September 23rd marks Celebrate Bisexuality Day, on which in 1999, Wendy Curry and friends with BiNet USA created a day of celebration to foster non-monosexual (not strictly gay, lesbian, etc.) pride and solidarity in the post-1960s and 70s gay rights movement. During a period in the movement of bisexuals patronized as "going through a phase" or reduced as "half gay," constantly lugging behind rainbow banners hoping to be recognized with as much dignity, Curry gave non-monosexual queers a day to get loud and proud without being vouched for by their rigidly gay older siblings.
A little over a decade, new grounds on identity and community have been broken. The "gay or straight" dichotomy is increasingly decommissioned in favor of a fluid, shifting idea of sexual, romantic and emotional orientation. The strict roles of man or woman are replaced by individuals defining their presentations free from strict qualifying castes. Angry queers are on standby to take direct action against the oppression and bigotry that persists, despite liberal appeals for assimilation.
While bisexuals and other non-monosexuals still endure misconception and stigma around their identity, there are strides made in deconstructioning mythology and tapping into pride as a change-making tool. In Curry's words, "If you really study civil rights/diversity acceptance, you'll see that people start to respect people once they respect themselves. As long as we were in this endless begging for inclusion, we weren't addressing the respect issue."
For me, bisexuality laid a path of self-identity that has been a strange and reassuring force. Well before digging into all the complexities, I had a sense of there being more to it than "liking guys and girls" through lived experience. Emotions beyond romance and sex coupled with self-esteem and existential chaos provided me with the texture of this still young, still uncertain life. Seeing the way people in-between'ed expression gave me a sense of deeper possibilities even before I saw them put down in theory. And ultimately, seeing where I am right now with a truly wonderful and life-saving partner, I don't ever want to let where I came from lose its influencing power on where I go from here.
In the years of bi voices being amplified, the positivity shared by those who endured community changes, and my own doings around who I am beyond sexual identity, I think now is a good time to lend my own perspective to the conversation, given the occasion.
Don't worry, there won't be any irrelevant life story. Though I will say that I grew up kind of hazy, in memory and in what I felt during life-defining experiences. Even if that's how it should be, it still feels abnormally tangled. The sentiment of things not needing to make perfect sense was always kind of endearing for me.
Considering that I'm at the last stop before my twenties as of writing, we'll be backing up to the point where a lot of these testimonies qualify as life stories.
I was weird. I still am. I knew I was weird, and I told myself this everyday. It didn't really become an unhealthy thing until I was about eleven or twelve years old. My weight, personality and learning disability became the foremost things plaguing my nerves when I was in school or around kids my age. I think I tried to build my personality vicariously through the images I got in media, which is a terrible thing to do. Overly romanticized situations don't serve as a good primer for the all-too real awkwardness of pre-adolescent social exchanges. With that facade toppled, I was on my own.
When I realized I wasn't as "cool" as I thought I was, the only way I could avoid a breakdown was by repeating apologies in my head to people I had to talk to. "I'm sorry you have to interact with me." Whenever I could calm myself down and think of something "funny" or "witty" to say, they would kind of just grin, smother a cringe and turn to their friends to snicker. After so many of those over and over again, all my effort to be likable wasted, I finally decided to just shut my mouth for good. I would have asked people straight-up if they would prefer not to talk to me before I even said my name, but that would pretty much defeat the purpose. People were no-go zones.
Around that time I was pulled out of public school after a year of bullying that I left bottled up became known to my mom, and I continued through online courses officially registered as homeschooled. At the time I felt luckier than ever, especially with new methods of education available to me. The school system served, and continues to serve, a dual purpose of devaluing students' capabilities for making them useful to a boss somewhere down the road, and encouraging an atmosphere of strife and petty indignities among each other. The last part made me not pay a second thought to being removed from easy access to socializing. I was convinced that everyone in my age range hated me anyways, and anyone a few years older than me would always find ways to exploit my social shortcomings for a sick laugh.
By then, the stage was set for my personality to follow. A lot of confusion and angst was baked into my young perception, so I wasn't really lonely so much as angry and dismissive. A lot of time alone in that conviction made me comfortably numb, reassuring myself with "fuck everyone" whenever I felt envious to the contrary. But everything only worsened with time, and soon I had to come to terms with myself and the world.
I knew what being bisexual meant fairly early, but I had trouble considering myself that. With all the self-hatred going on, I determined my identity based on how "likable" I was; how and if I could relate to others regardless of gender. So for a while, with what juvenile information I had, I considered myself asexual for a brief period. I thought it was the most fitting justification for being asocial more than anything, but I couldn't deny that I was misusing the label. Then I called myself straight but that I "didn't like sex," and then I kind of just stopped trying to name it, letting it be whatever.
