I knew I was bisexual when I was 12 years old. That was the year I cut photos of both Johnny Depp and Liv Tyler out of magazines and taped them to the drywall beside my twin bed; an early attempt to articulate something to myself. I stared for hours at Depp’s pushed-down pants and the top tuft of his pubic hair (FYI, this was when he had a different public image than he does now) and at Tyler’s always-just-a-little-open mouth. I lusted after his hips, and hers. I didn’t have a word for it then, but I knew the feeling.
It took me years to define that feeling as “bisexuality” and even longer to stop letting outside voices reshape and contort what I felt instinctively. I didn’t feel any need to question my varied desires—but others soon would.
Discovering—and hiding—my bisexuality
I grew up before the internet became the main place queer people found each other. I put those posters up in 1999; in my home in Verdun, a borough of Montreal, we were still using a rotary phone and a black-and-white TV with an antenna. I knew no other queer people and had no sense that I was part of a community with a culture and a history.
In the ‘90s Verdun had yet to be gentrified. It was a rough neighbourhood. I called people ‘gay’ every day and I meant it as an insult. Those were the street politics of survival: adopting hate speech and alternating between who I was to others and who I was to myself.
The first time I saw a woman kiss another woman was over antenna, on CTV’s La Femme Nikita. In this particular episode, the archetypal spy Nikita had to seduce a woman as part of a mission. Even though the kiss was a tactic, it meant something to me. I thought, “What?! I can kiss women?! That’s a thing we do?!”
I was taught young that women’s sexuality was a tool, so the Nikita plotline was nothing new. We girls implicitly knew, from our experiences at home and on the street, that being with a man meant protection and that sex was something you traded in return. I’d never heard a woman talk about sex as a source of pleasure and had no real understanding of how queer sex worked. I just knew I wanted it. Without knowing what to call it or what it looked like, I knew I wanted a different life for myself.
In my neighbourhood, we had crushes in place of after-school programs. At sleepovers while my friends and I would whine about still being virgins, I’d secretly wish I was one of the boys and thus the object of my friends’ desire. We’d conspire about how to kiss our classmate Shayne via truth or dare. I wanted both to be Shayne and to kiss him, but knew only the latter had a place in my world.
From too queer to not queer enough
When I hit my twenties and started seeking out queer spaces I was terrified that, because I was bisexual, I wasn’t queer enough. Things weren’t much better at straight parties. I felt like an interloper everywhere—a sense that was reinforced by each space.
Calling myself bisexual is my way of saying that I’m attracted to people who are the same gender as me, as well as other genders—but often that’s not what people hear. I’ve had straight men assume I’m a vehicle for a girl-girl-guy threesome without understanding that group sex is only fun when everyone has a desire for it and an attraction to those involved. Once while on vacation, a man I’d been sleeping with showed up at our hotel at 4 a.m., without warning or asking me, with a woman I’d never met in tow. He expected that because I’m bisexual, we’d all sleep together that night. I refused that threesome, and left the hotel (and him) hours later. I didn’t come out to have other people prescribe who I have sex with. Through experiences like this, I learned that straight men would sometimes use my bisexuality as a means to dehumanize me—as if my whole existence is a quasi-racy, one-dimensional TV plotline created for their entertainment.
Among lesbians I’ve dated, I’ve been told that my bisexuality creates unwanted contact with straight society. I’ve had lesbians ask me for an open relationship with the caveat that I only sleep with women, because otherwise I might get pregnant. I’ve had queer women make fun of me for taking birth control. And I’ve been made to feel ashamed that I’m still attracted to men, as if I’m not radical enough to let go of access to male privilege via a male partner. (Like the patriarchy has ever done me, a bisexual genderqueer person, any favours.)
No, my bisexuality is not a stage
My twenties felt like they were about proving I was “still bisexual.” Like many bi people, I’d play the pronoun game of omitting the gender of the person I was dating or having sex with. The anxiety about what my partner’s gender said about me affected my relationships negatively because they made the relationships about me, as opposed to what a relationship should be about: us.
I sometimes felt proud to be a dating a woman even if she was awful to me. Or embarrassed to be dating a man, even if our relationship was great. No matter who I was dating or having sex with, at some point someone close to me would ask if I thought I was “still bisexual,” implying that bisexuality is an intermediate stage of self-discovery that I would, at some point, evolve beyond. (It’s not.)
I’m now in my thirties and dating two people: a bisexual woman and a bisexual man. These days I Tinder-swipe left until I find people who identify as bi because I don’t have the capacity to be a good partner while my sexual orientation is a source of anxiety, or my gender threatens my partner’s understanding of their own sexual orientation (being genderqueer means I identify as both a woman, because of how I grew up, and a boy, because of the messy teenage masculinity inside of me).
I now look for other bisexual folks when I want more than a one-night stand, because it’s only with bisexual partners that the fluidity of my own gender is allowed to take form each day. While stigma around bisexuality is changing, it’s only with others who know what it feels like to be attracted to multiple genders that I find my partners and I can explore and enjoy the dimensions of gender that exist in all of us.
I have access to so much more information now than I did when I was 12. Queer sex is a real—and amazing—part of my life, not just a fantasy. And I no longer spout self-loathing rhetoric to survive. But despite all the changes in my life, the tension between who I am to myself and how others understand bisexuality is still there. I look forward to bisexuality being understood as a substantive identity, but until then, I offer up my words to you, like fragile wisps of magazine ripped out and taped up into a sum greater than its parts. Keep trusting your feelings. I feel you.