"How could you not know?"
I get that question fairly often when people learn that I didn't figure out that I'm bi until I was 26. Well, sexuality isn't that simple. Although I always have believed that sexuality and orientation have to do with genetics or something else fundamentally engrained into a person and that someone doesn't merely "choose" to be gay, it isn't even just as simple as genetics. We are not raised in a bubble. Whether we like it or not, we are affected by our society, culture and social norms. We live in a straight-by-default society and are not taught to openly examine our sexuality to find who we truly are, who we are naturally attracted to and what kind of relationships we want to have. Instead, we are raised in the Barbie and Ken, Mickey and Minnie society. One boy, one girl, and that's that.
Just as we are taught words and language to better express our thoughts and feelings, we are taught a more silent language as well. We are taught how to perceive ourselves and what is considered as normal and that we should try to follow the generally accepted ways of life. If we are not taught how to speak, we would have a difficult time understanding ourselves and the world around us and would have a hard time expressing ourselves to others. However, that does not mean that we wouldn't have the same feelings and thoughts -- we just wouldn't know how to express them. Likewise, if we are not taught to explore ourselves beyond the accepted mainstream norms, we may not even realize all that there inside of us or how to express it.
I have heard from numerous bisexual people who did not figure out that they like both sexes until later in life. I am not alone. From an early age we are encouraged in straight behavior, even if no one realizes that they are doing it. One reader commented on one of my previous blogs that at an early age, she had a crush on both a boy and a girl, but the crush on the boy was the one that was encouraged. She, too, didn't "figure out" and come to terms with her bisexuality until much later. For both of us, in retrospect we can look back and our bisexuality is obvious all the way back to kindergarten. From where I stand now, it's easy to ask myself, "How could I not have known?"
Throughout my life, I have had far more crushes on girls than boys. By college, I could actually begin to recognize the danger zone. The, "Uh oh, here's another girl that I'm going to feel obsessive over for some reason, so I'd better be careful" feeling. I just didn't know why that kept happening. But ever since kindergarten there would be some girl that I absolutely adored and had to be her friend. I cringe now as I look back on those earlier crushes. I would be obnoxiously puppy-dog-like and follow them around and fawn all over them. But since most of these girls were older than me, I and everyone else around me just chalked it up to me wishing I had an older sister. Being the oldest child myself, I always wished I had a big sister to look up to and emulate. While these little obsessions probably had something to do with that as well, that theory got harder to uphold as I got older. That little-sister-wannabe thing may be kind of cute for little kids, but when you're a high school or college student? You should have grown out of that by then, it would seem.
By the time I got to college I at least was beginning to be slightly more sane about my crushes. At least then I had finally managed to actually become real friends with these women, unlike just being a distant, kind of cute shadow in my younger years. It bothered me, however, that I didn't know why these friendships were different. Why was it that I was so focused on this one girl who usually wasn't even a very good friend to me, and why would I drop whatever I was doing to go to her and help her if she needed it or wanted to hang out with me or whatever when I had all these other friends who were actually much better friends to me? Why would I keep becoming obsessed with one person and then feel guilty about not feeling so strongly about the rest of my friends? I didn't want to be the girl who favored one friend over another for no good reason. I was called out on it, too. After a big bout of college drama that caused all of my friend's friends to abandon her, except for me, one of our mutual friends -- I'll call her "L" -- said that she couldn't be friends with me anymore, either. L said that my friendship with this other girl, N, always got in the way of L's and my friendship, and she wasn't comfortable by how much N affected me. She didn't want to be friends with N anymore, but she didn't think I could be distanced enough from her to have a totally separate friendship with L, so we parted ways for a number of years.
It was with N that I really should have figured out that I like girls. She was the huggy, kissy type of girl who was affectionate with all of her friends. It absolutely thrilled me when she took my hand or kissed my cheek, and she gave the best hugs in the world. She lived in town, so when I didn't go home for school breaks, we were able to hang out. The first night of Thanksgiving break she stayed in my dorm before she was set to go to her parents' house the next day. When it came time to go to bed, I gestured to the three empty beds where my three roommates slept, saying she could choose any of their beds to sleep in, or she could always bunk with me if she didn't want to sleep in a stranger's bed. I secretly hoped she would choose my bunk, even though I knew it was probably a ridiculous option for two grown women to try to squeeze into a twin-sized top bunk with no guard rails when there are three perfectly good vacant beds open. Much to my surprise, I was thrilled when she chose my bunk. It was such a happy, warm feeling to cuddle up to my best friend all night. But once again, I attributed it to the sister-I-never-had feelings.
Later that year, when we were sharing her bed in her old room at her parents' house on another school vacation, I couldn't figure out why I had an uncontrollable urge to stroke her hair until she fell asleep. It's like that scene in Tootsie when Dustin Hoffman's character is dressed as a woman, staying at "her" girlfriend's parents' house and sharing the same bed. As "Dottie," he stroked Julie's hair. His man character had a crush on her, but his female alter ego, of course, couldn't reveal that factor. In both the movie and in real life, the innocent women murmured something about that being nice and that one of their family members used to do that when she was a child. It truly was innocent -- I just didn't know that it also meant something more to me.
There actually were a few nights in college when I lay on my hand-me-down futon in the dark and wondered -- just for a moment -- "Am I a lesbian?" I'd pretty quickly conclude, naaaahh, I can't be. I'd had a boyfriend in college and I'd enjoyed that, right? For some reason it never occurred to me that I might be bi.
After I met my husband, he unleashed my tenacious control over my intimate fantasies. I'd never felt so safe with anyone. We explored all kinds of things and reveled in each other and our imaginations. One night, my former college roommate and I were talking on the phone. Each of us were newly married, and each of us had discovered new intimate worlds, and we delighted in the fact that we had just learned that the other was a safe person to talk to about it. Neither of us had dated in college, so it was a new and exciting thing to talk about with each other. I got brave and casually said that every once in a while Nick and I would share fantasies where I was with a woman. "Oh, I never think about anything like that," she said. SLAM. That door in my head flew shut and would remain firmly closed for another year, although the fantasies did not stop.
Even after Nick flat out told me that year that I was bi, I wasn't ready to hear it. It scared me. It totally changed my perception of my identity and I wasn't there yet. It wasn't until my best friend told me that she had been with women before that I finally felt ready and safe enough to explore that idea for myself. We are not raised to consider or accept that we might be anything other than straight. Without the proper tools or understanding, it can be difficult for many young people to know how to sort out their feelings and instead seek other ways to interpret them.
I truly believe that the true sexual norm is that it is somewhere on a spectrum and that most people fall somewhere in between 100% straight or gay, even if these feelings are never acted upon. I hope that I live to see the day when society is more open about the broader range of sexual preferences and doesn't try to stuff everyone into predetermined "straight" boxes. After I finally came out as bisexual, I felt such an immense sense of relief and freedom. Much of my awkwardness with women was initially lifted and I felt like I could finally relax and be me. I hear so many similar stories from other bisexual women and men. I know I'm not alone. And I wish I could somehow reach all the other people out there who are still struggling with accepting their bisexuality and tell them it's okay. You're normal, too. It doesn't have to be scary to lift the limits of love.