All my time at home let me figure out how to transform hobbies into meaningful work. A lot of effort was funneled into writing and learning programming, which is responsible for everything right now. It was humble beginnings and I'm still proud that I made the most of my time alone in my own world, but it also did a great job of keeping me at a distance from things I wanted to go further in. I was too comfortable in front of a keyboard, and couldn't see how to change that with minimal effort.
Nothing ever felt fair. I rarely got a break from being sad or anxious. There's nothing to complain about family-wise, but emotionally — in the realm I never spoke about to anyone — I was always in a rut. As far as simply getting people to know and respect me, I was completely lost. A local church youth group was a decent enough sandbox for finding common interests, but sure enough, the same impressions I got from school were rediscovered there. At this stage anger was dissolved into mild acceptance. I was fully prepared to be overlooked, but disappointed nonetheless.
There wasn't much refuge alone. Oftentimes I would see a close bond between two men in a film and I would feel the worst reeling pain of emptiness and envy I could imagine. Or I would see a bond between a man and woman and feel the same way. I couldn't make sense of the inconsistency, losing the grasp on reasoning with it in the haze of everything else. Puberty at its finest. I often reminded myself with Wizard's line from Taxi Driver: "Don't worry so much!"
Internet friendships and communities were a blessing, a monumental tool for being real with someone dealing with the same things and giving me at least some reassurance that generations before have been dealt this same shitty roll of the dice. Around that point, going through different causes of my misery, it dawned on me that my frustrations had a connection to sexual and romantic orientation worthy of examination.
That particular case was reopened, but investigating it was delayed. It was in the middle of moving to another state that confusion was transplanted in a new environment, stripped of my familiar home town and nothing but long car rides to dwell on things. Temporary residence in a rural area gave me a tranquil place to reset for a little while. A forest to merge with in spirit, a sunny field to get lost in thought staring at — dumb little sentimental touches that were really needed for my weary mind. I think I was trying to reassure myself that it was okay that I didn't belong in the castes of heterosexuality and conservatism; that I had to put my own convictions first or risk being the same fake type of person I detested.
Eventually we settled in another town, where I resumed my self-examination online with a new outlook. It didn't take long for me to accept that whatever I was, I certainly wasn't straight. It might have been the queer gamers and furries (yep) that had my back, but soon I came to embrace it quietly, uncertain of my family's reaction if they knew.
I must be a magnet for ruining everything, because I couldn't keep myself from inventing new problems. With some newly won self-confidence, I made attempts at distant relationships which were predictably failures. In my own defense, both parties were young and trying different things with different persuasions, so it wasn't a foolproof excursion in retrospect. But at the time it meant as much to me as anyone in a face-to-face relationship. Once again, I was crushed. I secured the pain in place with such adages as I'm ugly, I'm boring or Its best that I'm not known.
It wasn't abnormal to find myself fantasizing about draining all my blood via slit arteries or Google searching the highest point near me to jump from. I have to admit these still plague me sporadically. My mom finding out I was self-harming for reasons I kept vague made me want to put every possible thing in existence in one place while I walk away from it all. Torment on top of torment, I dragged on mindlessly. I'm honestly surprised I survived those hectic times.
Getting Out and Coming Out
I got over the bumps in the road. I still don't know how, and even now when I face similar problems I forget how to start recovery. I think the mind just lets go of things when its ready to, at least in my case.
I latched onto new things and found myself in a refreshed mindset. At this point I was openly bi online for two years, amassing all the advice I could get and looking to generally improve on my existence. I wasn't free from anguish, but I poured as much energy as I could into my blog and programming to keep myself busy. Working my first job helped disperse a lot of that energy too.
I didn't stop looking for someone who could care about me, but I played it safe. I was done being desperate about it. I used that familiar misery as the force that brought me back down to earth whenever I could feel myself flying too close to the sun. My teens were spent alone from the start, and I felt like I deserved someone to build prospects with. Nothing dramatic or specific, and in fact I dreamed of an understated but palpably close bond that would become dramatic when it needed to be. I was out for anyone: friend, lover, something in-between — anyone.
A week before thanksgiving, I started talking to someone. At first I rested assured that we wouldn't go far. That was my mechanism for staying intact. I prefaced our first night of conversation with something along the lines of "I'm not looking for anything sexual or whatever. Just someone to talk to." If only I could guess at how short I was selling myself. The things we shared were surprising, how well we clicked and understood each other was something I never felt with anyone else. Day by day, good morning and good night texts, I knew I found the one I would take refuge in when everything else felt wrong. It didn't take more than four months for us to officially begin dating, and two more for me to save up for a plane ticket for us to finally rendezvous.
