As it’s bisexual awareness week, I wanted to share something I wrote six or seven years ago about figuring out that I was bisexual as a high school student and then attempting to find somewhere to fit in.
When I sat next to K on the swim lineup — I was number twenty-nine, she was number thirty — and her goose-pimpled leg would graze mine, I shivered in my scratchy poly-cotton maroon boy-cut swim suit. Coach was always coming at us for talking too much, but in a playful way. He knew we were best friends — at least in that moment.
K had a cabbage patch kind of face — sweetly innocent, slightly plump and with a toothy grin, complete with dimples. Freckles splayed her face and her blue eyes would peep out at me from underneath her deep brown bangs and long lashes, twinkling with non-malicious mischief. We would sit there, twittering about boys and what we’d wear to school the next day. One day we wore matching vinyl knee-length boots and short skirts, and people called us sluts, but we didn’t care. We felt grown.
I had really close female friends in middle school. We were a powerful clique, roaming the halls in search of new boyfriends and attempting to maintain control of the school’s social scene. I had sleepovers with them; I’d seen them change clothes, listened to them talk about sex. Yet I never felt sexual when I was with them. K was different; she was exciting, and being in the same room with her made my heart pound. Her mom lived in a fancy hotel downtown and was never home, so we did a lot of stupid things and never got caught. We smoked pot and took pills in the living room; we strolled through downtown, laughing our asses off, ripped to the tits. We swam in our panties late at night in the swimming pool in her drug dealer’s apartment building; I even made out with her older military brother in the freight elevator. I thought she was the most exhilarating person I’d ever met.
Maybe that was part of my attraction to her — or maybe it was just good, old-fashioned hormones. Whatever it was, I had it bad. Whenever we passed notes in the hallway, the feeling of her fingers against mine was enough to set me on edge for the rest of the day. She would often grab my cheeks and press them together, asking me to say “pudgy bunny,” and my heart would pause momentarily.
I went through my freshman year of high school never speaking this secret to anyone, lest they think I was even weirder than they already thought I was — I had transferred to the school six weeks into the school year, and as the new kid with pink hair, I stuck out. I spent the year obsessing over a boy who I was madly in love with, and K was right by my side — my co-conspirator, my wingman. I would call her to tell her every little interaction I had with him so we could spend hours analyzing it. I never got to tell anyone about my interactions with her — the knowing smiles, the lasting hugs, the feeling of dread if I thought I’d hurt her feelings.
In my yearbook at the end of our freshman year, she wrote to me: “You are my idol, my music box, my mentor, (my fiancéé?), my best friend.” She was always telling me how beautiful and special I was, and how the boy that I was in love with was such a fool for not loving me back. She made me feel like the old cliché about being the world to one person. She stuck by me when my world was falling apart. Looking back, I know that I could attribute my attraction to her to these bonding feelings. But it wasn’t just that. I knew it wasn’t just that.
I grew up with a lot of gay “uncles“ who helped raise me, and so I was raised to inherently understand that it’s perfectly normal for two people of the same sex to love each other, live in the same house, be a couple. I was very lucky in that respect. Profoundly so. And so I never thought that my feelings for K were wrong, or that they were weird. I had just never felt them before.
When I heard about our city’s gay pride festival, I jumped at the chance to volunteer. I was fifteen years old and had at that point been volunteering at an STD / HIV testing clinic, teaching HIV awareness and prevention after school in the lobby, and handing out condoms across the streets from high schools for the past year. I mean, it just seemed to fit into my young but sexually progressive world. I remember that my very first volunteer shift, I worked at a burger joint called the Pride Grill with a lot of men in kilts and moustaches. And we had a fantastic time. They would make sexual innuendos, and I would laugh with them, and they would look at me uncomfortably like, “Why do you get that?”
I spent the next three days waving a rainbow flag, buying bracelets and necklaces, working my little heart out for a feeling of belonging… and mostly failing, because as much as my feelings and my attraction for K were genuine, I wasn’t gay. At that festival I admitted to myself that I liked girls just like I liked boys. Girls made me tingle, made me shudder, made my stomach flutter. But so did boys. And so I found myself in limbo. Too deviant for the straight kids and too vanilla for the gay kids. I went to queer events throughout high school (including every Monday night at an LGBT youth night at a gay bar my senior year), but I never felt like I belonged there. I dated boys. I had long hair. I wore skirts.
I thought that once I was grown-up and out of high school, things would change. I thought that once I entered the world of adulthood, where people are supposed to be mature and non-judgmental (ha!), everything would be different. Boy, was I wrong. When I got to college — even though I attended a super progressive university — I still felt no peace, no acceptance. When I told girls that I dated boys, they would frown and move on. I looked at the seedy ads on gay.com, and even they loudly proclaimed, “No bisexuals!” I felt lost.
Straight boys accepted that I was bisexual because they thought it meant that I wanted to have a threesome with them and another girl. They still do. But even though I bristled at every guy who said, “So, like, have you ever done it with a guy and a girl?” I still felt welcome in the straight community (is that a thing?). I gave up hope on ever having a girlfriend and settled into a mostly straight life, until I moved to Chicago in my mid-twenties and discovered lesbian bars.
Twelve years have passed since I first felt my skin prickle when K’s leg brushed mine. I would always ask to be her partner during rescue lessons so that I could wrap my arms around her. We would sit after class with our legs dangling in the water, looking at our reflections in the pool. I would look at my face and wonder if this would pass. Eventually, we both got serious boyfriends; after some time, I told her that I had had a crush on her, and she told me that she already knew. She never said that it bothered her, and maybe it truly didn’t — but we drifted apart. She’s married now and has kids, and I hope I’m never married with kids.
In those twelve years, I’ve gone through all kinds of phases. I’ve done the abstinence thing, the slut thing, the boy only thing, the girl only thing, the frustrated out of my mind and never, ever want to date anyone ever again thing, the I love being in love thing, the post-breakup doormat thing. I have gone through all these changes and growth, but sometimes it feels like so little has changed. I am a bisexual woman. I do feel more accepted in queer communities now, but most of that I attribute to being more confident and more critical of those who tell me I don’t belong there. And I still get crushes on straight girls.