I came out as bi for the first time at the rather ripe age of 19. It came across suddenly—I only began questioning my sexuality a few months prior after I realised what I thought was merely a friend crush on a woman was actually a crush-crush. I only realised it was a crush-crush after I found myself jealously resenting the woman’s long term boyfriend.
This woman became one of my close friends and we spent a couple of summers working together. The first summer we discussed the possibility of both of us being something other than heterosexual. This wasn’t a flirty thing, but more of a quest of simultaneous self-reflection and discovery. The friend/crush didn’t like labels and I was concerned at the binary nature of the phrase “bisexual” at the time.
Luckily for me, as I became closer friends with the crush, I realised I did not want to date her, but that I did want to date other women. I avoided talking about it for a while, aside from close friends who were already out to me. I felt a strange need to be “sure” about it; which in retrospect is kind of bullshit. As we know identity can be fluid and is bound to change—as mine has done and will inevitably continue to do. I am a cis, femme, bi, woman; a recipient of white privilege and lucky to live in more-queer-friendly-than-other-places Wellington.
My first coming out was to my best friends. One of them had already come out as bi, the other one came out about the same time as me. Without the support and willingness of my friends to discuss identity and sexuality I would never have felt safe enough to come out as bi in larger social circles. They helped me to realise that the hetero/homo binary is bullshit. Not only did these friends provide me with much needed emotional support, they were real life visible examples of bisexuality. For people who don’t fit the damaging and constrained stereotypes of queer people, visibility is important. Over time I came out to most people that I was in regular contact with, excluding those I knew to be homophobes. I drunk-called my Dad at 9pm on a Monday evening after a Salient event in 2014 and loudly told him about being bi from the Hub on Kelburn campus. I have a big family and the phone calls to explain my bisexuality were numerous but supportive, something I feel extraordinarily lucky to have experienced. This feeling of luck is tainted by sadness and fear for those who are not safe to come out to those they love, for whatever reason.
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The many comings-out to the most important people in my life went swimmingly—for the most part. It is the other comings-out that have been more stressful. I always feel guilty when I find myself lying to the people I know from first year who are homophobic when asked whether or not I have a “boyfriend.” I make sure to use gender neutral language and gauge people’s reactions before mentioning that my partner is a woman. However due to my being bisexual and having a much longer history of dating men than women, in queer circles I feel oddly obligated to demonstrate my queerness. When I first began going to Ivy, as most baby queers will do, I would loudly talk about dating women or being bi so that people would know that I “fitted in”.
In a strange way I only began to feel that I could wear the label “queer” once I got into my first serious relationship with a woman. That was the first time I was publicly visible as a woman who dated women. The first time we held hands in public was the first time I had felt vulnerable because of my sexuality. I stopped feeling the need to proclaim my queerness because I had prime evidence of it in the form of a relationship. It’s a disappointing reality that I never felt that my identity was legitimate until I experienced feeling unsafe in a public space.
Perhaps this desire to fit in is indicative of no more than my own neediness. Perhaps if I cared less about what people thought of me I wouldn’t have been so concerned with whether someone mistook me as straight or believed that I was queer. Perhaps I should talk to a therapist about this instead of writing a feature about it.
The ability to pass as straight in many circumstances was a privilege in many situations (i.e., with homophobic strangers, acquaintances, and distant relatives), yet it felt like a hindrance in others (i.e. at Ivy, tinder, and in queer groups). When I inadvertently came out to all of my facebook friends by way of a relationship status update (I’m such a millennial), people I went to highschool with presumed that I was coming out as a lesbian. All of a sudden I got spooked that ex-boyfriends of mine would think I had used relationships to pretend I was straight. N.B. To the man I dated for a while who worried when I dumped him that he had “turned me into a lesbian”—you didn’t. I still like men, just not you.
I have been using the phrase “half-homo” as a way to gently remind people that no, I’m not gay, and I’m not straight. The phrase is clearly not without its troublesome aspects, as those who are bi are no less queer than those only interested in dating people who identify as having the same gender as them (i.e. “whole-homos”), but I have found it helpful in asserting my queerness. I hope that in my lifetime I no longer feel obligated to assert my bisexuality as heteronormativity will cease to exist. Heterosexuality would no longer be the default and assumed identity, but until then, at least half-homo has good alliteration.