Recently I was having a conversation with some friends and Partner about a play with a premise I thought sounded really interesting. It centres around a lesbian couple, one of whom comes out as trans, causing her partner to have to re-evaluate where she stands in their relationship and how her feelings are affected. We were discussing how difficult a situation that must be to navigate for all parties, and how we thought we would adjust in a similar situation.
I said, “I’m not straight, but if Partner transitioned from male to female, I don’t know whether I’d feel the same about our relationship, since I’m attracted to him as a man.” To which one of the other people in the conversation said, “Well, to me, that makes you a straight woman.”
It’s a weird moment, when you make a statement about your sexuality and have somebody contradict it so immediately and with such confidence. I don’t know if there are more graceful ways to handle it than I’ve discovered so far, but I feel like it presents me with two options: to leave it alone and sit with my own discomfort, or to get overly explicit about my feelings and sexual history (probably making the other people in the conversation uncomfortable).
Perhaps the best option is actually not to address it myself at all. In this case, as soon as this friend’s statement was out Partner laughed and said, almost involuntarily, “She’s definitely not.” Which definitely helped to make my case.
The conversation brought back memories of similar ones with friends at university, where I first came to identify as bisexual. I had an intense crush on a woman in our extended friendship group, and I remember talking to some close friends about it. One of them said, “It sounds like you just want to be her friend.” And in the moment I wasn’t really sure how to respond.
“No, no, I definitely want to have sex with her,” seemed a bit much, but I was very conscious that any protest I made basically amounted to that. I can’t remember exactly what I said, I think probably a version of Partner’s response to the comment the other day. A laugh, an emphatic “I really don’t just want to be friends.” And then resisting being drawn further into discussion on the topic.
Here’s the thing though: I feel very weird insisting on recognition of my bisexuality, because in many ways it’s completely irrelevant. I’ve only ever been in relationships with men, I’m engaged to a man. I have had sex with women (sorry if that’s TMI, I just want to establish my bi credentials) but it’s very possible that I never will again. And I’m okay with that, just as I’m okay with my impending marriage meaning I’ll probably not have sex with a man other than Partner from now on either. So people who meet me almost certainly assume I’m straight, and I feel like a fraud if I try to push back against that.
I’ve never had to deal with any of the difficulties of being with another woman publicly. Never had my relationship invalidated because it doesn’t fit into people’s ideas of what “normal” couples look like. I have experienced erasure of my bisexual identity, but I also feel like I’ve contributed to that erasure by only dating men, so can I really complain about that? That’s not a rhetorical question. If some kind of panel of experts could weigh in on whether I count as a real bisexual, I’d appreciate it.
I’m being flippant, obviously. Most of the time I’m not all that conflicted. I know how I feel, and I know that I’m bi, and I also recognise that it really doesn’t matter that much most of the time whether others recognise that or not. I do know that my perceived straightness gives me certain advantages, so I make a point to try to challenge people’s assumptions about bisexuality (and other non-straight orientations, and various gender identities) when I come across them. I think I’d want to do that regardless of my own sexuality, but it’s also a way I can feel more connected with the queer community.
I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to describe myself as bisexual without feeling like I’m claiming something that doesn’t belong to me, but I have got to a point where I feel comfortable with who I am, and who I’m attracted to. I’m also incredibly lucky to have friends, family and a fiancé who I know love me however I identify. After the conversation I talked about at the start of this post, where I got somewhat explicit in my supporting evidence for my own sexuality, Partner came up to the bathroom while I was brushing my teeth. I started to second-guess myself out loud, to apologise for making things awkward, and he cut me off with a hug.
“I’m proud of you,” he said. And you know what? On balance, setting aside the uncomfortable confessional conversations and the self-doubt, I’m proud of me too.