s intersection with sex. I pretend that these statements are only true about computers and not true about everything.

I don’t explain myself to cis people anymore && sometimes I am required to. In the past, I have turned to the incredibly flawed (but so simple) Genderbread Person. Even as it tries to disrupt the binary, it relies on it. But that isn’t even the main problem. In its attempt to problematize two-option thinking, it divides everything into an “or.” It separates presentation from gender from attraction. For a person who has never thought about these things before, it helps to break interdependent ideas into discrete parts && we lose something when we do && it has never been true. My gender directly impacts how I conceptualize my sexuality, and as my gender shifts and changes, so too do the words that describe who I fuck. Sometimes I feel like I spend all my time prying something illogical and giant from the grasping, minimizing hands of logic.

Even so, the && operator connotes a power to me. The forcing of a binary machine to become expansive. To say this && this && this and only if everything is yes. The && is one of my magic spell words. Abundance. Sublimation.

“You know,” the doctor who dispenses my hormones said, “she would have to lay on you every single night while it was wet to really get dosed with testosterone. You can chill out a little bit.”

But I couldn’t.

I was in pain (I am often in pain; I am chronically in pain) and the pain gave me a panic attack so I called a friend. It was one in the morning for me, but ten in the morning for him. I told him what I was writing. I barely had an idea of my argument, just that I was having a crisis of vocabulary and that generally, when I do, I write toward something messy until I make it make sense.

“For me,” he said, “I always think: why not the word ‘bisexual?’” && I thought about it too.

I would have been younger than fourteen, because fourteen is when I stopped playing the violin, and we were on the way to my violin lesson, which was truly wasted money for I was extremely terrible at the violin. I was sitting in the front seat; the interior of the car was beige or grey because I am not sure which car it was, which era of my childhood, but whichever it was, it was marked by the stale-french-fry smell of driving children to one million kinds of practice. I do not remember what I mentioned that made my mother say it—my mother, hands on the wheel and speaking casually, looking at the cul-de-sac before us. The sky was blue. It was Spring. “If you were gay, that would be one thing. But bisexuality is fence-sitting. You’ve gotta pick one.”

Maybe that is why. And if that is why, it’s not a very good reason.

Is bisexual the word for falling into the arms of trans people? Is bisexual the word for wresting nuance from binary? I am not sure. I am not sure about the accuracy of any language at all.

I painted my nails for the first time in years the other week. Black, with the middle fingers pink (fuck you, fuck everything). I used to be quite good at it back when I was a child && back when I was a girl. My friends would ask me to paint theirs, which I did. I was remarkable at never hitting skin, at always coloring inside the lines, no matter how late the sleepover, how sandy my tired eyes. It is harder on yourself, of course, and after the skills have spent a decade or more on the shelf. In the middle of a Saturday with the sunlight shining in, I got plenty of nail polish on my cuticles. But I loved the way I moved my hands—curled my fingers gracefully and held them close to my face as I gently stroked color this way and that. How I held them out and flapped them while I listened to a podcast and waited for them to dry, how I was forced to simply sit and gesture. I loved the way I talked with my hands after: dainty, fruity, limp-wristed && strong, sharp, powerful with my fingers held wide and taking up space. I loved how they looked against my yoga mat—I looked lovingly down at them while doing pushups only testosterone has allowed me to do.

Testosterone has allowed for a lot of &&. I want a caftan printed with flowers so I can walk around with my chest out and feel the silk on my scars && I am growing my hair out so I can wear a loose braid, easy, even though the hormones have made my straight hair curly && I want my shoulders to take up big space && I want to wrap my legs around someone nothing like me && when they fuck me I never want them to think of themself as a lesbian because if they are, well then, what on earth are they doing on top of me? && yes I suppose I am bisexual, if what we are talking about is kissing people who share your gender and people who do not && their desire has to be large enough to hold me, all of me: the gender && the presentation && the sexuality. The whole cookie; all of me is vast. I have never been good at picking just one && why should I be when the world is big and I am big in it?

This thing I am, my personal thesaurus of identities, cannot fit on the bright tiny stickers with letters printed on them && so much bigger than single, simple words or even a string of them && I got a taste of it when I expanded to cover the silhouette of a triangle tree against the twilight purple of a queer sky. That is part of the story. It is not the whole story. It is round and textured, not flat at all && it’s flat and smooth and goes for infinity in one direction until one direction is meaningless. It is like diving into a well I swear has a bottom && continually discovering there is deeper to go. It is continuing to find sentences that come after &&.

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A.E. Osworth

A.E. Osworth is part-time Faculty at The New School, where they teach undergraduates the art of digital storytelling. Their novel, We Are Watching Eliza Bright, about a game developer dealing with harassment (and narrated collectively by a fictional subreddit), is forthcoming from Grand Central Publishing (April 2021) and is available for pre-order now. They have an eight-year freelancing career and you can find their work on Autostraddle (where they used to be the Geekery Editor), Guernica, Quartz, Electric Lit, Paper Darts, Mashable, and drDoctor, among others.

A.E. has written 542 articles for us.


  1. appreciation and solidarity, as someone else who only feels ok describing their sexual orientation as t4t.

    i also loved “when I asked her once, based on her décor choices, if she was a witch, she said “I don’t self-identify as one.”” (and that’s so cool you have a trans therapist!)