Minneapolis, summer of 2016. That was when I finally broke from my past and started a new beginning. A solid week of my doubts and fears melted away by love, honesty and adventure in Minnesota. It was a totally alien sensation; all those years of self-doubt healed in such a short time. But even then, questions about ourselves and the future weren't over. My partner had time to think things over, and affirmed that she was trans. This presented us with new questions to ask ourselves; for her as an individual in a shitty society, and us as a couple to be perceived by others.
Along with worrying for her health, safety and the respect she deserves in the years to come, I was concerned with how I was going to be looked at: As a bisexual guy, or an assumed straight guy, with a girl at my side. This particular revelation opened a new part in the ... I became invested in her through the gender I first perceived her as, and now it was a matter of channeling this kind of inertia in a positive and constructive way. I knew that my feelings for her were unaffected, I was just too used to the idea of being seen with someone of the same gender. It was up to knowing the changes, holding on to what was most important and respecting this person who I love above all else.
The trip home was the worst. I never walked through an airport trying not to cry before, but the flight home gave me time to contemplate this new beginning and what it would take to make it flourish into something tangible. A couple weeks passed and I was alone in my room binging on netflix and something unhealthy. My mom checks on me and tells me I haven't been very talkative lately. I tell her that I'm fine, but that we should take a drive. It was completely spur of the moment, I just felt the urge to get this over with.
We get coffee and sit in the starbucks parking lot. I'm already panicking when she asks whats up. I know I'm not going to tell her everything, certainly not the gender identity of my "friend", but only the truth of who I am. I shake off the worst-case scenario thoughts of being disowned and get it out: "Mom, I can only hope you don't hate me, but... I'm bisexual."
I immediately begin to cry, terrified. "Okay" she replies. I keep crying.
"Its okay!" she repeats. I piece myself together as much as possible, explain my relationship, neglect all the necessary details and retire back to my room after gaining the approval of my mom, the rest of my family to follow. That feeling in your gut, like you took off a lead vest: I felt that for the rest of the week. A long stretch of uncertainty amounted to my experiences translated into a newly public fact about myself. I felt like my reality was acknowledged, giving me my first sense of self-validation.
A year later, after the right planning and timing, my girlfriend and I are living together, making the most of our passions and bringing them to life with our friends in our community. The rest is history, but one that drives doing better everyday, looking for something at the end of it all worth resting on.
I never liked talking about myself. I think I always neglect the richest details that could be compressed into a perfect couple of sentences to save your time and mine, and instead I gravitate toward droning recollections of times that may or may not paint an accurate picture. But there are times when you have to do your best in that to avoid yet another stuffy academic review of sexual identity and derive from lived experiences. I think being real at the risk of sounding sentimental is a lot better than being a jargon machine from one's favorite armchair.
I think two things determined how I went about self-discovery: Autism and internalized self-restraint, or, more formulaic: my perception of the world multiplied by the effects of the world on me in return. In this light, this applies to a lot of different stories with different names given to the variables. For me, one thing was very good at fortifying the results of the other: I had a preconception of people, I had a preconception of the right ways to act, their responses were things I held too sacredly, and I instilled them in myself because I trusted others' judgment far more than my own. This bolstered the whole cycle during new periods in my life when I felt like trying again, more or less giving new reasons to stop again because of responses following preconception. Putting it simply, I was hopeful, disappointed and confused in that order. My naive belief in better things over the horizon sabotaged by the realities others lived.
Self-discovery happened in different parts in different places. A lot of it took place alone with what I had to dwell on. It wasn't healthy, but it was the only option when I didn't want to risk a panic attack. I mostly just hated bothering people, but every once in a while I could refresh what specific types of interactions had the most effect on me. This included how shy I was around masculine people compared to feminine people, how intensity changed with people's age, and the personalities that I felt threatened by.
Soon I noticed that boys my age with relatively outgoing personalities caused me the most tension, while girls fitting the same descriptions were just a hair more fear-inducing. I can easily see connections to who these people reminded me of during negative interactions in the past, e.g., girls telling me that I'm "gross", or boys telling me I'm "stupid", but further down the road it went from simply "bothering people" to the likelihood of never being able to make a bond with anyone. Now it was a question of who I desired bonds with the most.
I was always juggling who held sway of my preference when I was realizing myself as bi. Before that, I had a boundless admiration for anyone with the right amount of charm, wit and kindness. It didn't connect with sexuality and take on a certain form until I hit puberty, where I was mixed up by everything I started feeling. I never got to be face-to-face with any of this until meeting my girlfriend, but I think years of observing and stewing alone from a distance was ultimately worth it.
