So, full disclosure: I have never grown up gay.
I only have experience with the one sexual orientation and, because of that, my personal understanding on the matter is relatively limited.
But even saying that, I think I get a basic understanding of what it’s like to grow up gay. I’ve seen movies, I’ve matured alongside friends who later came out of the closet and, from what I can tell, it is a very different experience from growing up bisexual…even though I’ve only realized that recently.
When I was actually growing up as a young, bisexual girl, I didn’t understand why certain things would offend me, or why I couldn’t seem to deal with things the same way that a young gay person would. After all, our experiences were pretty much the same, right?
Both I and a young lesbian had to come to terms with being attracted to women in a heteronormative society—and, in fact, I had it a bit easier because I still had the option of dating boys when I wanted to, right? Why did I seem so much more sensitive about certain topics than a young gay person would be?
What was wrong with me?
And before I get started, I also want to make sure that I state that neither growing up bisexual nor growing up gay is easy. Both experiences have their pressures and I’m not even trying to say that one is easier than the other. It is not a competition. We all deal with the same issue in our own ways. My only intention in writing this is to point out that growing up bisexual is not the same thing as growing up gay, as much as one might think they are.
When I was still young and coming to terms with my sexual orientation, I would have loved to have someone sit me down and explain to me the differences between being a bisexual person in our heteronormative society and being a gay person.
And that is the only reason why I am writing this.
So, without further ado, here they are, written out for both young bisexual people still coming to terms with their sexual orientation, as well as for the awesome support system around them.
Here are the things that bisexual people experience growing up that aren’t necessarily shared by gay people:
- You’re seen as half-gay and half-straight.
Let me start this out by saying that I have joked about being half-gay before and I’ve had friends joke about it before. I’ve been called half-gay, half-a-rainbow, half-super-thanks-for-asking and usually it’s just said with a laugh and a sense of humour. But, at the same time, even a joke does reflect to some extent how we feel about the issue at hand.
And bisexual people are not half-gay. They aren’t half-anything. They are full-bisexual—nothing more and nothing less.
The idea that I am only half-gay contributes to the reason why I did not feel welcome amongst the LGBT+ community in high school despite the B literally standing for “bisexual.” Even so, I did not feel like I was “gay enough.”
And I didn’t fit in with the straight people entirely either. I could talk about how hot Johnny Depp was with the girls, sure. But when my eye was caught by an attractive woman on the street, all of a sudden, I was reminded of what I was: an outsider. A freak caught between sexual orientations rather than fitting firmly within one.
And the thing is, bisexual people do fit into one sexual orientation. They are bisexual, no more and no less.
- Bi-curious people and “fake” bisexuals.
Full disclaimer: I am in total support of anyone who wants to explore their sexual orientation in whatever way they feel necessary. Sexual orientation can be a difficult thing to figure out and there’s nothing wrong with experimenting. I also recognize that one does not necessarily need to identify as anything in particular in order to get involved with someone of a gender that they would not typically get in involved with.
None of that is what I take offence to here.
The thing that I take offence to is pop stars like Katy Perry singing about how she kissed a girl and she liked it, but she hopes her totally heterosexual boyfriend doesn’t get upset because of it. That song was big when I was still coming to terms with being bisexual, but it isn’t even the most recent one we’ve had. Just last year, Little Big Town’s song Girl Crush was all about how the lead singer is so attracted to this girl specifically because the boy that she’s in love with is attracted to her and she’s jealous. Songs like these show a distorted definition of bisexuality—one that is still focused entirely on being heterosexual but with a little bit of cutesy, not-at-all-serious playing around with girls on the side.
The thing that I take offence to is talk shows that sit teenage girls down to interrogate them about why they kiss other girls at parties, all with the intention of making them confess that they only do it to get the attention of boys. The thing that I take offence to is teenage boys who hassle girls into feeling like they need to be sexual with other girls in order to win male attention thus forcing other teenage girls who legitimately identify as bisexual to face the question: “Are you sure that you’re really bisexual? Are you sure you aren’t just doing this for attention?”
These are questions that I was blatantly asked, as well as that I asked myself frequently, because, hell, I was a 15 year old girl who had no idea if the things I was thinking and doing were normal. How could I possibly come up with an answer to that?
The thing that I take offence to is the assumption that people who come out as bisexual aren’t really bisexual. They’re just going through a phase, or a transitional period. If they’re a girl, then they’re only doing it for male attention. If they’re a boy, then they’re only doing it because they’re actually gay and too afraid to come all the way out of the closet. Either way, if you’re bisexual, then you really just want men.
When you’re growing up bisexual, your legitimacy is constantly questioned to a point that it even seems at times that you have to prove that you really are bisexual. If you’re bisexual, but you just haven’t had the chance to be involved with someone of a particular gender, then how can you be sure that you’re really bisexual? Never mind that straight people seem to know that they’re straight from the moment they’re born.
How do you know?
In my situation, it led me to question myself for a long time, trying to figure out what exactly were normal feelings to have about any particular gender. But it is not at all necessary to justify your feelings to anyone and if you know that you are bisexual, then you just know.
And there’s nothing wrong with that.
- Knowing that many people won’t date you because of something you can’t change
When I first came out of the closet to my family, I remember my grandpa making the joke that “at least that doubles your chances.” I laughed along and didn’t mention the fact that a shocking amount of the population refuses to date bisexuals and, by that time, I’d already heard many of the comments.
I’d heard that bisexual people were dirty. They were sexually promiscuous, frivolous, and incapable of settling down and getting married…good only for threesomes and nothing else.
I’d heard from one gender that bisexual people were actually gays in disguise, looking to settle down, start a family and then leave you alone and heartbroken for someone of their own sex. I’d heard from the other gender that bisexual people were actually straight people in disguise, looking to experiment briefly before running back to the safe and comfortable confines of heterosexuality.
I’d heard from lesbians that bisexual women were somehow tainted by the company they kept with men. I’d heard from straight men that it was intimidating to be with a woman who had been with another woman.
Again and again, I heard people offer up reasons for why they’d never date a bisexual—every single one of those reasons informed solely by prejudices that these people held toward my sexual orientation.
Because, you know what? If these people actually took the time to get to know me, they’d realize that I’m actually an incredibly faithful, loyal person who loves passionately. I couldn’t be further from the stereotype. And even if I wasn’t, why would that make me undeserving of being loved?
And yet, there those people were, beating down an uncertain teenage girl with the message that she wasn’t deserving of being loved based on something that she was not capable of changing.
And believe me, I tried. There was a period of time where I figured that it would change little if I just pretended to be straight. I’d have to ignore my crushes on girls, of course, but that didn’t mean that I couldn’t still fall in love and have a normal life. And besides, the soulmate-options that I lost in girls would be gained in men who would have otherwise dismissed me for being bisexual.
But it just isn’t possible to live that way…not in my case, anyway. I was lying to myself, trying to bury a part of myself to please other people, telling myself that there was something wrong with me just because other people said that there was something wrong with me.
And there is absolutely nothing wrong with being bisexual.
These people who dismiss bisexual people as being unworthy of being loved are wrong and they’re prejudiced and they are not the sort of people who you really want to date anyway. Of course, it can hurt to know that you’re being judged based on something that you can’t change, but they’re judgments mean nothing in the long run and they do not define you as much as they define them.
That’s an important thing for a young person growing up bisexual to realize.
Author: Ciara Hall
Image: Bryon Lippincott/Flickr
Apprentice Editor: Lois Person/Editor: Travis May