Welcome to Day One of On A Case Bi Case Basis: What Bi Means To Me! To start us off, Silvia is here to talk about her journey and discovery of her identity.
Trigger/Content Warnings: biphobia, mention of abuse
Of the many people who have come out to me over the years, at least two of them were bisexual. They didn’t use that word, and I was only vaguely aware that more labels existed than just gay and straight.
The third person to come out to me as bisexual was me. I was 24, about seven years after one Sunday morning when I lay in bed and freaked out about possibly being a lesbian, but concluded that I couldn’t be because I had liked guys since kindergarten.
Most of what happened to me during the years in between has little to do with me being straight or gay or bisexual, but something that happened shortly before coming out to myself was reading a lot of books where people used different labels, or sometimes no labels at all, and watching fictional figure skaters exchange engagement rings without the focus of the anime being their sexuality.
So, how did I come out to myself? It wasn’t an instantaneous revelation or even a huge surprise, but it has everything to do with doing research and with all the amazing people on Twitter who share their knowledge and talk about queer issues every day.
One key detail in me realizing that I was not straight (the bisexual label only sat comfortably on me about six months after realizing I’m queer) was understanding that not everyone is bisexual in the same way. And most importantly, that you can be bisexual without necessarily being biromantic, and that labels and sexuality and/or romantic orientation can be fluid.
Remember the freak out I talked about having when I was 17? After concluding I wasn’t a lesbian, I was still one hundred percent aware of my attraction to women. I might have used the “I’m 80% straight and 20% gay” line with my friends (but if you ask I’ll deny it) and I was open about sometimes having, um, not-very-straight-thoughts. But I still had never had a crush on a girl (but countless crushes on boys – and I’m not trying to do the girls vs boys binary thing but I didn’t know back then yet that some people could be neither boy nor girl or both), so I thought that made me straight.
And I was, in part. I was a heteroromantic bisexual. I fully embrace the fact that I was, and when I say “I used to be straight” I know some people immediately think internalized biphobia but that’s my definition of me because to me being bisexual meant nothing if I didn’t also have a crush on the person.
That absolutely doesn’t mean that I think every heteroromantic bisexual should define themselves as straight, or that I think labels only become true based on how you decide to act or not act on the attraction you feel, or that coming out later in life automatically means that you weren’t queer before. I want to stress this because it’s important that everyone finds labels they’re comfortable with, and I think if you’re someone whose sexual/romantic orientation changed over the course of the years it’s just as important to be able to find one that fits the past you and that sits comfortably with you when talking about your past. To me, those labels are both straight and (only if I need to be specific) heteromantic bisexual for my past self, and I can claim this in good conscience because I know I wasn’t in denial then and I’m not in denial now about who I was.
Let me repeat myself: I only feel comfortable with claiming I was straight and that now I’m not. Saying I was straight makes it clear to my conversation partners or my audience that there are certain things I didn’t have to go through, like coming out in my teens or being bullied for my sexuality, and that while I’m someone you can always talk to, I won’t have direct experience with those issues, even as a (now) queer person. However, this is what works for me and what I’m comfortable with, but nobody should have to declare what their past experiences are, and being part of the queer community is not something anyone should measure in terms of how much queer pain they’ve gone through.
Now that we have that out of the way, this is how I became aware that I wasn’t straight anymore: I started getting a few (totally unattainable, mostly celebrity) crushes on girls and nonbinary people, and I realized that my romantic and sexual orientation were aligning for the first time in my life, and that most importantly (!!!) I could finally retweet those I want a gf tweets that were my very first clue that I wasn’t straight anymore in the first place. (This is 100% true. The short answer for, “When did you realize you weren’t straight?” will forever be, “When I realized I wanted to retweet gay tweets.”)
After pondering it for a few months and kind of lowkey acting gayer and gayer online, I came out to my IRL best friend, mirroring his own coming out to me (he in the driver seat, me sitting shotgun, parked in the same exact spot in front of my house), just two days before the pride march (my third but first as not-just-an-ally), but I was still on the fence about which label fit me. A month later, I was debating coming out to my other friend, when his boyfriend said that “bisexual people don’t exist.” I still haven’t come out to the pair of them, and it sucks that that was one of the first times I heard the word bisexual in my own language (in Italian: bisessuale). I’m sure he only meant it as a joke, but it still hurt.
However, I wasn’t totally sure that I was bisexual. I tested out a few labels for myself and I tried to go by pansexual because I thought that’s what I must be if I also like nonbinary people. Only when I found out that you don’t have to be pan for that I was able to embrace the bisexual label, which I’ve been using for a year and a half by now. I’m still not 100% sure of my romantic label, but I tend to lean towards panromantic. In any case, I feel like I have I have truly found my people in the online bisexual community. I still don’t know any bisexual people IRL, but my closest friends are part of the queer community as well, and it makes me feel so safe.
So ultimately, what does being bi mean to me? To me, it feels like something I’ve actively worked towards. I remember those few months in which I was testing out scenarios in my head, asking myself if I could like people of my same gender and genders I hadn’t known existed before, researching what different labels meant and thinking them over in my head, discarding them accordingly or keeping them in mind for a later review.
But given my history it also means doubting myself, wondering if I’m bi enough and queer enough, and dealing with some sort of survival guilt about the first 20+ years of my life. What right do I have to complain about a casually biphobic comment, when I didn’t have to go through being harassed for my sexuality when I was younger and more vulnerable? Why should my queer friends embrace me as one of their own when I’m secretly thankful every day that while I was going through personal trauma and abuse as a teen, at least I wasn’t also queer then?
Fortunately, I can rationalize all of this most of the time. I know I’m bi enough. I know I have a right to feel hurt by bi/homophobia. And most of all I have a right to the good things, the gay memes, and the rainbows drawn on cheeks. Because being bi should not be about our pain but about embracing the good things that come at us as individuals and as a community.
Silvia is a science student by day and a book blogger by both day and night. She’s an Italian living in Germany, trying to make sense of both the past and the future and constantly daydreaming about the next pride march. She consists of 70% tea and 30% cat videos.
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