Why bother writing this at all? Simply because I've learned that seeing your experiences reflected whether on television, film or in writing, is an important part of figuring yourself out. I'm writing this in the hope that I can say something that will resonate with one person. Perhaps you're someone who I know already or one of those strangers that's a friend I haven't met. Hi, if you're out there. Awesome to meet you, or (maybe) good to see you again.
The schools session had such an impact on me and it left me excited and energised for this coming year, or as some of my friends have been saying #superkeenfor2016. We went through what we might expect when going into the schools, FAQs, how to deal with tricky or invasive questions and so on. However, the most moving part was when we had to take time to write down our own stories and share them with the group. I worried I didn't have enough of a story - how could I hope to help or inspire a room full of 200 school children? Was it going to be enough to talk about the difficulties that can be faced by people who identity as bisexual? The old doubts about my story not being enough surfaced and in that breath I realised that the way I felt was precisely why I have to tell my story and exactly why I have something to offer. Even in the safest of spaces that gnawing sense of not quite fitting began to creep over me. Doubts about the legitimacy of my experience, my feelings, my identity nagged at me when I sat down to write. All of the things that initially made me question if an organisation like Stonewall would get value out of having someone like me as on board came flooding back.
These doubts and feelings of inadequacy are not uncommon for me or for other people who identify as bisexual. I don't speak for everyone and individual experiences are different, but studies conducted on biphobia and bivisibility together with discussions with friends who share similar identities (if not experiences), have led me to conclude that those doubts are pervasive for a not insignificant number of bisexuals. That sense of not quite fitting or of not being straight enough and not being gay enough still abounds and bisexuals can feel marginalised and lost as they try to find where they best fit on a non-binary spectrum and break down common misnomers around bisexuality. The specter of 'straight privilege' is ever present as is the suggestion that bisexuality is simply a transition point with binary sexuality being more authentic than non-binary or fluid sexuality.
I pushed my fears to one side and, just as I've always loved to do, I lost myself in writing - but this time I wasn't writing fiction. I drank a hell of a lot of coffee which probably sent my anxiety off the scale, and, for the first time, I wrote down my story in a cohesive and open way. I put my heart on the page, and drew on things I haven't thought about for years - things I'd forgotten were there - moments in time which had a profound impact never articulated, disappearing into a subconscious haze of memories and waiting quietly to be retrieved on a day like Friday.
I've never been quite so overwhelmed by a mess of scrawled thoughts on a page, save for when I've written eulogies in a burst of emotion and sadness. In this story, nobody died, but I still feel like I've buried part of me forever - that part that's stewing in silence instead of confronting difficult topics head on. The realisation hit me that if I ever hope to make any kind of difference, I have to be able to expose my innermost thoughts and fears to people without fear of censure. I have to able to talk. It was cathartic and liberating. I write stories exploring sexuality, LGBTQ activism, queer identities and homophobia all of the time, but this story wasn't fiction - I was the protagonist unable to hide behind the guise of somebody else's character.
I could hardly read when I sat before the group, with shaking hands and introduced myself. Despite being used to public speaking, it was genuinely one of the most nerve-wracking experiences I've had in recent years. I'm not ashamed to say that my paper trembled and my voice shook as I talked. This was a different kind of public speaking because there was no distance between me and the subject matter. With a sense of nostalgia I was able to talk openly and honestly about how I wish there had been identifiable LGBT role models for me at school and university (of course Section 28 was still very much in force during my school years). What a thing it would have been, to have been given the opportunity to ask the questions I've had for years and struggled to ask out loud.
I was met with unbelievable warmth, support, empathy and that most life-affirming moment of shared experience. Mine was not the bravest story, not by a long shot, but the experience of telling it feels like a critical first step in enabling me to progress to the next step of becoming more public and active with the issues I care about so deeply. Many of the stories I heard from other attendees - both good and bad - had a profound impact on me. People laughed, people cried and every single person in our small group opened up and showed all of their strength and all of their vulnerability. Their stories, of course, are not mine to tell, so I'll leave the details in the room I left on Friday evening.
