I have to be honest — I struggled for a long time to write this piece. Pride Month is as good an excuse as I’m going to get to reflect on being queer and wax poetic about the joy, love, and liberation accepting that queerness has brought into my life. But whenever I started to try and write, I typed and deleted a million jumbled ideas so many times that the blinking cursor started to feel homophobic.
Of course, it wasn’t the cursor that’s dealing with decades of internalized homophobia, it was me. I was struggling to write about Pride for the same reasons I still struggle, to this day, to celebrate it with my whole heart and body: far too often, I just don’t feel queer enough.
Let me give you some context. I’m a cis bisexual woman who has been out for about two years now, although I’ve known I didn’t exactly conform to the heteronormative standard since I was a kid. I have had experiences with women, but I’m currently with a cis male partner. As many fellow bisexuals can attest, when you date someone who presents as the opposite sex, you can face a lot of pushback both from within and outside the queer community about whether or not that erases your queerness. Biphobia is alive and well in 2021, and nowhere more so than in my own brain.
As I wrestled with this, I came across an op-ed by Zachary Zane in the New York Times called “I Don’t Know Who Needs to Hear This, But You Are Bi Enough.” Either the author and I were telepathically communicating and he produced and placed an article in one of the most prominent newspapers in the country specifically for me, or not feeling queer enough is a widespread phenomenon in the bisexual community. On balance of probability, I think it’s the latter.
Let me tell you a story about how hard it can be to even realize you’re queer, let alone come out to others. It’s a story many queer folks in my life are familiar with, but reaches the point of near universality among my bisexual friends.
I think I first noticed that I felt different when I was six years old, when I quit the Girl Scouts in a huff because they tried to make me learn how to sew a button onto a flag and I complained to my mom that they were trying to make us into “girly girls.” I spent most of my elementary school years as a die-hard tomboy in camo pants and beanies, but I liked my long hair and dressing up every once in a blue moon. Yes, I know: gender performance is different from sexuality, but to me, these were clear signs of rejecting binary expressive dogma in my everyday life.
I grew up in a pretty homophobic place, and when I started to dip my toes into exploring my sexuality in high school, I got a lot of flack for it. I started to wonder why I wasn’t having the same puppy-love crushes on the boys in my class as the other girls. Don’t get me wrong, I had a few here and there over the years — just enough to convince myself I was “normal” and definitely straight, but it was always rarer and far less impassioned than my acquaintances.
Boys assumed I was doing it for the male gaze — purely for their enjoyment. Girls assumed I was doing it for male attention or to look cooler than them. After all, I did feel attraction to men, so I could just try to repress everything else. Neither was true, but when you’re trying to trailblaze your own sexuality against a tidal wave of heteronormativity, internalizing something is almost inevitable.
This is as common a bisexual experience as it is common to all kinds of different marginalized groups trying to fit in to a white supremacist, patriarchal, compulsively heterosexual culture. It is mentally, physically, and spiritually exhausting to repress the full extent of who you are in favor of displaying socially acceptable shards of yourself. But being yourself, a self that goes against the grain of the dominant culture, can be isolating, lonely, scary, and even dangerous.
So when people asked about my sexuality up until about the end of grad school, I tended to just default to either “I think I’m straight” or a nervous “everyone’s on a spectrum, right?”
Let me tell you a secret.
Once, in a DC club, I felt this magnetic attraction to a girl who approached me and told me she was bi, and we ended up dancing and kissing and just reveling in being openly queer together. It was joyful and tender, but I never told anyone about it because I was still denying my queerness. No one I knew was around to observe and give me the attention I was allegedly seeking, and when you hold onto a belief for so long, your mind is willing to ignore even hard evidence that directly contradicts it.
But even if I had been courageous enough to come out and be unapologetically myself back then, I hadn’t fully come out to myself yet. I kept trying to force fit a square into a circle because I convinced myself, for years, that I was just experimenting for attention — that it was all just meaningless fun. I held onto this belief even when it became absolutely ridiculous to do so.
