Image Credit: An image from one of the first times I felt comfortable in my identity
About a year ago, Alex Thompson wrote Stop Telling Me That I'm 'Not Gay Enough' To Be Bi. He discussed how his bisexual identity was damaged by ‘queer’ stereotypes, leading to alienation from the LGBTQ+ community. I empathised wholeheartedly, but for the opposite reason. Just as Alex’s bisexuality was questioned due to his ‘masculinity’, my identity as a bisexual man is perpetually scrutinised due to my un-‘masculine’ and stereotypically ‘gay’ qualities.
Telling people I am bisexual doesn’t go down easily; they look shocked when their initial assumptions are not matched by my answer and I see in their eyes that, deep down, they don’t really believe me.
This is because I am seen as too ‘gay’ to be bi – as an outwardly more ‘feminine’ man cannot be seen as anything but gay. As such, I have had to defend my sexual orientation to those who seek to scrutinise it, and I am constantly faced with the dreaded question:
‘Are you sure you’re not just gay and pretending to be bi?’.
This is not a rare question and it’s in these moments that I am placed under a spotlight, the room goes silent and I am called upon to defend my identity.
"I feel like I am ten again, googling to see whether I needed medical treatment for the way I felt inside."
Because of questions such as these, I have to fight to call myself bisexual, and always feel the pressure from others to do so. I find myself book-ending conversations about men with comments about women or ensuring that I include more female celebrities in my ‘top five’ so to defend myself against claims that I am a gay man in disguise.
This all boils down to the issue of bi-erasure in our society. From the damaging ‘greedy’ comments to the belief that bisexuality doesn’t exist, bisexual individuals are consistently pressured to defend their existence. People need to understand that sexual preference is not a binary – we do not have to be either one thing or the other. This mindset leads us to damaging stereotypes and the incorrect view that sexuality is linked to gender performance.
I can’t speak for everyone’s experience, but my own struggle over the past ten years has shown me enough. I have never shared my ‘story’ in such a public space as this, but I’m relating it now in the hope that even one person can see that they’re not alone.
The fact that it is a cliché for LGBTQ+ people to talk about their bullying is an issue in itself, however, I begin with that now. Bullying became a reality when I was about ten – around the time when other kids’ voices started to deepen and mine didn’t. I carried the curse of femininity, and I didn’t even know what that meant. I walked differently and spent too much time with the other girls in my class. I had never even heard the term ‘gay’ until it was shouted at me from across a classroom. I remember googling it later and still not understanding.
Understanding what it meant made it worse. When I started puberty a few years later I began to have feelings for men, and I realised that all the bullies had been right – maybe I was a ‘gayboy’. But I still liked girls too, which is all rather confusing for a 12 year old to comprehend. Despite coming to these conclusions then, I did not ‘come out’ as bisexual until a month after finishing Sixth Form.
It wasn’t ‘coming out’ itself which scared me, it was the thought of proving the bullies at my school right. If I told people I liked boys too, then the labels they harried me with would be correct. I couldn’t be myself, because who I was proved them right and me wrong. Of course, they hadn’t got it completely right, but the complexities of sexuality weren’t understood by neither myself nor the other boys in my year. So, I lived my life for six years the way everyone wanted me to – silent and closeted. I convinced myself that I would never reveal my secret, in some sort of rebellion against those who thought they already knew it.
The reality is that bullying never simply ends. Yes, the harassment eventually ceased and everyone realised they had bigger problems than whether or not I was gay. But the impact of that constant barrage of harassment lived on and I continued to force myself to live a life that proved them wrong.
When I ‘came out’, I thought that mentality would stop. I thought that if other people finally knew that I was bisexual that I could stop living to prove myself to others. I was wrong. Again, the curse of being born a boy with ‘feminine’ qualities followed me and on many occasions the dreaded question came back: ‘are you sure you’re not just gay and pretending to be bi?’ Now that I had come to accept myself, I found that, again, people would try to force me to live up to their expectations and I would have to defend my identity so as not to prove them right.
It’s not just straight people who have made me do this – biphobia is just as present within the LGBTQ+ community too. Members of the community have asked me the dreaded question before, and have tried to get me to ‘confess’ to being gay, despite me telling them I am bisexual. Society in general, and the community specifically, needs to stop making bisexual individuals prove themselves.
"We cannot say we live in the most progressive society when individuals like me are forced to live life as a performance to suit other people’s views."
I am now 21, ‘out’ and more confident than I have ever been, yet when someone asks me about my bisexuality I close in on myself. I feel like I am ten again, googling to see whether I needed medical treatment for the way I felt inside.
People should either accept that bisexuality exists, or just stop being nosey. At the end of the day, how I identify has no effect on other people's lives, so there’s no need to treat me like a criminal under investigation.
My hope for the future is that we start to listen more. When we listen, we understand. When we understand, we stop prescribing our own view onto others and stop making people defend their identity. It saddens me that Alex and I and countless others have had to go through life fighting just to say we’re bisexual and I hope for the day when that fight can end.
We cannot say we live in the most progressive society when individuals like me are forced to live life as a performance to suit other people’s views. This progress begins when we stop imposing our views on others, and just let people be who they are.
I am not a gay man in disguise. My bisexuality is not a mask. I am who I am.