My first kiss was with a girl. My first real, long-term relationship was with a girl. I’ve always been attracted to women, though I never labeled myself a “lesbian” because I’ve always been attracted to men, too. Growing up, I never knew that bisexuality was a valid identity. My parents weren’t necessarily homophobic, but they always pushed the belief that people are either attracted to men or women—never both. Getting over that belief that had been drilled into me since a young age was probably the hardest part of coming to terms with my sexuality. I had to remind myself that all of my feelings were completely acceptable and valid, especially while I was living in a small town with little to no LGBTQ+ representation. Luckily, after moving away from that town before my freshman year of high school, I found a group of strong, supportive friends who all identified as LGBTQ+. They continued to remind me that my bisexuality was legitimate. Eventually, I started to agree with them and gain confidence in my sexuality.
Two years into high school, I started crushing on a boy in my math class named Adam. Up until then I had only experienced romantic and sexual relationships with female-identifying people, so the thought of getting into a relationship with a man made me nervous. I told myself that I should stay away. Stick to what I know. But as I continued to start falling in love with him, I knew that I couldn’t deny my feelings. In April of my junior year, Adam and I made our relationship official. I was incredibly happy with him (and still am!), yet a feeling of self-doubt began creeping into me. I couldn’t seem to shake it. One day while looking around at my group of friends, two of whom were in romantic relationships with females, I realized that the feeling wasn’t even doubt at all: it was guilt. How could I call myself a member of the LGBTQ+ community if I was in a heterosexual relationship? I wasn’t struggling. I wasn’t oppressed. I wasn’t wrestling with the idea of coming out to my parents like my other friends were. All of my past queer relationships were suddenly overshadowed by this one.
As with any other form of guilt, I didn’t want to keep living with it. I decided to start consistently taking some time to be alone and think about what was really causing this self-disgust. I thought about all the times I had struggled to come to terms with my queer identity, the conversations I’d had with my friends about being attracted to another girl, and the excitement that filled me when I attended my first pride march. This self-reflection taught me something very important: I wasn’t scared of losing my queer identity—I was scared of others not seeing me as queer. I wanted to be accepted by the LGBTQ+ community and have confidence in the fact that despite my current relationship, I didn’t identify as straight. I started advocating for the acceptance of bisexuality online and in my local community. Soon, I realized that there were many other people like me in the exact same position who understood and validated each other. I came to the realization that as long as I was proud of myself and knew what I was fighting for, nobody could take my identity away from me.
Despite craving acceptance and recognition of my queer identity, I was struggling to tell Adam about my sexuality. My past queer relationships had been very private. He had no idea that I even identified as something other than straight. It felt so, so wrong to be in a relationship with him and not be able to be completely honest with him, but I was terrified of telling him. I thought he would assume that my feelings towards him weren’t real. I thought that he would think the same way that my parents did: that I could only be attracted to one gender, so my past relationships defined my sexuality. I ended up bringing up bisexuality with him a few times to get his viewpoint on it. He told me that he completely agreed that it was a valid LGBTQ+ identity. This calmed my nerves enough for me to finally decide to tell him.
He shrugged. Smiled. He said he was proud of me and didn’t feel any differently towards me. He asked about my past relationships and why they ended. He asked what he could do differently in the future to make sure he never hurt me. Most importantly, he asked me to tell him more about what it was like to be queer because he wanted to understand my struggles and self-doubts. I was shocked by his response, completely in denial that he could still want to be with me after keeping a secret like that from him for so long. Then I realized: why the hell was I so surprised?
The stereotypes of sexuality that my parents had taught me at a young age were so ingrained in me that I couldn’t believe my boyfriend was simply a decent, supportive person. I had absolutely nothing to be afraid of. Ever since my conversation with Adam, I’ve started encouraging those around me to recognize that even if somebody is in a heterosexual relationship, they can still identify as queer. Our inner struggles are not defined by our relationships. To anybody reading this who may identify as bisexual, you are real, you are valid, and you are queer. If your significant other doesn’t recognize this then I encourage you to prioritize your own happiness. My journey of self-acceptance is still continuing as I grow up, but the support of others has truly made a positive difference. Whether you identify as bisexual or not, I encourage you to be an ally to those who may be experience similar challenges.