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Questioning your sexuality is a normal part of life. It can take as little as a few days to work out your romantic and/or sexual orientation, or it could take decades. And some never figure it out.
I realized I was attracted to girls in my preteens, not that I’d admit it at the time. I liked watching couples kissing on TV but told myself it was the guy I was interested in, not the girl. It wasn’t until I was around 19 when I finally figured out that it was also the girl. I’m bisexual.
I had a very similar experience with my obsessive-compulsive disorder. I always knew I had compulsive traits; as a kid, I was very twitchy and had bizarre rituals, but it wasn’t until my twenties that I gave it a name.
It was confusing to have my awareness of my sexuality and mental health develop concurrently. I know I was questioning myself in a way that every LGBTQ+ person has experienced, but I also started to worry that my sexuality was all down to my OCD. Was I just imagining my attraction to other women? Was I really bisexual, or did I have sexual orientation OCD (SOOCD)?
It was confusing to have my awareness of my sexuality and mental health develop concurrently.
SOOCD, or homosexual obsessive-compulsive disorder (HOCD), is a type of OCD that affects thousands of Americans, and in simple terms causes the fear that one is not heterosexual. It’s a controversial disorder because many consider it to be homophobia in disguise, but many people have reported their experiences with it.
I’m not afraid of being bisexual. It’s part of who I am, and I love it. Yet at the back of my mind, I often ask myself whether I have reverse SOOCD. I often have intrusive thoughts telling me that I’ve tricked myself into thinking I’m attracted to women. Though I call myself bisexual, it’s really just a simplified label I use to make myself feel secure, to feel like part of a community with shared experiences. But if I were to create a specific label for my sexuality, it would be the longest run-on sentence you’ve ever read.
The specifics of what I’ll call my subgenre of bisexuality is one of the main reasons why my OCD makes me question it so much. I’m sexually and romantically attracted to male-presenting folk, while being sexually attracted only to female-presenting folk. And I feel like I’m more sexually attracted to the latter than the former, whereas I’m a little more demisexual when it comes to the former.
Bisexuality means different things to different people, and to me it means all genders. It also means to me that having different preferences within the orientation is normal. You could be into one gender 70 percent, another gender 20 percent, and another one 10 percent, but that doesn’t stop me from being paranoid that I’m objectifying women with my preferences. I can’t put a percentage on it, but I know masculine people never really pop into my sexual fantasies and feminine people never pop into my romantic ones.
The fact that I’m only sexually attracted to women is what freaks out my OCD the most. Women have always been shamed for being sexual beings, so I’m sure that stigma has an effect on how my OCD stigmatizes my sexuality.
I feel like it speaks to me sometimes: “You’re just being perverted,” it says, as I think about the feminine body. “Besides, you can’t be bisexual if you don’t want a romantic relationship with a woman, can you?” These intrusive, illogical thoughts are nonsense, since I know aromantic folk exist. “But you’re not aromantic!” my OCD yells at me. “You’re in love with a man right now!”
The main difference between intrusive OCD thoughts and my real sexual feelings is the fact that I don’t fear the possibility of having sexual fantasies about my own gender — I really do experience them. It’s like being afraid that you’ve left the door unlocked when you know you triple checked, rather than actually having done it. I don’t think to myself, “What if I’m gay?” Rather, I think, “I am bi, but what if I’m not?” I don’t worry that women will randomly pop into my sexual fantasies — they do, and I’m not ashamed of it. Even though logically I know it’s just my OCD lying to me, that doubt still wants to be acknowledged.
It’s not just OCD or internalized biphobia that causes this kind of problem. It’s global biphobia and intercommunity gatekeeping. And I’m not the only one who experiences feelings and paranoias like these. I spoke to Savannah Hardy, a bisexual woman with OCD who has also experienced feelings of reverse HOCD/SOOCD.
“As a good Adventist kid (particularly as a female one), I felt like it fell to me to suppress any sexual feelings, which was a major reason I didn’t know till I was 24 that I was attracted to both men and women,” Hardy told me. “But since I hadn’t had the ‘usual’ story of figuring this out in my teens, I felt like there must be something wrong with me. I didn’t yet know I had OCD either, and all this ignorance snowballed into a ton of self-doubt and shame.”
Bisexuality means different things to different people, and to me it means all genders.
This suppression of sexual feelings is something I heavily related to when I was a teenager. It’s also something that feeds into the destructive feelings of SOOCD. Due to internalized homophobia, both Savannah and I have told ourselves that we’re not gay, probably so many times that our OCD has latched onto it to ‘prove’ we’re not bi.
“I’m not sure how well-known HOCD is among the general population, but it does seem like something the religious right would latch onto in support of the position that queer people are ‘just confused’ or ‘need to realize they’re actually straight,’” Hardy said. “The main reason I’m careful in who I come out to is my desire to avoid these pushback scripts until I can come up with solid ways to handle them.”
Bisexuals are often critiqued for dating their opposite gender, for passing as straight, and for not picking a side. So it’s no wonder that I and bisexuals everywhere constantly have to ask ourselves if we’re even allowed in the LGBTQ+ community. The LGBTQIAP+ community…
HOCD/SOOCD may be a real disorder, but I feel sure that I don’t have it. I do have a symptom of OCD that makes me question things that are real, including my queerness, but I know I’m bisexual. I know it because of my actions, my emotions, and my fantasies. It’s just incredibly difficult to get past years of internalized and external biphobia.
But I am queer. I’m the neurodivergent B in LGBTQ+. And I’m not going to let my disorder tell me otherwise.