I'd love to use this blog as a space not only to talk about all of the core subject areas this blog was created to cover, but I'd also like to tell you more about my personal journey with Stonewall and other organisations I plan to get involved with this year. I hope you'll enjoy hearing about the work I hope to do over the course of this year. Please don't hesitate to contact me on Twitter or Facebook or in the comment section if you have any questions or suggestions for initiatives I might like to be involved with.
I wanted to conclude this post with some messages about bisexuality based on things I've seen postulated in the media when bisexual identity gets discussed and discussions I've had with people. Those kind of discussions that are NO FUN. In the #loveislove era when there has been so much progress in terms of LGBT equality, to still find so many common misnomers around bisexuality has been an unhappy surprise and I wanted to include my thoughts about comment misconceptions here, in this post.
BISEXUALITY MYTH BUSTING
- Bisexuals are perfectly comfortable with monogamy and don't want to have sex with everyone they meet. Genuinely. Even if you're really hot.
- Being bisexual does not make someone confused. It is not a 'curiosity' or a 'phase'. It's just a simple fact of life that some people like to look at posters of Winona Ryder and Johnny Depp. Or whoever the kids are watching in films these days.
- Having said that, if it turns out you actually are confused, or if your bisexuality turns out to be a transition point, that's cool too. The labels are yours to embrace or not, in a way which feels most comfortable for you. A lot of people question their sexuality and the only person that can properly define those things bubbling beneath the surface is you. Just remember experiences like that don’t invalidate bisexuality. Many people will identify as bisexual throughout their lives, without going off to explore a brave new world.
- Bisexuals don't spend their relationship with a partner of one gender, pining after a relationship with a partner of another gender. Seriously. Even if you're really hot (see #1, above).
- People choose the labels they are most comfortable with for reasons of their own and it's for that person to explain what the label means to them. Don't make assumptions that bisexuals think in gender binary terms. It does not have to exclude attraction to people who identify as trans*, genderqueer, genderfluid, intersex or anywhere else on a non-binary gender spectrum. Bisexuality is the attraction to people of the same gender and other genders.
- Sexuality and gender are two different things and one does not define the other. Bisexuals may be cis-gendered, non-binary, trans* etc. I'm sure they'll talk about gender if it's relevant and/or something they're ready to share and explain.
- A bisexual is no less bisexual because of a monogamous relationship. They do not become gay or become straight as a result of the gender of their partner.
- Having more long term experience with partners of one gender as opposed to another does not make someone any less bisexual. Bisexuals should not be required to 'prove' or 'justify' their sexuality. Please don't ask them to, it kinda sucks and some of my most challenging moments have been when people have pursued that line of questioning. All I hear is 'I don't believe you', even if that's not what's meant by the question. Being asked if you exist, in real life, hurts. Like a punch in the gut.
- Bisexuals can be closeted. Bisexuals do have coming out stories. Coming out can be hard and embracing a bisexual identity has its challenges. I've come out to people at work, parents, friends and family. Each one was challenging and, sometimes, weird. In most cases I felt too hot, vulnerable, unsettled and incredibly nervous. I’m still nervous, even now. Perhaps because in some ways, this is me still coming out. Hi, internet at large *waves*.
- In this day and age, does anyone really care if someone is bisexual? If the person talking to you about their sexuality cares enough to tell you, you can assume it's important to them. If you care about them, then care about the conversation, because those conversations - even now - can be tough. See bullet point above.
- Bisexuals are not automatically going to be promiscuous or into threesomes. Beyond the gender of potential partners, sexuality has nothing to do with sexual preference.
- Bisexuals are not undecided or unable to make a choice. If that's what you think, consider whether you're the one that's confused.
- Bisexuals sometimes feel lost, because it's hard to know where you fit.
- Bisexuals face homophobic slurs, biphobic slurs, depression, loneliness, fear, shame, internalised homophobia/biphobia, violence, oppression and struggles which people in the LGBTQ community will recognise.
- Bisexuals cry, laugh, fuck up, do good, wonderful things, do terrible things, break hearts, put them back together again and live as only human beings can in this messy, beautiful, brilliant world.
- I'm proud to be bisexual.
That's all I have to say on the matter, for now. I'll be back with something less deep and introspective later in the week. Maybe a nice book review.
Thanks for reading, if you made it this far, feel free to leave comments as you wish. Be nice ;-)