In celebration of our recent coming out day, I have decided to share on BConnected a few key moments in my journey to becoming aware that I am a bisexual man.
As far back as I can remember, my inclination toward relationships centered around romance, marriage and family. How much of this predisposition comes from my hippy parents or how much is innate to my personality, I don’t know.
An experience that helped me understand the difference between how I perceived myself and how others perceived me happened in first grade. I had long hair and everyone knew me by my nickname, Brandy; this wasn’t unusual for young boys in the hippy community in the early 1970s. When I thought about what type of girl I would marry when I got older I was pretty sure she would be someone like my first grade teacher, a woman who had long flowing hair and wore long skirts like many of the idealistic young ladies. She exuded magic and mystery, everything I wanted and wanted to be.
One day she saw me drawing a picture of a truck and commented that not very many girls like to draw pictures of trucks. As soon as she saw my expression she realized her mistake and started to apologize, but the deal was done. I went home and demanded that my parents cut my hair and announced that I was changing my name to “john.” This wasn’t the first time that someone had mistaken me for a girl, but it was the first time that I was genuinely hurt by the idea. This was the beginning of me coming to understand that a part of me expressed itself in a feminine way.
Later that same year, I met a young boy and developed a crush on him. He lived just beyond a small apple orchard near our home in Northern New Mexico. One day, we walked out into the orchard and he showed me the bees that his parents raised. That night, I dreamed that we got married in the Spring with all the apple trees in full blossom. We were two little boys in our tuxedos exchanging vows. The next morning, I remember thinking that I needed to keep that dream to myself. We build our closets when we are very young.
I didn’t know how to communicate to others that it felt natural to be infatuated with anyone who was smart or magical. There were lots of social cues that it was okay to like girls and not okay to like boys. I began to think of myself as two people, the “sick” one who liked boys and the normal one who liked girls. Other boys seemed to be perfectly happy to tease each other about being a “fag.” It always created in me a certain level of cognitive pain when trying to brush aside what for them seemed like just another form of competition. My male peers would talk about the girls they liked in terms of what they wanted to do with them; I couldn’t even relate enough to even pretend to understand. When I had a crush on a girl or boy, I wanted them to love me; I wanted to win their devotion or for them to pursue me.
I remember, as a high-school freshman, a classmate asked me if I was gay. I answered simply, “I like girls.” “If you aren’t gay, then what are you?” he asked; the question hung in the air, it presumed what everyone knew, /that I was different/. I responded, “I don’t know, maybe I’m a lesbian.” Given the terminology I had available to me at the time that was probably as reasonable an answer as I could give. In retrospect, part of this identification with being female was a rejection of the hyper-masculine social norms; I simply couldn’t identify with much of what was “normal” male behavior in my peers.
A while after this incident, I was explaining to a friend that I was attracted to both genders. He said, “You’re lucky, it sounds like you are bisexual. That gives you more choices than someone who is straight or gay.” Being able to share what I had been experiencing and discovering that my confusing attractions had a name was very liberating. I embraced the word and began to use it to communicate to my peers and it helped me become less inhibited when talking to gay men about my sexuality.
I came out to my mother the next year and my father a couple of years after that. As I began to explore relationships with other men, I was confronted by male lovers with the attitude that I was “confused” and that “once I figured out my true self” that I would be ready for a relationship. I was disgusted. I resented not having my identity taken seriously. I had been attacked and beaten for being a “fag” and (from my perspective) was just as out and proud as any of my gay lovers. I felt like my solidarity and sacrifice should earn me the right to be my true self.
I can look back now and understand better why the men that I cared for couldn’t look past my rigidity about being bisexual. When we are young, it is more important to us that others can support our fragile self-identities. We all needed to be reassured that what we have discovered of ourselves isn’t going to be rejected. It was the late ’80s and early ’90s, we were all afraid of catching HIV and needed to know that our love was reciprocated and that our lovers would be faithful. The difficulty of maintaining a marriage when there was no societal structure to support it can’t be overstated.
I fell in love with a man in my late teens. He struggled with allowing me to identify myself as bisexual. I had always really wanted children and despite his assurance that we could find a way, I knew that gay couples had a really hard time with adoptions; so I decided to leave the gay community to pursue my options as a “straight” man. I got married and was out to my wife, but it seemed irrelevant to come out to the world. Why hurt my business options and career, to announce something that I knew I wouldn’t be living. Is it any wonder that the gay community is so worried about committing to bisexuals, when it is so easy for men like me? I could simply walk away; unlike a gay man, I could find joy with either gender. When push came to shove, why wouldn’t I take the easier option.
Years later, I began to realize how little literature and stories represented the bisexual experience. I decided to start working on writing some stories that I hoped would help young men take the journey to self awareness, hopefully with less confusion and self hate than I experienced. I began to read and connect with the LGBTQ community and found that many of the attitudes that I had experienced as a young man had lessened. To be sure, gay men are still disappointed when I share my identity, but they no longer deem it necessary to belittle or condescend to me. Probably some of that is due to the fact that I am old enough to be (and am) a grandpa; however, I believe that attitudes are changing and as we continue to fight for more equality and rights for gay [and lesbian] couples, the less these labels will matter in building personal and community partnerships. I now understand that more important than whatever label someone wants to affix to me is the rights of homosexual couples. The more they are recognized and legitimized by our culture, the easier it will be for me to exist as a bisexual.
Over the last decade I have learned so much and am happy to be a witness to all the new terminology that helps us articulate our inner selves. I hold onto my identification as bisexual while recognizing that I am more attracted to gender queers than I am strictly cis-identifying males or females. The term pansexual felt too broad and lacked the personal connection that I have with the term bisexual. There are many terms that I have come to associate myself with in recent years, demisexual and sapiosexual among them; but, none hold the memory of joy and freedom that I felt when I was first able to put a word to my divided two-spirit self and love all aspects of myself.
Despite many improvements in creating a more inclusive culture, there are many children who grow up in homes where talking about their sexuality is forbidden or they are shamed for declaring their sexuality. There is still very little written, in the way of providing practical advice, for bisexual youth. A number of large scale studies have shown that bisexuals are less likely to be out than homosexuals. I believe the cognitive dissonance for bisexuals, especially those that live on a gender spectrum, can be very difficult to work through while dealing with the hormonal shifts of puberty. We need many more resources for those who are trying to help young people navigate the complexities of their sexual and gender identity. Those of us who have managed to get through the tangled webs of our post-puritan society with our identity intact, would be doing a great service by sharing and helping build guide posts for future generations.
I applaud this site for working to make a guide post in a world that lacks resources for bisexuals. All of our journeys are complex and full of the mysteries of life and how much difference the right word can make. How much easier it is if there is a community to help us see the path before us just a little bit better. I hope my story may add a little light on your path and that it makes your journey a little easier.
Djohnne / Brandy