I eventually judged myself to be a four on the Kinsey scale, essentially saying that I prefer people of the same gender while maintaining a fair attraction to those who aren't. My girlfriend's identity gave me an interesting lesson in what you're attracted to and who you love; not as things that necessitate each other, but as things that indicate one's sexual capacity separate from long-term emotional standpoint, and what you do to consolidate those feelings in a healthy way. I didn't surrender my attraction to men, but I arranged my committed relationship and my expression of attraction as non-conflicting spheres with every parties' consent.
A lot my tribulations can rightly be blamed on hormones, but I'm not going to deny that for most of my life, and as it continues now, I've always taken emotional responses and the meanings in things I can't fully grasp very seriously. Overlaps with social anxiety, uncertainty, self-disgust and feeling bad for everyone I talked to made me more conscious of my interactions. They held me accountable, and I think even if they made me more self-conscious than I need to be, it made a thorough process of knowing who I was without much left to guess on.
It wasn't a way to say "I know I'm bi because...", but a way to show the inspiration behind the style of bisexuality I invented for myself.
Why Bi Day Matters
"Pride already happened." This was one person's response to me advertising a bi day celebration in my city. Aside from the baked-in aggression against queer voices, it reflects one of the reasons why sections of the queer community value their sovereign days of celebration, sometimes more than the massive annual parades and festivals of rainbow capitalism.
There was no serious usage of "LGBT" as a unified group of people in solidarity until the late 90s. Even afterward, the appearance of a cohesive community of non-heterosexual and gender non-conforming individuals is a pretty new thing. I think in the wake of bigotry expressing itself in neoliberal America, LGBT sections urgently crystallized in a way that shrugged off past injuries, and pardoned new ones in the name of "progress."
Before this, there was a lot of conflict in legislative and community organizing that cut deep into trans and non-monosexual hidden figures, whether it was after Harvey Milk's death or the damage control after the stonewall riots. Today that tradition graduates from negligent organizing behaviors to the ongoing assimilation of gay people into state apparatuses of domination and mediation, who expect the rest of us to go along with their victories as trans and non-binary people of color are assaulted or killed by the same cops they march with at pride.
Gay has become a trademark with a standard set of attributes, and if you aren't "gay" or "straight", you're certainly queer in one sense or other. We, obviously, are looking to make the gay community militant again — not to shun every monosexual as a liberal traitor. But with the circumstance of it all, rebuilding ourselves requires amplifying those who are left to the back of the parade line or asked silly questions about their identity.
Bi, trans, non-binary, intersex, asexual and other days of celebration are all occasions to hold our communities proud and independent from the history of liberal assimilation into rigid legalistic frameworks. Its about having the self-respect to determine one's own sense of pride specific to their identity and how its expressed to others.
A Better Relationship with Sexuality and Gender
The relativity and fluidity of gender content is something that can't be dismissed for much longer in today's world. As the gendering of behaviors becomes increasingly brittle with each person living them, its clear that laying down a basic idea of contouring ourselves with others is easier and more fruitful than everyone trying to fit into something that won't budge.
I've often been asked the question when talking about gender followed by my own sexuality: "If gender is about self-identity and not 'how many genders there are,' how can you call yourself bisexual? Doesn't that imply that there are only two?"
When thinking about bisexuality, most people jump to the conclusion of quantities meaning "how many genders this person is attracted to" instead of considering what quantity even relates to. Dealing with quantity is more or less visualizing people's scope and flexibility, using quantity to refer to points that start and stop boundaries. It should be obvious that nobody should submit to any elementary analysis and surrender their identity just because there are differences on what quantifying adjectives mean.
For a basic example, we can think of two (bi-) poles that start in one place on a spectrum and terminate in another. These poles encompass a specific area of presentation that an individual is attracted to, instead of having two mutually exclusive types of people our inclinations will be limited to like the traditional idea of bisexuality suggests. Its more like covering all bases by looking at the two ends of a region, which are sometimes simplified as masculine, feminine and what is between them.
This model might work accordingly with other non-monosexual identities too: Polysexual individuals might envision multiple sections encompassed by multiple sets of poles, while pansexual individuals have no visible divides at all, embracing the entirety of identity spectrums.
I think this is key to expressing any sexuality without coming off as binary about gender. Bisexuality is a way of people defining the scope of their attraction in relation to the sum of their preference, and not so much the "number of genders" they prefer. Even with straight or monosexual people, there is no correct way to be any of those things; identifying the areas of attraction doesn't take any prescribed form of roles or numbers. Its about presentation and who it resonates with.
We decide what life looks and feels like. There are collective and individual aspects of that reality; people can get together to make societal changes, and individuals can establish the facts of themselves through which to interface with life. Joining or conflicting, relating potential to each other accomplishes more than we think. Its all in knowing ourselves, what we want and what it all means in the end. Doing our best and staying relentless.
Happy Bi Day. Remember Scout Schultz.