Why it took me 10 years to come out as bi

Like most coming out stories, I didn’t do it all at once. In all, it actually took me about 20 years to acknowledge —then accept and share — who I was.

Mostly I was afraid I wouldn’t be accepted, but there was more than that, too. For years, I didn’t even know I was bi; I grew up in Edmonton, surrounded by a predominately straight, white community. People who identified as gay, much less bisexual, didn’t really exist. At least, not openly.

Looking back, it’s hard to see how I ever thought I was straight. My first sexual experiences were with women. I remember daydreaming about Buffy in Buffy the Vampire Slayer at 13, when all of my girlfriends were crazy about Angel; writing fictional stories about sexual encounters with women and men in equal measure; experiencing my first kiss at 14 through a metal fence with a girl, followed a couple of months later by my first kiss with a boy (which I went on to tell everyone was my actual first kiss for over a decade).

But in my mind, I really did think I was straight growing up. For a long time, it wasn’t even a question of whether I was or wasn’t — there was just no way I could be anything else. It wasn’t until my late teens and early 20s when I finally started to get a sense I might not be 100% attracted to men. At that point, a slough of new feelings and thoughts came. Ones that made it really hard to understand and accept my sexuality.

For most of my life, my biggest fear was that if I came out, my girlfriends would think I wanted to have sex with them.

During university, I explored bisexuality through alcohol-fueled nights with women I met at bars. I tried to keep this separate and distinct from my closer group of female friends, for fear that they’d start questioning the closeness we shared; maybe they’d no longer want to lay in bed with me watching movies, or would think twice about changing in front of me in case I was into them.

Once, sitting on the bus after midnight after a night out with my best friend, I received a text from a friend’s girlfriend asking me to come over. She had been drinking, too, and wanted to see me. Without telling my best friend, I got off at a random stop on the bus and caught a taxi to her place. Afterward, I hid it from my best friend, playing mental gymnastics to make myself believe there was a chance she didn’t know.

Of course, she did. But she was kind enough not to push, and I willed myself into forgetting she had been witness to more than one of my experimental desires during university.

As silly and unobtrusive as this fear might seem, in some ways it was the hardest one for me to get over. I don’t think I did, fully, until I was well into my 20s, when I told a bisexual male friend of mine about it and he burst out laughing.

“Telling someone your straight doesn’t mean you're attracted to every person you meet of the opposite sex,” he said. I faltered. What he said was so simple, so obvious— but so true.

“You’re right,” I realized. I could be bisexual and not attracted to my friends because, well, I was a human, and I wasn’t attracted to everyone.

Yet even after I started to come to terms with my own sexuality, I realized pretty quick that a lot of people weren’t as ready to accept it as I was.

I was 20 when I first told someone I was bisexual. I confided in them after they had told me they were gay, and this combined with our closeness made me feel safe enough to tell her.

I was walking down the street on a mild fall day, the phone to my ear, as I told her I was bi. Telling her was such a release. I was sharing myself, my whole self, with someone who just might accept me.

She didn’t say much on the phone, but I hung up and felt lighter, warmer. I went for lunch with my best friend, ate pizza and watched the people passing. My truth had been so easy to share, so much easier than I had anticipated.

A few weeks later, I was on the phone with another friend, someone who was close to both me and the person I had come out to. I told her of what I had admitted, waiting to be accepted with warmth and acceptance, too.

“She told me about that,” my friend said nonchalantly. “She says you’re just doing it for attention.”

My breath caught in my throat. I felt heat rising into my face. I don’t remember what I said at that point. My shame was so thick, so palpable, I could barely speak at all. I was hurt and angry, but most of all, I was uncertain. This person, that little sentence, it made me question my own sexuality. Was I doing it for attention? Did she, an openly gay woman, know me better than I did?

That conversation made me shut up for a long time. It stirred up a lot of doubts and beliefs that had only just settled. I didn’t come out to anyone again for years.

By my late 20s, I had worked up the courage to open up to people about my sexuality again. At some point, I started sharing it with my friends, some of whom had parents I was also quite close to.