  2. I needed to read this. I feel so seen. Special shout outs to these lines in particular:
    “ their desire has to be large enough to hold me, all of me”
    “All the fear in the world didn’t mean I didn’t desperately want it. I could tell because I thought about it all the time.”
    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  3. “I did not understand that I was filtering my identity through the expectations of others. I do not know how much of it I still do && does it matter if gender is social? Doesn’t some part of it live in the way other people relate to me? && I am using the perception of others to justify the things I want && cannot possibly admit to wanting && are so fundamental that I do not understand I am even experiencing a longing.”

    This gave me chills. Thank you for articulating something I have not been able to!

  4. I love this and I love you! <3 Your writing always feels so familiar and leaves me with a lot to think about. I have also found home under the bisexual label. I feel queer and gay and bi and I love them all. (And I choose on the fly whichever word I think the straight person I’m speaking to is going to be most uncomfortable with.)

  5. Yes! Thanks so much for writing this. i love Autostraddle and all it is and has become, but for many of the same reasons you mentioned above, I stay in the shadows because, well, despite the pieces that make up my physical self trying to tell me for a lifetime that i fit in a particular checkbox, and despite my best efforts to be strong and confident within the confines of that box, that’s just never been who i am. once i started hrt i felt even less like this was a space for me to be a part of the comment threads…not because of anyone telling me so, just from my own awkwardness and rooted in respecting the foundation the site was created on.
    Anyways, i’ll most likely lurk back into the shadows now, but thanks so much for writing something in which i felt so very seen.

  6. Ty for this. “Wrestling nuance from a binary” is what the limited choices in words always feel like to me as a non-binary queer person searching for language to hold onto and/or ensconce myself in. If my chosen words keep getting bigger, less specific, and more umbrella-y, will I eventually feel I fit safely within them, and when that happens, will those words say anything meaningful about me at all? Better to && and && and && which allows me to be more and also offers increased specificity, I think.

    I really appreciated your personal stories embedded in this piece. Ty for the therapy details (I’m a therapist and I have a therapist), and ty also for your decision to discuss how “lesbian” hits different for you, both in terms of applying to you and to your partner(s).

  7. A. E. this is breathtakingly good! I’m glad I got to read your words again. I just know I’ll be coming back to this piece, it’s really that moving.

    I’m not trans and so I’d never kid myself into thinking I understand your experience or how deep this piece goes in matters of gender, but as a bi woman I did see myself reflected in some parts, of how we press our identities down for the sake of others, of how our partners’ identities might conflict with ours.

    ” && I am using the perception of others to justify the things I want && cannot possibly admit to wanting && are so fundamental that I do not understand I am even experiencing a longing.”
    “ their desire has to be large enough to hold me, all of me”
    “All the fear in the world didn’t mean I didn’t desperately want it. I could tell because I thought about it all the time.”

    These fragments in particular made me feel very seen, and the whole essay in its entirety just moved me. I now feel off kilter in the best way.

    Thank you so much for sharing!!

  8. I realize that I am an old (way over 40) and that I am not the intended audience, but surely I’m not the only person who found the use of double ampersands in this piece infuriating? I know what it means (I’ve done some programming), but I don’t read code the way I read prose, and I couldn’t get through more than half of this before my eyes got tired.

  9. thank you, so much, for this.

    i’ve been thinking about T and the thing that’s stopping me is my singing voice- I feel like I could have written that exact paragraph you did about singing.

    so reading “you know, do you really think you won’t feel at home in your voice? You’ll find different songs and you’ll love them just as much,” just made me sob. I really needed to read that. thank you.

  10. Just wanted to say that I’m sorry to hear about your partner. I’m one of those queer/bisexual femme cis girls who happily stay with our trans men and transmasculine partners, and I know that it’s naive and cis of me, but I’m always stunned to hear about the girls that are so lesbian to leave, but stayed for so many years with masculine and butch partners.
    I can’t imagine leaving my guy because he transitioned, not ever. I’m just sorry.

  11. I’ll echo the others with a heartfelt thank you for writing this. Seeing so many comments echo my feelings of gratitude and belonging also felt amazing. I had no idea I needed this affirmation until this article so beautifully articulated some of the things I was feeling. Wow.

  12. thanks for this. I don’t identify as t4t, or as bisexual, but I really felt the parts about testosterone. So many people (many of them lesbians) were convinced I would “just” be a man or boring or straight or heteronormative or something on T, when for me it has really opened up my interest in fucking with gender, wearing dresses, painting my nails, etc.

  13. I am experiementing with how to write comments when finding words can be difficult for me. Here’s my best go:

    Shivers running all though my body when reading. What a flookin’ EXTRA-ORDINARY piece of writing, AE. I have missed missed missed your writing here on Autostraddle. I want want want WANT more of it.

    Also I need it.

    Wow wow wow.

    Thank you thank you thank you.

  14. AE your writing has helped me so much and makes me feel like I’m not going crazy or it’s just me. Thank you for finding the words to share they are so comforting while I explore my gender

  15. I basically never comment, but I still think about this essay at least once a week. Every time I say I’m bisexual I want to put an asterisk next to it and link here. Thank you for writing and sharing.

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