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I am a 27-year-old bisexual in an 8 year opposite-sex relationship. I’ve felt sure of my label until this past year. After reconciling some issues regarding my rape, dealing with an ill parent and returning to school (all girls!), my personal life has left me feeling like I’ve gone 12 rounds and I’m barely standing.
Enter HER. This little butch girl was an instant KO to my heart. I never gave any credence to those stories of men who claimed they saw a woman and immediately wanted to marry her, until I met this girl. I can’t get her out of my mind and I function like a laptop tossed into a pool when I’m around her. Not very charming, I know. The biggest problem though, is that while I may be able to dismiss a raging crush for what it is (a mixture of stress, chemistry, and the 8 year itch), I can’t dismiss the doubt that these feelings have cast onto the hetero side of my nature.
Honestly, there are about 16 different reasons (boyfriend withstanding) why I can’t pursue this woman, so that’s resolved for the most part. But how can I put to rest the confusion I’m having over my sexuality? Am I a repressed lesbian, or just a bored (and exhausted) bisexual? I can’t seem to find any guidance on how to determine this for myself.
I think if I could make an app where you could just insert all the facts of a person’s life into it, like pictures of everybody you’ve ever wanted to fuck and a list from your middle school diary of all your best best girlfriends and a portfolio of every celebrity you ever google image searched and a gender analysis of every person who’s ever charmed you and then the app would print out a sexual orientation label for you, I would be a billionaire and we could all live on a big queer commune together. I’m sure you agree, Penelope. Can I call you Penelope? Okay, good, ’cause I’m going to.
The thing is, Penelope, that often the conversation about labels is just a distraction from the actual meat of the thing, from how your heart actually feels and what your body actually wants. Like we want the label to tell us who to like, when really, the only thing that can tell us who we like is who we like. I can’t tell you how to “put to rest” the confusion you have over your sexuality, unfortunately. For so many human beings, their label is something they know and feel in their bones, something they are so absolutely sure of. For other human beings, it’s not that clear. Neither way is better than the other!
I certainly can relate, Penelope. I wrote about this extensively, in fact. So now I’m gonna do that thing where I talk about myself a lot in hopes that it helps you, and paraphrase/repeat, for some minutes, what I said in that essay I linked to. I spent so many years fumbling around for my label, Penelope. I was scared that in some unpredictable future I’d pick the wrong gender to settle down with and then flee my husband/wife for another man/woman, leaving everybody broken-hearted while I cried on my bathroom floor, wailing GOD, “QUEER” WAS SUCH A COPOUT!
As Michel Foucault observed, “We demand that sex speak the truth […] and we demand that it tell us our truth, or rather, the deeply buried truth of that truth about ourselves which we think we possess in our immediate consciousness.” It’s been so long since I transcribed that quote onto a sticky note on my desktop that I’m not sure if I’m even using it in the right context anymore, but that spoke to me, as a person who once wrote in her diary, “we want sexuality to be biological because we want sexuality to be instinctual and natural and out of our control, because choice isn’t nearly as romantic as surrender. Love is about the absence of choice — the irresistible pull of another body. We don’t have faith in the rest of it because we doubt the permanence of anything we are capable of changing with our minds.”
We want these labels to tell us who we are and what we want because figuring out who we are and what we want in a big expansive lawless space is HARD. Not for everybody, of course, like I said above. The majority of society knows who they are and what they want (in bed) in an absolute way. You’re just not part of that majority, unfortunately.
Penelope, let me tell you something about myself: I am not entirely certain of my actual sexual orientation, and I don’t think I’ll ever be. But it doesn’t really matter. I want to live a lesbian life and that’s the life I’m living. I’m in love with this girl, nobody’s ever made me this happy, we plan on spending our lives together, my entire life is about queer culture, I’m a raging misandrist, and I have zero desire to live a heterosexual life.
However, I used to date men. A lot of men, actually. I slept with a lot of guys, too, and felt genuine attraction towards them and, often, real romantic love. I’ve also had some borderline traumatic experiences with men and I know that has contributed to how I feel about men now. (But I’ve also had traumatic experiences with women that didn’t impact how I feel about women! WHAT DOES THAT MEAN, PENELOPE??!! WAS I A REPRESSED LESBIAN ALL THIS TIME?) I also had some serious self-esteem issues that tempt me to write off that whole heterosexual phase as a result of my insecurity and desire to prove my self-worth through being desired by men. WHO KNOWS? At this point, I cannot be myself and also be with a man. Is that a choice I’ve made after living the life I’ve lived? Or is it a reflection of an innate absolute biological preference of women over men? I’ll never know, I guess, but I think that’s fine.
I want to be clear that I’m not saying that all sexuality is fluid and you should break free of boxes and not stress out about it because labels are for jelly! Sexuality is fluid… for some people. (Maybe you! Maybe not!) Being label-free is ideal… for some people. (Maybe you! Maybe not!) But not for everybody, and no way is better than the other. Your sexuality might be fluid because your sexuality might be fluid, not everybody’s. I usually say I’m queer, but I also love the word “lesbian,” and I cling to it ever harder every time a fellow LGBTQ treats it like an offensive term that isn’t nearly as “evolved” as more expansive identities. I feel a connection to lesbian history and feel a strong obligation towards keeping that word and that culture alive with a new generation. For me, “lesbian” is what I am but “bisexual” honors who I was, too — it wasn’t just a filling station from there to here, it was another highway altogether. I didn’t evolve, I changed. So “queer” works, but people can call me whatever they want, I don’t care, it doesn’t change who I am. The nice thing about “queer” is that it’s used by women who only date women but also by women who also date men and/or non-binary folks, so it can pretty much describe whatever you want it to. So, Penelope, if having a label is important to you then I suggest that one.
There’s a Gandhi quote I’m probably using out of its accurate context (yes, this is a pattern for me), but it really speaks to me, in which he said, “My aim is not to be consistent with my previous statements on a given question, but to be consistent with the truth as it may present itself to me at a given moment.” I just looked that quote up to tell you about it, which has lead me to believe I’ve been remembering it wrong this whole time, ’cause in my head, it was always “I want to remain consistent with the truth as it reveals itself to me.” Either way, that’s what I would tell you to do.
You might be bisexual. You might have been a repressed lesbian all this time!!! Those things are both possible, but right now, it sounds like you lack a significant pile of evidence one way or the other. Falling for this girl might just mean that you like this girl better than any boy you’ve ever met, and it might mean that you like girls, period, better than any boy you’ll ever meet.
The fact that you mention feeling bored and exhausted by your relationship, though, leads me to wonder if maybe it’s just easier to frame a problem with your relationship as one of sexual orientation? If you feel exhausted and bored with your boyfriend, then maybe the relationship has run its course regardless of which gender you date next. As the great Rachel Kincaid once said, “I think that’s one of the hardest/easiest/weirdest things about being bi, is if you put enough effort into it you can make any issue involving attraction to anyone ultimately a quorum on your sexual orientation.”
Remain consistent with the truth as it reveals itself to you, Penelope. Would be my advice.