How Heartbreak Helped Me Recognize and Process My Internalized Biphobia
There isn’t one best time in anyone’s life to come out. Maybe we most often hear about it from adolescents and young adults (myself included), but oftentimes people come out later in adulthood as well. Coming out is seen as a one-way process: to outsiders (sometimes even your closest loved ones), you go from straight to anything that’s not-straight.
Coming out, in general, is already a heteronormative practice; that those who are not heterosexual and/or cisgender somehow owe it to society to say something about it to those who are. There is no coming-out for straight people or emotional labor they are expected to bear for others less informed. Coming out feels like a one-time-only deal; no take-backs or recourse if things change or if one was wrong. The reality is that coming out happens over and over again; an LGBTQ+ person often has to re-explain this aspect of their life to new people or strangers barking up the wrong tree.
In particular, there’s an extra layer of oppression for LGBTQ+ individuals who identify as anything other than homosexual: biphobia.
From Wikipedia: Biphobia is aversion toward bisexuality and toward bisexual people as a social group or as individuals. It can take the form of denial that bisexuality is a genuine sexual orientation, or of negative stereotypes about people who are bisexual (such as the belief that they are promiscuous or dishonest).
This is rampant both inside and outside the LGBTQ+ community. Like colorism is to racism, biphobia is a kind of internalized oppression; one that a member of an oppressed group can force onto another to leverage privilege — a way to “other” themselves within their own groups, and prevent them from facing their own self-hatred. All homophobes are biphobes, but so are many LGBTQ+ people, sometimes even bisexual ones.
I’ve learned this the hard way. The past few years I have been more aware of my own biphobia as a result of adopting more social responsibility, but especially in the last year, I have learned just how deep and destructive it was, and how much it held me back.
I first had an inkling I wasn’t straight when I was 11 or 12. I was fascinated with certain actresses in a different way than my peers. I had little interest in boys. I remember my first crush — the musical director at my childhood church — and a number of other little odd things that slowly added up. When I was 15, I just knew I was bi but was clueless about how to go about telling people.
There really is no right or wrong way to come out, but I hobbled and stumbled through it. There was some fallout with my best friend, who was in her own phase of teenage self-discovery as a born-again Christian. That did not go over well, and even resulted in blowouts with my own family, most specifically with my mother: “Well maybe if you weren’t shoving it down her throat!” (This was after precisely two conversations with the friend about it; one where I came out, and the next where she told me she didn’t want to see me “doing that” around her.)
Later, that morphed into something different: shame and punishment for heterosexual behavior, and weak attempts to encourage homosexual behavior. My parents (mother and stepfather) would hand me porn, or ask my opinion of swimsuit models on TV. If I went to a concert by a female entertainer (and in the early aughts there were many, bless them all), I would be grilled about what she wore, the way she moved, how it made me feel. Although I’d been a shy and reserved teenager up to that point without any fanfare, my dating and social life suddenly became of much interest to my family. Who was I visiting that weekend? Was she a special friend? What were our plans; where were we going? Were we going to be, you know… alone?
Around the age of 18, I’d noticed myself getting more comfortable with the idea that maybe I was just a lesbian instead. My mother nodded and lit another cigarette: “Most do choose one way or another and stick with that.”
I met Mark in my early 20s. We were two peas in a pod; mostly gay, definitely in denial, really confused, and not sure what the hell to do about it. Somehow we turned that internalized fear about how gay we were or weren’t onto each other and got wrapped up in something bizarre and confusing for several years, where he latched onto me with the emotional vice grips that only a true malignant narcissist possesses.
Mark convinced me I was unlovable, apart from him; that he was the only one who could ever do it. He gutted me of all my emotional intimacy, soaked it overnight in codependency, then smeared it on toast and washed it down with black coffee for breakfast. He made sure that I never strayed far, even when he was cold and absent, grilled me about my sex life, then mocked me for it, for years.
It took years for me to thaw from the bitch-cold, bone-chilling winters of Minnesota and all the trauma I left when I relocated to California. When I did finally recover, I unexpectedly got involved with someone. That someone was young, male, and over the moon about me from day one. I’ll never forget how his face lit up the moment we met.