Once, sitting on a boat with my friend and her parents, sipping red wine, it came up that I had dated women before.

Her mother looked at me, her brow furrowing. “Well, were you just experimenting?” She asked me. “Many women I know have experimented that way before.”

I smiled kindly because I had heard this before, and I knew she wasn’t saying this to hurt me. Perhaps she just wasn’t used to the concept of bisexuality, because it hasn’t really been part of our cultural narrative for that long; it wasn’t long ago that bisexual women were portrayed as straight women seeking male attention (thanks, American Pie). “I’m sure,” I said evenly. “Gender just isn’t all that important to me.”

She continued to look at me, and I realized then from her expression that she didn’t believe me, couldn’t believe me. What I was claiming didn’t fit into the world she knew.

“Perhaps you just haven’t met the right guy yet,” she said, taking a sip of her wine while the boat rocked gently.

I continued to smile at her, but inside my heart hardened.

I had this same conversation half a dozen times, steeling my heart against other’s denial of my truth, cradling my identity because there was no one who would do it for me. So many times when I told people I was bi, they rejected it — not always openly, but not subtly, either. They rejected it not because they were homophobic, but because they couldn’t imagine being bi, and so had no way to fit it into their world view. They assumed I just hadn’t made a choice yet, and the truth would come with age or wisdom or some amalgamation of the two.

Around this time, I entered a long-term relationship with a man. He seemed to accept and appreciate my bisexuality; more than that, he believed humans were on a spectrum of sexuality, though not all of us were in tune with our own desires. In some ways, I felt seen for the first time in my life.

This man was also interested in having an open, polyamorous relationship. I had never explored poly before, and I wasn’t too keen on the idea. In all of my past, my romantic life had been a string of monogamous relationships dotted with the occasional fling. And I liked it that way. I loved being monogamous. The longer I’m with someone, the more I fall in love with them. But I’m also committed to open-mindedness, and so I agreed to try it out.

After thinking about it for a while, I decided to broach the topic with him. We were sitting on a couch in his living room. He put his hand on my knee. Turned out there was a stipulation. He would date other women, and I would only date other women, too. In other words, he was the only man I could date.

Perhaps I was so won over by the feeling of finally being accepted that I agreed. Don’t let someone who finally accepts you go, my heart reasoned. Someone like this is rare, and you probably won’t find it again.

And so I explored it, which is to say he explored it, and I gritted my teeth through the pain and rejection I felt when he dated and slept with other women. Occasionally, on my bolder days, I would bring up the inequality of our relationship; that even if I didn’t want to date other men — or anyone, for that matter — I should be allowed to.

I never got very far with this argument.

For the entirety of our two and a half year relationship, he dated a dozen women. I dated one. Eventually, we broke up, and I realized that what I was looking for wasn’t impossible or improbable. And that conditional acceptance of my identity wasn’t acceptance at all.

I’m sure, in another ten years, I’ll have another set of realizations and revelations through this journey of self-exploration and acceptance. But for now, I’ve finally come to a place where I’ve accepted myself. I know that other people will have their beliefs, and they may want to force their beliefs on me; beliefs about sexuality are oftentimes no different than beliefs about religion, politics, or abortion. We feel strongly about these things because our hearts are wrapped up in them. We’ve been taught certain things about the world. But just because others believe something doesn’t mean it’s factual, or representative of my — or anyone else’s — experience.

Accepting a bisexual identity is hardest for me, mostly because the world wants me to pick a side. And when I can’t do that, I have to hold disparate beliefs in my head. I have to accept myself and accept that I’ll never fit into the world’s set categories. Which can make me feel like a bit of an outsider.

What it’s come down to is strength in my own identity, strength in my own beliefs, and accepting that others won’t always agree or understand. And that can be hard, but it’s also OK. All I can do is try to understand the beliefs that others have that don’t immediately make sense to me.

Lover of books (mostly fantasy/sci-fi), piano, running, and learning new things. Mostly writing about tech &LGBT+ stuff.

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