My mother was flipping pancakes in the kitchen. As I stood next to her, I could feel the knot in my throat expanding — maybe, tightening. I was weighing my options. At the time, I was a sophomore in high school caught in between a couple of voices in my head. Finally, one won out. I took a deep breath.
“Mom,” I said, “I’m bisexual.”
She stopped flipping pancakes for a moment and asked me how I knew. I said that I just did ― that’s the best way to explain it. I called my father later that night, who was working in Tel Aviv, and told him too. He was much more dramatic than my mom, as usual, but still accepting. This was the reaction I’d been expecting, and the dream of any LGBTQ teenager. Even at my high school, in the white suburbs of northern Ohio, people initially seemed fine. This was before the Supreme Court decision, back when it was almost “cool” to fight for the LGBTQ community. Still, though, the people around me were generally ignorant about the spectrum of sexuality and so was I. But as I began to become more comfortable with my new found identity, I started to realize that people weren’t as accepting as they seemed.
It started with someone telling me that bisexuality was “just the first step to coming out as a lesbian” and was continued by multiple people mentioning that they’d “always known” I wasn’t straight. Whenever I corrected them, saying that I was bisexual, I was quickly given a look. To them, I was just another lesbian. That straight part of myself not only didn’t exist anymore, but my sexuality was assumed because of my short hair and less feminine style. It became exhausting to explain, and before long, all of the boys in the school were convinced that I was just gay. Eventually, I stopped explaining it.
Yes, I was a lesbian. That’s what everyone said I was, right? Maybe, I was the one that was wrong.
Around this time in my life, other things started to take root. I became incredibly ill and was almost completely withdrawn from the rest of my high school experience. Not only did I have a nonexistent sex drive, but I barely made it to senior prom. No girl, or guy, was asking me on a date anytime soon. I felt ugly and unlovable compared to my pretty, blonde high school friends. Whenever dances came around, I watched as the other girls were asked out on dates in cute and creative ways while all I got was chemotherapy and an appointment with my rheumatologist. For the next three years, whenever someone asked me about my sexuality, I said that I was a lesbian, knowing that I might not ever have to deal with it. It wouldn’t matter what my sexuality was if I died.
Until, one day, I started to get better. The day before I graduated high school, my life changed when I was given a drug that started to suppress my diseases. I spent the rest of the summer building myself back up, never even thinking about my sexuality until I got to college in the fall. The day before I left, my therapist told me that she hoped I would be able to explore my sexuality in college. I completely blew her off. I didn’t want to think about it.
It didn’t take very long for that the backfire, starting with an unexpected attraction to a boy that took me completely off guard. He was a close friend from high school, my best friend since junior year, who had been with me through everything. When I realized that I had lingering feelings for him, I immediately came clean over text message. I remember sitting in the common room of my dormitory, surrounded by my friends, with my head in my hands.
“I like a guy?” I said stunned, “What happened?”
“It is fine, you know.” One of the other girls patted me on the back, “You are allowed to like men. It’s not a sin.”
Over the next couple of weeks, I started to stumble around with the word ‘lesbian’ and slowly let it fade from my vocabulary. I had been so sure about my sexuality for so long that yanking my “lesbian flag” out of the ground was more difficult than I thought it would be. I stopped labeling myself to other people, and if someone asked what I identified as I told them that I was “leaving it open.”
Fortunately for my friendship with my best friend, I also decided to let that incident go and thankfully so did he. When I saw him over winter break he didn’t even bring it up. A couple of months later, when I asked him about it, he said that he’d always known that I liked men too.
“You’ve always clearly been attracted to guys, “he said. “I kind of thought you would come clean about it after a couple of years of college. You’re pretty stubborn though.”
He was right, of course. It just happened sooner than he thought it would.
After that, I decided to turn to my campus Pride organization for support. At first, I had a moment of panic. What if I wasn’t actually gay at all? What if this was “straight panic?” Would they all think I was lying about my sexual orientation? It didn’t take long for me to realize this wasn’t going to be the case. For the first time, I was around people who were really educated about the LGBTQ community and saw sexuality on more of a spectrum. Within a month, most of my friends were LGBTQ, and the more I spoke about what I had experienced, I realized that my confusion was okay. Amongst these people, sexuality came in all shapes and sizes, and while most of the group was LGBTQ identifying, a lot of allies of the community came too.
“No one is one hundred percent anything,” a friend told me one night at a meeting. “Except human, of course. Or, at least, I hope so.”
In a lot of ways, the LGBTQ movement has made amazing advances. However, just like everything else, people often try to simplify human sexuality into basic terms. Black or white. Straight or gay. Male or female. Looking back, I understand why this happened. The simpler a concept, the easier it is to sell to the general public. In 2014, getting people on board with basic “same sex marriage” was more important than ironing out all of the specific details of sexuality— because there are a lot of them. Currently, this is happening with the transgender community. The “bathroom” discussion often leaves out non-binary people or assumes that all transgender people have or will make a full transition to the opposite gender, forgetting that a lot of people fall somewhere in the middle. In the future, as the movement continues, more in-depth details of sexuality and gender will become more accepted in public as people are educated. Thinking that asexual, pansexual, or even bisexual people are nonexistent will become a thing of the past as visibility is increased.
In cases like mine, visibility can have a real life impact. Putting all sexuality in black and white terms can be harmful, especially for young people. Pushing a person in the “gay corner” is just as stressful as being pushed to be “straight,” because you’re leaving a part of yourself behind. For me, maybe gender has a lot less to do with my love life than I thought. That’s okay.
Accepting one part of myself doesn’t mean that I have to give the other one up. It also doesn’t make me “less” LGBT. The movement is based on love in a broad sense ― no matter how complicated people might make it to label or understand. The simple version is love who you love, and if it’s meant to be, then they’ll understand.
As for my family and friends, breaking the news has been a mixed bag. Honestly, most of them don’t know yet. I also had to have a conversation with my doctor about birth control, because getting pregnant was something that I never needed to worry about before. My disease makes that kind of complicated, but I don’t really mind. Overall, I’m happy with the way things have turned out. Right now, I’m dating a guy, but that could change. The person matters more than gender. Recently, when I told a close friend that I was dating a guy, her response was understandable.
“You’re dating a boy?” She gasped, “What happened?”
“Nothing happened,” I replied. “I just found myself in the middle.”