In the end, things didn’t work out. He was too young at 24 to my 31 years, and not prepared for adult adult feelings and emotional responsibilities, just young adult ones. The grief I endured since that parting at first seemed ridiculous and incongruent to our time together. I kept shaking my head at myself; he was just a boy, and I was the adult. I should have known better. I could not understand why I was so distraught or stop blaming myself.
In time, I learned I grieved his absence much less than I mourned the loss of security in my sense of self; my identity.
I liked Zeke so much that when he finally had the courage to ask me out, I didn’t have the heart to tell him what I instinctively knew at our first meeting: I was much too old and too gay for him. But I liked him enough to try something new. During our asking-out conversation, I mentioned I was queer, and he asked outright if I was gay. In most cases — every other case— I’d have said yes and told him to fuck off. But I couldn’t with him. I wanted to know more. I wanted to try. Coyly, I replied: “I’m just me.”
At the time, I didn’t believe I had any romantic attraction to anyone, that I was single by choice and happy that way — until I had the opportunity to not be single (and blew it up spectacularly) and learned so much more about myself than I was ready for. And if I wasn’t ready for it, no dick-thinking twenty-something native Angeleno red-blooded male human would be ready to face that, either. That is to say: our attraction to each other and subsequent falling out was no one’s fault.
When Zeke finally dumped me — an act I am oddly proud of him for having the courage to follow through with — I cried for months. But as time wore on, I shed fewer tears for his presence and companionship, and more for the loss of myself. I suddenly knew that I could and did respond to a man’s touch, appearance, sex. I could answer the call for someone who wanted to give it and connect. And that was terrifying.
Zeke and I had serious issues and miscommunication, and he was not mature enough for me, but I know now what I didn’t know then; that he wanted it to work, and for me to feel good and enjoy myself. I simply couldn’t at the time, and that’s not his fault, but bless him for being the catalyst.
After Zeke dumped me, I vowed to figure out what went wrong, how I could prevent it in the future. I knew I could not control him or his journey, but I could somehow pick apart my own and reorient myself.
I could not stop my heart from getting broken, but I learned that I did, in fact, want a partnership with someone. For years, despite my physical and sexual attraction to women, I could not click with them romantically, and simply thought I’d be happy as a clam solo for the rest of my life until I got a taste of what things were like with someone orbiting much closer than I’d ever expected.
I took to the Internet. Online counseling, YouTube videos, subreddits. I read books and spent long hours on the phone with friends. I had long moments of hashtag-forever-alone but knew ultimately that isn’t what would become of me.
But I had to have a plan, and part of it was figuring myself out; being truly honest with what I wanted, and how I envisioned my life. And the more things fell into place, the more people I met, and slowly began to accept that yes, I did have an attraction to men, and it included romance and sex. Learning to accept that has been difficult after so many years of sexual isolation, of never changing things up, of never questioning or exploring.
Even now, I cannot bring myself to say the words out loud. I cannot look someone in the eye and say: “I am bisexual.” I am still digging up the roots of both my internal and external biphobia. I can say that I practice bisexuality, but it’s like wearing a tailored suit after decades of buying off-the-rack, and staring at myself in the mirror as though I’d never seen my own face before. I can say, confidently, that I am seeking a male partner but have a strong queer identity. I can, and do, correct people when they make assumptions about me or snipe something that is biphobic.
But as I do it, and learn more, there’s so much fear and anxiety. I’m learning new rules and eating humble pie, since I am aware I tossed them out like IKEA instructions years ago. I’m re-learning how to shift and reinforce boundaries, and how red flags look with men. I discovered what a responsive sex drive is, and every day consider how much that aligns with who I am.
I don’t know if I will ever have the courage to come out again, to make the announcement and be subject to all of its possible fallout, while simultaneously living an actively queer life. Because I am doing this on my own, I’ve come to discover there is so much less support for those who reevaluate their sexuality and realize it may not have been as black and white as they thought, in a way that society would seem backward. Bi- and pansexual people are seen both as unreal and objectified at the same time, and it is hard to subject myself to that when it’s already challenging enough being a queer woman.
But I have learned I owe the world nothing else but to live my truth, and I hope the same for anyone else who needs to do it, too.