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Late Bloomer: Why I Didn’t Realise I Was Bisexual Until My Twenties

Although I was LGBTQ+ positive, I couldn’t be into women because vulvas were disgusting — right?

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Like so many, I didn’t realise that I was bisexual until I was in my twenties. I don’t remember a moment, per se, but I do remember I kept it quiet for a long time. But hang on, I hear you say — how could you not know that you’re attracted to a whole gender? It’s a question I’ve been asking myself ever since.

1. Overt homophobia set the scene.

When I was a kid, being gay was not something you wanted to be. It was the insult of the playground and condemned against by the Bible that decorated our school assemblies. My dad, for all his generosity and deep love for his children, had a cheerful saying: “All the gays should be put in a field and bombed!” In fewer words, it was a sentiment most people in my small, rural village shared. Being into women didn’t even cross my mind as a child; we played kiss chase in teams of our own gender against “the” opposite gender.

Being gay was punishable because to be gay meant you had “chosen” something wrong, a sin, obscene. I remember seeing a film trying to normalise being gay in the mid-2000s. A vox pop asked people on the street if they thought that gay people were born gay or decided to be gay. The majority of respondents said they believed people chose to be gay. The interviewer then asked when the interviewee chose to be straight. Of course, cue gasps as they realised people don’t choose their sexuality.

The video hit it home for me. Okay, being gay isn’t a “lifestyle choice.” I was convinced. You’re born with your sexuality. But I hadn’t fancied women before, I thought, so there was no question of it: I was straight. I was a proud ally — but that was the end of it.

2. The lack of women who looked like me and were gay meant I had no one to align myself with.

The examples I had of bisexual and lesbian women in my childhood were two teachers in school: the butch maths teacher (who never spoke about her private life, and might not have been gay) and a frumpy, flustered English teacher who once told the class she was bisexual and was openly laughed at. They were figures of ridicule. Commenting on their sexuality was a jab at their authority, a route to revenge. They were not people I identified with; if I had, I would have been bullied. I don’t see myself in either of them still. I knew of no openly, happily gay men through school.

I knew I wasn't like those figures of ridicule, and so I couldn't be gay. I wasn't butch, I wasn't flustered, and those were my examples of how to be gay. With no one standing up proud in the small community I lived in, ridicule and caricatures poured in.

3. The suppression of female body confidence in school cemented my heterosexuality.

Here’s a story for you: when I was a teenager, I felt repulsed at the idea of going down on a woman. Obviously, I couldn’t fancy women if I couldn’t bear to even think of their genitals! I was so repulsed, I wouldn’t even let anyone go down on me.

It was a common insult for girls in school: their vagina smelt or looked a certain revolting way. These insults, of course, came particularly from boys who had not seen a vulva since they exited one.

Girl’s bodies were always up for parody. I don’t remember the boys getting it so tough, although I’m sure they did. I remember one friend used to get bullied for her hairy armpits by the boys: “Like a man!” was the underlying theme of the insults. Many years later, I remember one of those boys being shocked to find out that women actually did have hair under their armpits; although this had been his insult of choice, my friend so desperately attended to her underarm hair that he hadn’t realised the reason it was so effective was because it was based in reality.

The derision of girls bodies as I was growing up didn’t just turn me against other women, it turned me against myself. I was so turned off by vulvas I didn’t want anyone to witness mine close up. What if it was as I feared: a smelly, hairy crotch? Of course, all crotches have their own, usually gentle and harmless smell, and hair — and thus the insults were based in something real, which made them powerful. It’s a fallacy I still battle with today.

Ultimately, I couldn’t fancy women, because I wouldn’t want to have sex with a woman orally, because I believed vulvas to be disgusting. (And that’s the only way women do it, right? That and scissoring, obviously.)

Okay, but you’re openly bisexual now — how did that happen?

