What It Feels Like To Be Bisexual


I remember the last time I came out to someone as bisexual. I identify as either bisexual, pansexual or queer, because I’ve never been that into labels, and I’m more of an equal opportunity dater than anything else. All applicants may apply, unless applicant listens to Nickelback. I assume everyone knows this about me, but when they do not, I’m not exactly surprised.

I’m a flamboyant male, unapologetic about my queerness, with an affinity for leopard-print shoes and purple pants. Politically I identify as a bottom, and in high school, I wore pink bracelets and girls’ pants to school — because I didn’t see any shame in dressing like a woman, nor do I see any in dating one. Maybe I’m sensitive but I’m always taken aback when a gay male friend of mine expresses disgust toward the female form, as if a vagina were some kind of Roger Corman creation.

With the animosity in society toward women’s sexualities, I don’t want to add to that by further dehumanizing them. To me, everyone’s sex is beautiful and sexy — except for maybe Charlie Sheen’s.

I was discussing my sexuality one day with a guy I’d just begun dating. We met online when I lived in Paris and chatted constantly. He was a friend of a friend I’d happened never to have met in real life, and our conversations marked my days, giving me something to come home to. This is how you fall in love with the idea of someone.

Some time after I’d returned home and we had the chance to date in real life, we were discussing sex and sexuality over the internet, I with a glass of plum wine in my hand. It was from Arkansas and tasted like it, but it was sweet enough to keep sipping. He made a comment about women’s bodies, something relatively innocuous, and I responded to deflect, “Oh, I sort of like them. You know, that whole bisexual thing.”

In high school, I would come out to friends using a similar line, often with an intro about Angelina Jolie, who has suddenly become a hot discussion topic after her affair with Brad Pitt went public. At the end of our discussion about Jolie’s sex life, I would casually mention, “Well, it’s fly to be bi. I would know.” This would elicit a laugh, a perfect way to break the ice about my sexual orientation.

Usually people already knew, and they were happy to be able to finally talk about it, although my mother turned off the radio and pulled over to the side of the road. She needed a moment to process, but it was my fault for being queer while driving, I guess.

My date did one better, stopping our conversation without bothering to get out of traffic. “Wait, you’re bisexual?” he responded, clearly flummoxed. “I could never date a bisexual guy. I just feel like we would be lacking this central thing in common.” I didn’t have a response, not prepared for this scenario, so I let him continue. He proceeded to tell me that he didn’t believe in bisexuality. It was a “hippie, new-age affectation,” much like patchouli or wearing knit caps in the summer.

I wanted to tell him about Angelina Jolie, but instead, I started to cry into my ten-dollar Ozark alcohol. He couldn’t see me crying, and I liked that. I needed to hide, just for a moment, but then I remembered: there was no hiding. This is the way it always was.

In high school, there was a certain amount of mystique around my sexuality. After I finally made the rounds and came out to everyone I knew, which took years in a large, suburban school, close friends wondered what girl I would end up dating. Coming out made me free to date boys without the veil of secrecy and for a while, I was so wrapped up in my freedoms that I forgot about women. My friends wondered which girl it would be that made me remember.

Her name was Lauren, and the first time I met her, she was dressed up as O’Ren Ishii from Kill Bill. We were at a mutual friend’s Halloween party, although I wasn’t quite clear who the mutual friend was and it didn’t matter. I didn’t even bother to wear a costume. I couldn’t figure out how to ask her out, no matter how many times we hung out or spent all night talking on the phone. I would fall asleep to the sound of her voice, and it was like finding a childhood blanket you didn’t know you had been missing.

By the time we finally got around to dating, it was months later, long enough to where her friends had all developed opinions on it. When Lauren and I were together, they were kind and accommodating, as if I were a foreign exchange student coming to stay for a short while, and they dealt with me lightly, double-wrapping the kid gloves. When I wasn’t around, they interrogated Lauren, baffled that she would spend her time on me. A relationship wasn’t a science project. I was unaware school was in session.

We didn’t even bother to tell her parents. She passed me off as “her gay friend,” which bought us some time until one of her sisters spilled the bisexual beans or I went off to college. I gave her a shirt from the school I planned on attending, Columbia College in Chicago. It was two sizes too big for her, but when she put it on, she squinted and smiled at me, straining to see me in the bright window light behind her. I knew this moment would last me longer than our relationship.

One of the last times we saw each other was on Prom Night. I skipped my Prom for a heavy metal concert, as I’d been to Junior Prom the previous year and felt like opting out this time around. Instead of going to prom, I suggested that she come over so I could cook her dinner, and we would go out to pick her up a dress she would want to remember fifteen years from now, rather than a tacky mess of toule that only looked good in the sepia tint of the past. I didn’t know how to cook, but like most of relationships, you make it up as you go along.

Lauren picked out something black and classic — which reminded me of the first time I saw her, the dark eyeliner that caked the perpetual smile in her Siamese eyes — and we went to meet up with her friends, all hazy from a long night of touching each other from a distance. One had a flash of bourbon strapped to her thigh and another brought Red Bull to give us the wings to carry us through the rest of the night. We still had to make it through After Prom.

I’d never had Red Bull before, and the minute we got inside, I began to shake. My body was not ready, and I sat down to get some air while Lauren and her friends perused the carnival games. The next time I saw her, she came back to me laughing with tears in her eyes. One of her friends asked her if she brought me to have a threesome later that night, believing that the only reason someone would date a bisexual is for wild group sex. She didn’t say anything, but I could tell this wasn’t the first time.

I saw the pain and hurt in her eyes, and it was like her wings had been clipped. I felt alone with her in that moment, but not in the way you’re supposed to be. At Prom, you’re supposed to feel like the only two people in the room, blinded by the flash of the moment. In this case, we shared the room with everyone else, which made her feel alone. I compensated by grabbing her hand and pulling her away from the madding crowd, where it could really be just us. I watched her toss identical blue balls into a clown’s mouth, and I knew that this is what it was supposed to be like.

We went home and spent the rest of the date in her basement, slowly falling asleep to warm Riesling and a copy of Sideways on VHS, as the night slowly turned into something else. A few days later, someone told her parents the truth, and they forbade us from seeing each other. Lauren told me that a friend told them, but it didn’t matter.

I knew everything was ending, because that’s what happens when you graduate and when you leave, and when she introduced me to her new boyfriend a month later, I didn’t even blink. I just shook his hand because that’s what you were supposed to do. Slowly I was figuring out how this worked.

Sometimes she contacts me to ask how Chicago is, and I don’t know what to tell her; she tells me how Cincinnati is, and I don’t know what I want to expect to hear. I want to ask about her sisters or if her father still hates me, but I didn’t need to ask. Sometimes I want to tell her that she’s the last girl I dated and she would always be the one that made me remember. However, there’s only so much you can say when you haven’t talked to someone for ten years. “So glad to hear from you!” will just have to make do.

That day, I wanted to tell him about Lauren or bisexual invisibility and why I’ve barely dated women for the past decade, but I didn’t. I let the wine take over and softly shut my computer, sinking into my mother’s hand-me-down couch. After a lifetime of feeling like I needed to explain myself, for once, I wanted to just not talk about it. I wanted the freedom to be me and the freedom not to have to remind people I exist. It’s all any of us ever asked for in the first place.

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