Fighting bi-erasure gets even trickier after you’ve given birth.
Bisexual (adj): sexually attracted not exclusively to people of one particular gender; attracted to both men and women
Pansexual (adj): not limited in sexual choice with regard to biological sex, gender, or gender identity
If we’re going to be accurate about this, I’m actually pansexual, but here’s the deal. It is far easier and less exhausting to say I’m bisexual because it’s a term most people are familiar with, regardless of their… (ahem)… opinions on the matter.
When I tell a new friend “I’m bisexual”, the general reaction is fairly unremarkable. When I say “I’m pansexual”, I either get “oh, okay” from the woke friends or I get the vague glazing over of eyes from… pretty much everyone else.
So while I am one, it takes an awful lot less time and energy to explain the other. For the purposes of this article (and my day to day interactions with the populace), bisexual is the word I’ll use for now.
I’m embarrassed at how much of it I laughed off, letting people think it was funny when it wasn’t.
The first person I came out to was my friend from volleyball. It was high school. We were sixteen. We were in her car heading… I honestly don’t remember where, but the subject of dating came up.
“Well, is there anyone you like?”
“There are a couple of people I like, and that’s what’s scary.”
“Well… one’s a girl.”
“Do you think she might like you back?”
And that was that. She accepted right then and there that I had an attraction I wasn’t sure how to handle. She didn’t out me. She didn’t fear it might be her. Nothing was awkward between us, not even a little.
That would turn out to be (bless her) the best and most accepting reaction I got from anyone for some years…
“Wait, so you’re just… greedy?”
“Oh, but isn’t there one you like more?”
“Okay, so like… what percentage of lesbian are you?”
Oh, yes. Lots of that.
My feelings weren’t important enough to consider because, apparently, every person I talked to only understood half of me.
So I stopped talking about it. At a time in my life when I desperately wanted to talk about what was going on with me, what was in my heart, what made me tick, why I operated the way that I did… I couldn’t.
Didn’t anybody realize that if I could have “just picked one”, I would have? Didn’t they understand that it wasn’t fun to be mocked that way? To be called “indecisive” or “opportunistic” just because of who I liked? To be solicited for threesomes at every turn? To be used as the experiment partner for girls who were either vying for male attention by making out with another girl or too scared to admit that they truly wanted to explore their sexuality?
Even the gay friends (and I had plenty) made no bones about teasing me mercilessly, arguing that they were allowed to do so because they had it harder than I did as “full gays” and not “half gays”.
It didn’t matter how often I asked them not to. It didn’t matter even if I walked out of the room upset. My feelings weren’t important enough to consider because, apparently, every person I talked to only understood half of me.
I didn’t have an extensive romantic repertoire as a teenager – I went on a grand total of two dates in high school – which I discovered allowed me to avoid quite a lot of the gossip. The first date was a last minute set up freshman year. He was sweet to me and I liked his manners, but that was really as far as it went. The second date was with a girl who could make my skin turn inside out whenever she kissed me.
I knew I would keep my daughter. As terrifying and as emotionally exhausting as everything was at the time, I knew I would keep her.
It wasn’t until college that I had any “real” relationships that I would have classified as “steady” or “dating” or whatever else the kids are calling it these days.
And it wasn’t until college was nearly over that one of those relationships dropped a big life-changing bomb right in my lap.
So, not only was I the “greedy” girl who was too “indecisive” for anyone to want to try anything long-term for fear I would cheat and yet still too uptight for casual sex with random couples…
I was all of that, and I was unexpectedly pregnant.
I knew I would keep my daughter. As terrifying and as emotionally exhausting as everything was at the time, I knew I would keep her. Many an overwrought argument with family members (his and mine) were had. Many screaming matches with him. Many tears shed over “how the hell am I supposed to do this?”
But I kept her.
And I left him.
Two of my wiser choices, both of them.
She was not yet a year old when I strapped her into her carrier and I took us to our first National Coming Out Day.
I had broken up with my ex several months previously, and was very content to be single and not looking for a while. I knew who I was without a partner and I knew who I was as a mother.
But I wanted to like that person. And that meant acknowledging a part of myself that I’d felt the need to keep hidden for years.
I was glad I didn’t go with the pressures or expectations of bringing someone, LGBTQ or not.
So I went to National Coming Out Day, very similar to Pride, but less a parade and more of a block party. Plenty of families and (in Philly at least) plenty of food trucks. I had never been before and I while was a little nervous at first, I sucked in a deep breath, bought my little one a rainbow striped beanie, and I wandered.
I won’t say I got some mind-bending satisfaction out of the experience. I won’t say it was any kind of spiritual revelation for me.
But it was fun. I had a really great time dancing and wandering around and chatting with the people I met. I was glad it was just me and my daughter. I was glad I didn’t go with the pressures or expectations of bringing someone, LGBTQ or not.
She loved it, too. She loved the hat that kept slipping down over her eyes. She loved the music. She loved that I carried her across my chest the whole time. We were where we were supposed to be, and we were both happy.
Popping into a coffeehouse for a bagel and a moment of rest, we drew a bit of attention. I unbuckled my kiddo out of her carrier, set her on my knees, and not a moment later, we had company.
“She is too cute!”
“I love her hat – where did you get that?”
…one of the women kind of smirked sadly and told me “yeah, accident babies don’t really happen for lesbians.”
Another two friends that day, these a beautiful lesbian couple who were (I would find out moments later) trying to adopt. They’d brought their cocker spaniel along for the day, who delighted my little one into fits of giggles.
When they started in on “yeah, we’re looking for one of our own” and how tricky their process had been to become moms, I tried to be encouraging, but it ended up coming out as an awkward “it’ll happen when it’s meant to – she was unplanned, so…”
At which point, one of the women kind of smirked sadly and told me “yeah, accident babies don’t really happen for lesbians.”
I hadn’t meant to be insensitive, but as soon as she said it, I realized how it had sounded. Here I was with a beautiful, healthy little girl in my lap, and here they were, jealous that it wasn’t so easy for them.
I wanted to clarify. I wanted to tell them I was bisexual and that I belonged there too and that it was a huge struggle to have her and keep her and care for her.
But I knew I couldn’t say anything that wouldn’t sound glib or dismissive or cruel.
Furthermore, I was afraid that if I said the “b” word, I’d be scoffed at.
I don’t hide my sexuality. I don’t lie about it. I don’t pretend to be straight, although I certainly pass for it.
“What does it matter anymore that you were bisexual? You’re with him now.”
I’ve now been in a committed relationship with a man for nearly six years. He is supportive and loving and compassionate and (best of all) he understands that sometimes he just doesn’t understand. So he’ll rub my feet and get us some ice cream, and he’ll listen.
And I’m glad that, even if it took a few years longer than I’d hoped, I now have someone I can talk to about this without any hint of jealousy or possessiveness, and we both openly acknowledge that while it appears I’m straight, I’m not.
I will still get some of this sometimes.
“What does it matter anymore that you were bisexual? You’re with him now.”
What that question fails to realize is that it isn’t past tense. It’s not a verb. It’s not an action or a job or a place. It is a quality of my chemistry. It’s as much a part of me as being a mother.
My daughter and I are a small family and an offbeat one, perhaps. I hope she knows how important it is to me she knows all of me, regardless of other people and their opinions.
And I wish so badly she never tells her friends one day that mommy used to be half a lesbian.