I Wasn’t Bisexual Yet
Of course, I was born bisexual but my understanding of self wasn’t at the forefront yet.
This modified excerpt first appeared in the Bi & Prejudice book in October 2021.
Bisexuality has yet to see its liberation from the grip of stigma and misunderstanding. As we continue evolving our language, inviting more self-awareness and acceptance, conversations like the one in this book can become more possible.
Bi & Prejudice is one person’s story attempting to connect the dots of identity and sexuality across years, continents, and cultures. With more safe and honest conversations about bisexuality, we can begin to understand the nuances of being a human and hopefully help you to explore parts of self along the way.
One hot summer day, my family was agitated, preparing to welcome guests in our summer house outside of Moscow.
We were expecting two pigeons (a derogatory Russian word meaning ‘homosexuals’) arriving with my mother’s closest friend. They were going to stay with us over a weekend and they were sharing a room in our summer house.
And, most importantly, I was not to tell anyone about it. I vaguely remember my experience of meeting them. I cannot even recall their names or faces today. All that has stayed with me is the nervousness of my entire family as we were welcoming two gay men under our roof.
I never told anyone about the ordeal. Well, not till now.
We hosted gay men in our summer house in the ’90s. Scandalous!
Russia loves their flamboyant gay men. Some of our most popular music, theatre and arts are headed by gender-defying characters. Philipp Kirkorov (born in Bulgaria), for example, with his glamorous makeup and diva personality, is one of the most well-known showmen in the country. Boris Moiseev (born in Belarus), a beloved Russian singer, choreographer, dancer, writer, actor, head of a dance group and author of popular shows, has been the Elton John of Russia for many years. His sparkly sport-coat, beaded necklaces, magenta lipstick, and what can only be described as Princess Jasmine pants have never made anyone in Russia question his sexuality, because we love a good show and we believe about them whatever we want to believe.
Back in 2013, Russia’s new legislation ‘aimed at protecting children from information promoting the denial of traditional family values’, banned the ‘promotion of non-traditional sexual relations to minors’ — a reference universally understood to mean a ban on providing children access to information about queer people’s lives. The ban includes, but is not limited to, information provided via the press, television, radio and the internet. With that, being queer implies gay propaganda, which is illegal in Russia. You may ‘look’ gay, as long as you do not claim to be, or behave gay.
Bisexuality finds itself in a very peculiar place in such an environment: between not being recognised at all and being paired up with gay and charged with ‘murder’.
My parents have always enjoyed a good drag show or a carnival and used to cross-dress at a friend’s party. One new year celebration in the ’90s turned into a kaleidoscope of cross-dressing taped on camera with women dressing up as men and pretending to make out with each other, my father wearing a bra, a dress and stockings, lip syncing words he didn’t know to foreign songs, and many more wonderful performances. This is still one of my favourite memories of my family. At the time, this made me suspect that my family was a lot more tolerant, courageous and educated than their lives turned out to be. And perhaps deep inside they are. However, what is on the surface is a deeply homophobic and fearful attitude that separates them from the information and education that could change their perspective, as well as their daughter, who is oceans apart from her family, literally and figuratively.
When my parents visited me in Sydney in March 2016, I bought us three tickets to the Mardi Gras parade, which we thoroughly enjoyed together. My mother sneaked some vodka into the seated area (because why would you check an old lady’s bags, right!?) and we purchased extra whisky at the bar, getting loud and merry, ready for a good show. By the end of the night, my father was hugging topless young men in a wild dance under the rain on the streets while my mother was chanting ‘love is love’ without much realisation of the meaning of the slogan at the time. It was so beautiful.
We didn’t attend Mardi Gras as a sign of my family’s support of my queerness or celebration of their allyship. I wasn’t bisexual yet. But my family has always seen Mardi Gras as good entertainment, eager to drink, dance and sing with crowds covered in glitter and rainbows.
In the euphoric moment of being surrounded by love and music, they may have indeed felt deep connection with fellow humans no longer threatened by their sexualities; but once the celebration was over, so was their enthusiasm about the rainbow community.
Of course, I was born bisexual. But on that night in 2016, I was a ‘straight’, Russian cis-woman drinking, dancing and singing with my family. My understanding of self wasn’t at the forefront yet — at that Mardi Gras parade only a few years ago. I didn’t wonder yet if my parents knew what bisexual meant. I didn’t know much about it myself.
The next morning, my parents told me that they were pleasantly surprised realising that gay people were human as well.
They held on to their opinion that being gay is a perverted lifestyle, but my heart melted that they had this opportunity to connect with those who they thought of as enemies all their lives. It was a wonderful glimpse of hope, just not a personal one, as I wasn’t bisexual yet.