when i was 18, i thought i wanted a girlfriend.
in hindsight, i wasn’t trying to find a person or a relationship; i wanted to be baptised into queerness. to have someone give me the sign with their whole hand and say here, you can stop being scared.
here is sex. a locket. a latch to your people. a sentence you can say to stop them barring the door.
because i deeply feared that my queerness wasn’t real, every encounter became a test; a paranoid examination with wildly unfair parameters. of course i was not natural, of course i moved like a wrenched wooden doll. of course my stomach seized up.
i did not have, had not found, the forgiving space to awkwardly grow around someone else. i had a speed-date, a picture, a bright nightclub floor, and a catalogue of signals i could not meet.
queerness, the thing i knew was tied to me and i intensely believed i’d failed at, became a site of overt pride and covert, complicated pain.
i have carried the belief for years that ‘not queer enough’ is a sentence i conjured for myself, from my own insecurity, and which has since lingered at the edges of my life. now i am not so sure that i first heard it in my own voice.
bisexuals fail at being one thing. people like to encapsulate each other at a moment in time. so either you have to be conceived in terms of manic simultaneity (i just want everyone, constantly, all the time), which is a tough sell for most of us, or in terms of the solid position you are in at that moment: what gender are you dating? what is your social circle? where on the spectrum is your mind? give 1 answer.
we are an afterthought in queer spaces and a non-thought in straight ones, but that does not mean we are being lazily brought into the fold: ‘you’re gay now’, ‘you’re straight now’. no. in each space we carry the taint of the other one, though it is an awkwardness rather than a fully recognised origin. you are a potential defector, says the subtext, but you are not a full citizen of both.
it is telling that bisexual women whose lives function as the lives of lesbians, who only date women, whose primary attraction is women, who get spat at on buses by people whose eyes are full of lesbian, are still treated by some lesbians with suspicion. do not use these terms, or those ones. are you still so attached to that label? why?
but while they are a useful example, i am wary of how those women are often used as the pinnacles of bisexual virtue —
as if bisexuals are only good when they practice consistency enough to almost make it believable.
the bi lesbian discourse carries a disturbing hue, to me, because it positions bisexual women as the vectors of harm to lesbians. bi women bring their men, but we can cut ourselves away in lesbian-only groups; but if people who are not bleached of men, or who are too-much-not-women, can call themselves lesbians, we are not safe.
i believe this misses the fact that, so far as ‘safe’ means ‘a man will keep sincerely believing that he has a right to your body regardless of you calling yourself a lesbian’, lesbians have never been safe and bisexual women & non-binary people have no bearing on lesbian safety. men will be there regardless. they did not come because the bisexual women invited them. they were already there. they never left.
it also positions lesbians as a group whose vulnerability is more precious because they, at least, had the good sense to not be attracted to men. bisexual women experience more sexual violence than either straight or lesbian women, but bisexual women are often not seen as worthy of protection in the same way— even when they came to the lesbian bar for a reason.
is biphobic violence a thing, when it is rare that bisexuality can be held singly in the mind for long enough to swing at it? but how can every word that hits us be in some way misdirected – misdirected lesbophobia, misdirected homophobia – when it sure seemed to be looking for us?
does love of the same carry less joy, less content, less radical possibility, than disavowal of the other?
in my too-high non-binary voice: what is the other?
i looked for feminine girls because i thought they would be the same as me if i was the person i aspired to be. now i know i have never felt sameness with anyone.
bisexuality can feel like an offcuts bin into which i have been doubly cast. you have suspicious edges; in you go.
we can have difficulty forming communities for ourselves, despite the bond of being an afterthought elsewhere, because we come in from so many different origin points. there is a lovely chattering confluence, and a solidarity, but one that comes often from far away.
i even write to you from the term bisexual, a term splintered from multiple other terms with which it nervously overlaps. i cannot help but sometimes drop eye contact.
i want no gender on my head, a thing that is impossible. i watch other non-binary people love their genders with a fierceness i find both inspiring and alien.
juno roche in queer sex says she thinks she’s attracted to masculinity. some like the poles of gender, or the middle, or very particular things from every gender, or the least gender they can get away with.
i like bright-eyed men, and non-binary people, and women who look queer and kind and don’t trip my dysphoria. i don’t seek a word for that.
i probably slant more towards men, but it is hard to tell. i have a close and anguished relationship with womanhood; men and manhood, by contrast, have an easy, comic difference, if i am lucky and stay away from the ones that would hurt me, and lucky i am.
someone calls me he and i find it funny.
someone calls me she — a dull pain.
sex is another thing.
i was granted a queer sex narrative as a teenager, which was: graduate from bad sex with men to good sex with women. become elevated as a person, better, stronger. move from ignorance into sheer white light. your body is not complete yet, but it will be.
i do not wish to ascribe this narrative to any one source, or to knock those for whom it was very much true. i know where this often comes from and i know it has an honest source. i will not pull the jokes from anyone’s mouth; god knows the humour comes from pain, the humour comes from the need to build ourselves up, and bad sex is funny.
but just for me, from the body i have, its ambivalent gender, its refusals, its knots: it was not a story that helped me. it was not what i needed to hear.
some people configure bisexuality as an ultimate openness and celebrate it that way, but it is not. nobody is ultimately open. everyone has their exclusions, and rightly so. it is just limited openness across a wider scale.
loving men is not a thing i need to reclaim, because it is what i was meant to be. still, i am in the difficult space of wanting to celebrate loving-men-while-being-not-what-i-was-meant-to-be.
or maybe i just love this self and its capacities, of which my partner is one. he figures in my life everywhere. and in my queerness, somewhere.
i can hold my partner’s hand as i walk down the street. the fear of assault, of public abuse; the hypervisibility; these are where the most resources should go. i am lucky to avoid much danger.
my life is coloured by the fainter, more existential anxieties. i am grateful for queer spaces, queer groups, but i have rarely felt held by them, seen in my entirety. more than that, in many spaces, the prospect of my being held is seen as a threat: a disintegration of the ability to hold others.
being bisexual and non-binary, i have internalised the belief that i am an embarrassment and an inconvenience. i will always preface that with ‘these are smaller concerns than being the primary targets of abuse.’ but the two experiences do not cancel each other out.
of course, some of us are the primary targets of abuse. but when you move through the ring of fire, you are presumed to have left the other half of yourself behind.