Undoing all those years of self-delusion didn’t happen overnight — actually, I’m still processing it as we speak. I hesitated to write this story out because I’m still fighting it. Fighting it means finding other other queer people and transforming the heartbreak into hilarity: sharing our darkly funny stories about the joys and pitfalls of self realization, commiserating over the fears and anxieties of coming out, and building a world where we matter — because the one we were born into clearly doesn’t care.
It’s why I decided to push through with this story, because maybe I’m the queer voice that another bisexual needs to hear to finally know that they are queer enough, too.
How deep does the feeling of not being queer enough run in the bisexual community?
The author of that op-ed uses this eye-opening statistic to make the case: though over 54.6 percent of adults in the LGBTQ community identifies as bisexual, only 28 percent of bisexual people are out to the most important members of their friends and family. That’s compared to 77 percent of gay men and 71 percent of lesbians, according to the same study.
So what gives? Some of it can certainly be attributed to the fact that at least 15 percent of Americans still don’t believe bisexuality is a valid sexual orientation. When scientific studies are still being undertaken to this day to examine whether your sexuality is even real, it’s pretty hard to convince yourself — let alone others — that you’re queer enough.
Additionally, the double-discrimination factor can inhibit a lot of bisexuals from coming out. When we think of homophobia, we tend to imagine straight people being the face of queer oppression, but it’s often not just the cis straight boogeyman. While there’s always been a loud and proud “B” in LGBTQ, every single fellow bisexual I know has faced criticism from non-bisexual queer folks at some point, and it’s not just anecdotal — the data backs up that biphobia also runs rampant in queer spaces.
All of this is on top of the usual reasons that queer people don’t come out: they’re afraid of not being accepted, of the potential backlash in jobs, in housing, and in their personal lives, and of the knowledge that when you’re out, you’re going to be hated by a whole lot of people simply for daring to declare who you are.
I resisted labeling myself for a little over a decade because of all these thoughts, and the path that they inevitably led me down: all my experiences with men, all my straight-presenting privilege, and all my repressed feelings didn’t qualify me for membership in the LGBTQ community. Whether consciously or not, I felt like I hadn’t earned the right to call myself queer.
But who decides whether or not you’re queer enough? Is there a Bisexual Committee I have to submit my application to? Is there a quota for number of same-sex partners or a style guide for my hair and clothing before I can call myself a member?
Of course not. All of the standards for being “queer enough” are ones I have imposed on myself, and no one can tell me that I am not what I know I am. Bisexuality, like all queerness, is far from being only about sex, and I don’t need to do anything to “prove” to myself or anyone else what I know in my heart to be true.
I reflect a lot, nowadays, on the words of bell hooks, who reflected on being queer as meaning:
“…queer as not about who you’re having sex with, that can be a dimension of it, but queer as being about the self that is at odds with everything around it and has to invent and create and find a place to speak and to thrive and to live.”
In my moments of lingering self-delusion, these words resonate through my memories.
I feel myself at odds with the world in the heterosexual parties where I felt out of place and not straight enough to fit in, and in gay bars where I felt ostracized and not queer enough to take up space.
I feel it in the way I have presented to the world, when men describe me as “too intimidating” and women describe me as “too soft.”
I feel it in my relationships, when I couldn’t conform to the heteronormative patterns of typical male-female relationship dynamics but still continue to feel genuine, deep love and desire for my straight male partner.
I feel it most in how I have understood the world, when my teachers and friends and coworkers ask me questions that are supposed to have binary answers and I flip it right back on them: why are we limited to just these options when everything is complex and nuanced?
Pride, to me, is about accepting that I contain multitudes. I don’t have to have clean, neat answers to the many questions that my queer understanding of gender and sexuality provokes because they probably don’t actually exist. Queerness is dynamic, beautiful, and messy. There are no gatekeepers of how you experience it and how you show it, and you are queer enough just as you are.
You are bi enough, and you are enough. Be proud of it.
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