Here’s the funny thing: through all of this — believing being gay was wrong, thinking women’s bodies were gross, “knowing” that I was straight — I was… getting with women. I knew I fancied guys, I’d try to snog them at parties — and when I snogged girls at parties, in exciting games of spin the bottle, or as a dare — that was to appeal to the boys there too, right?

Everyone knows the trope that straight guys love to see women kissing (as long as it’s for the men’s pleasure, not their own, of course). And it was thrilling! And kissing a woman in front of boys is not the same as kissing a man, right? Kissing a woman in front of a man screams “I’m open, I’m sexual, you can have me.” Kissing a man in front of another man says “I’m taken.” I don’t have time to unpack the stupidity of that notion, but it was definitely the accepted assumption where I was brought up.

So, I was kissing women openly at parties, thinking I was straight. We get it: it’s “for the men”. And when I would get drunk, make out with and finger my female best friend behind closed doors? That was… A one-off, that happened multiple times? A mistake?

It’s kind of amusing in retrospect: who kisses someone by mistake? But I still didn’t realise it. I had a threesome with her and my boyfriend in my early twenties: that was to explore my heterosexual relationship though, right? She was a one-off — I wasn’t gay, except for her, RIGHT?

By the time I realised I was attracted to women, I’d already had sex with one — and although I had slept with another woman, I wasn’t “sure” I was gay.

It really took a lot to accept my sexuality and I think that was due to how sexually repressed and “certain” I had been in the past.

From other women “battling” their bisexuality, I’ve heard this: I’ve never dated/kissed/slept with another woman, so how can I be sure? Two women I know personally broke off long-term relationships with men just to try dating women to “check”. I resonate with this, hard. Actually, when I’d dated another woman, I still felt impostor syndrome! I’d kissed, slept with, gone down on other women, had several FFM threesomes: I still kind of felt like I was trying too hard when I said that I was bisexual. Being a woman who’s into other women today seems to have gone a full 180 — now it’s cool, now it’s a niche. Although some people may think the “trend” is fetishising bisexuality, I’m glad it’s becoming cool! (For women, at least — bisexual men still seem to have more of a struggle with the stigma.) The more open and comfortable people can be while claiming their sexuality, the better. The more normal bisexuality becomes, the more comfortable people will be claiming it!

The truth is, I didn’t feel like my bisexuality was confirmed until I had sex with a girl with a strap-on.

Using a strap-on had never been something that I had considered until a woman I was sleeping with suggested it. I had a moment of pride when I made her cum with it — and yet, there was something disarming to me about how using a strap-on changed the way I felt about my bisexuality. The echoes of heteronormative sex didn’t go unnoticed. Why was my interest in women confirmed by doing something usually only men can do? Why did it have to be confirmed? They are questions I’m still working on.

My bisexuality came later in life —and I know I’m not the only one.

I have read so many articles about people, particularly women, “realising” they are bisexual far later in life than they “know” they are straight.

The homophobia I had been brought up with was so ingrained that having had multiple partners of both sexes wasn’t enough to allow myself to realise that I was bisexual. Cultural norms had had me believing that women’s genitalia, and thus women, were disgusting. There were no role models for women like me. Pushing through to claiming a sexuality I didn’t know was for me was hard.

Our generation has the responsibility to encourage all sorts of sexual expression for the good of future generations.

All of this to say that although I was outwardly a proud ally, the homophobia I had absorbed as a child still turned me off women for a long time.

It’s up to us to change this narrative for the future! The only normal I knew as a child was a straight, conservative, married-with-two-kids nuclear family. I wish I’d had more examples of what the broad range of “normal” sexuality meant.

I believe that by sharing our stories of our normal, with all the development of past generations, we can encourage more people to make their desires their normal. The outcome? More people able to express and enjoy themselves sexually. I’m not saying that I’ve discovered the secret to world peace, but who can be angry when they’ve just had several wild orgasms? I’ll wait. Only good can come of this.



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