(This post was triggered by a comment from a family member. While they were well-intentioned, it brought up a lot of shit for me. I decided to unpack it through my writing and share it for those who need to hear it. To that family member, because I know you will read this: thank you. For that entire dialogue. I love you, and you are now a part of my liberation. You are my cheerleader, and I am forever grateful.)
In 7th grade, I remember having a friend over on a snow day. I spent a lot of time with her in junior high, and we were very close. She was lying in the snow and something came over me. I tried to kiss her. She was NOT having it (lol), but it wasn’t just a moment for me. I kept thinking about her and that moment, fantasizing about what it would be like to touch her, kiss her, be more than friends.
Looking back, that didn’t seem out of place considering our friendship. We would sleep next to each other in the same bed at sleepovers, hold each other, and share our hearts. (AND listen to a lot of 90's R&B while we did.) But I didn’t think anything more of my thoughts or feelings. They didn’t seem to matter. These thoughts and feelings felt NORMAL to me. I had the same thoughts about Aaliyah and Gwen Steffani. They were perfect in my eyes. I also wanted to make out with Angelina Jolie from the moment I saw her. Didn’t everyone?
Fast forward to the NSYNC days of my teen years and WOW, look at Justin Timberlake. Damn, okay, you’re hot. And Han Solo? I ADORED him. And then Usher with that My Way video. Okay, hi, I see you. I plastered my wall with pictures from those teen magazines, ya know, the ones where no one ever read the articles; they just looked at the pictures of hot boys? So now in my teen mind, girls and boys were hot. I had ALL the feelings. For everyone. The fantasies grew, but something else was also brewing—shame.
Fast forward to my first retail job, and my nickname was “the lesbian,” which, upon reflection, I’m not even sure how I got it. I may have told one of my co-workers I was bi, but I also think there was some stereotyping there. And this stereotyping happened in most of my work spaces. I was addressed as “lesbo” and the notes left in the stockroom followed suit. I didn’t get it. Couple that with so much biphobic shit like, “it’s just a phase,” “every girl has a lesbian relationship in college,” and the disdain of bi folks from some of the LGBTQ+ community, and I became riddled with confusion. Now, I realize how, little by little, society just boxed up my feelings for women and hid them deep inside my body. I told myself I was just going through the motions of “growing up.” Society told me boxing these feelings up was normal.
But the feelings never went away, and if anything, they were coddled and cultivated in the club/rave scene. No one gave a shit who you fucked or why or when. Gay nights felt safe, I worked with a lot of drag queens as a go-go dancer in Boston who taught me everything I know about makeup and stage presence, and the more I talked to my friends, the more I realized there was a whole community of bi folks out there who had the same feelings I did. It felt like home. Once again, there was no shame, and the feelings didn’t matter. I could just live my damn life.
However, after my second trip to rehab, I needed to leave the scene, for a long time. The club world was replaced with an undergrad program and a campus that was supposedly inclusive (whatever the fuck that means). But when I returned to college, being bi felt like a novelty for most people around me, and maybe it did for me, too. I am bi, but most of my relationships were and are with men. I had the privilege of not fighting for that right. Looking back, it seems that part of my identity slipped away. Maybe I believed them. Maybe it was just a phase…but now I know all I was doing was packing my heart with shame and guilt to suppress who and what I was and am. I didn’t realize society and my own internal dialogue was feeding the shame monster and that it would continue for years to come.
Thankfully, attending Simmons gave me more of a foundation to find myself. While the grad program is co-ed, the undergrad is all female. They had a lot of classes and programs centering on gender studies and queer theory, and the experience allowed me to feel home and find community somewhere outside of myself. As a TA, most of my students identified as a part of the LGBTQIA+ community and were comfortable writing about it. They inspired me and gave me hope for myself.
But at the end of the day, I never really confronted this part of myself. I knew where I stood but not sharing this aspect of my sexuality with everyone in my life was due to shame. I would pick and choose who knew, and I realize that came from a place of wanting safety. I never realized how much that shame held me back. I couldn’t tell most men because it immediately turned into a conversation about lesbian sex or a three-some. And even most women weren’t very supportive because apparently there is a “right way” to have feelings for women. It became a battle of “you’re just not gay enough.”
In any case, I’m writing this during Pride month and the world’s largest Civil Rights movement, and part of me still doesn’t feel comfortable, still doesn’t feel like I’m being authentic. I’ve always felt like a fraud identifying as bi because of shame, but today, I realized those feelings are not mine. The conversation this morning with my family member made me see that. It pushed me into the shadows of my sexual past and my dating future which resulted in an added therapy session to work this shit through. I never felt like it was “right” to speak on these issues for myself. I always spoke from the place of the ally, not realizing I wasn’t being an ally to myself.
To anyone still reading this, needing comfort from homophobic comments, to anyone reading this who is confused and figuring things out, to anyone who has already done this work and is fighting tooth and nail for justice: I see you, I love you, and I support you. And thank you, for being everything that you are—without conditionals—so I can be who I am, too.
Love is love. Don’t let anyone define it for you. Ever.