Adventure girl learns a lesson on playing for both sides
‘How did you cope being in a heterosexual relationship for ten years?’
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a boyfriend. For longer than that, I’ve had fantasies about women. Not as one woman shagging another, but as a man shagging a woman – only I’m that man.
I used to fear that I was somehow trapped inside a man’s body, and yet I’m hardly man-ish, or even butch. I’ve never identified as a lesbian, because I still like men, and gravitate towards relationships with them. Being with guys feels natural, comfortable. And while women get my juices flowing, particularly in my erotic imaginings, very few of them turn me into a weak-at-the-knees clichéd mess the way a crush on a cute boy can.
To be fair, the boys I tend to be attracted to aren’t your meat-and-three-veg, pie-eating, beer-swilling, football-watching belchers. I like arty-types, nerdy-types, guys who are not so pretty as to bring their sexuality into immediate question, but definitely not someone you would run into on the rugby field.
As for my taste in women, I’ve never been attracted to ‘butch’ girls. I like women who are feminine, who are gender-stereotypical ‘girls’. The problem is many of these women identify as straight.
Growing up I didn’t know what to do with these stirrings. I wasn’t a lesbian because I still liked guys. I wasn’t straight, because I liked girls. The concept of bisexuality wasn’t something I had ever come across – it certainly wasn’t a box you could tick on any form the way it is today. Instead I took what I was experiencing and internalised it. I noticed women, thinking I wanted to be like them, and compared myself to them, forever falling short. The erotic response they stirred in me was what I pictured being stirred in the
pants minds of other guys – guys I liked. How could I compete with that?
To complicate matters I grew up in a household where I was over-exposed to the sexually graphic material and sexually misogynistic attitudes of a father who had firm ideas on what a woman ‘ought’ to be: an object of his desire. Blonde hair, big boobs and brainless. Any woman who fell short was an affront and had no business existing in his narcissistic world. The result was a messed-up me: brunette, scrawny, nerdy, with severe body image issues and a fucked-up sense of what sex should be.
It took all of my eating-disordered teens and most of my over-weight twenties (I discovered body dysmorphia works both ways) to recognise and accept that it wasn’t that I wanted to be these women; it was that I wanted them.
But having admitted that much, I had no idea where to start. Finally I could talk about being curious, about wanting the experience of being with a woman. That in itself was no big deal – a lot of girls fooled around with other girls and it didn’t make them any less ‘straight’ – they just never fooled around with me. But whenever I had a crush on a girl or tried to approach someone, I managed to freak them out, presumably because they were straight, while girls who were openly gay always looked through me. I’ve never understood that look, except that it felt like an accusation: you’re not one of us.
I remember being at university – finally (but briefly) single – and seeing posters for ‘queer’ clubs, including for the ‘bi-curious’, but I never felt I belonged there. Not only had I never been with a woman, I was secretly scared of vagina. What if I had to go down on a girl? What if I didn’t like it? Surely that meant I wasn’t gay or bi? I had forgotten that I’d had the exact same reaction to seeing, touching and tasting a penis for the first time. And still there was this niggle: outwardly, I was straight as straight. I didn’t dress like someone who identified as ‘queer’, I wasn’t into protests and rallies and debating the finer points of the works of Michel Foucault, which is pretty much what the Queer Club looked like from the outside, at least at my university. It was the feeling I got in a lot of places – you’re not one of us – and it was enough to scare me back into the dress-up box.
Before long I had a boyfriend again, and then another, and exploring my sexuality was out of the question. I had almost opened the dress-up box when the lid was again slammed tight, and I was left cowering in the dark, carrying around my dirty little secret, ashamed whenever my wandering eyes betrayed me, whenever I felt I was perving as obviously as any guy. I was a freak with shameful desires, wearing a disguise that didn’t quite fit, because I didn’t fit in anywhere.
Ten years and a marriage later, I was looking to explore again. At 29 I was finally able to admit that I was ready to open the dress-up box and this time try a new sexual identity on for size. But I didn’t know where to start. All I saw were judging eyes from the women I wanted to accept me: you’re not one of us.
‘Lesbians don’t like tourists,’ I was told. They certainty don’t want to feel ‘used’ for a cheap experiential thrill, which is completely understandable. And even if I could find someone willing to accept my desire to explore as genuine interest, would they really want to carry my coming-out burden?
Eventually a lesbian friend offered to take me to a gay bar to see if my ‘fresh meat’ appeal could get me past those barriers, but by the time that plan came to fruition, I was coupled-up again, wearing a ‘straight’ costume once more.
At least my partner at that time knew about my desires. His problem wasn’t with me being bi-curious; it was a fear that I might act on that curiosity – a betrayal of our monogamous relationship.
It was only once I was finally single for an extended period of time, with no intention of getting coupled-up, that I began to talk more openly about my desires and tried the bi-curious label on for size. I was still faced with the same dilemma, however, of how to meet someone who would let me try them on, too.
A few months after setting my sexual preference on a dating site to ‘bi-curious’ I was filling out a survey that asked me to indicate my sexuality. I saw the different options listed and I hesitated. I didn’t want to tick ‘straight’ or ‘gay’ or ‘bi-curious’, because by then I knew I was more than that. The only option that seemed to fit was ‘bisexual’.
I ticked the box.
There it was, in ink, non-retractable. And it felt good, right. Finally I could accept this hybrid position of liking men and women, and knew it was okay.
That same week a woman approached me. ‘I’m not certain, but I’m pretty sure you’re into girls,’ she said, ‘would you like to go on a date?’
Since then I have been approached by other women, mostly as a ‘unicorn’ for their coupled-up encounters, but also for one-on-one play-dates. From these I have learned the type of girl I like tends to be the type of girl who likes guys and girls, who identifies as ‘bi’ at most, but oftentimes ‘straight’ with a willingness and desire to venture into the sexuality dress-up box, just like me. It turns out that several of the guys I have been attracted to who are straight-identified are not-so-straight either, having also had experiences with men.
I belong here.
Now I have a boyfriend again. This time I know that I can establish rules outside convention, outside monogamy. The ‘price of admission’ for my partner, and for me, is that we can still see other people and that I can still explore my bisexuality. I don’t have to stuff that side of me back into the box of forbidden dress-ups and hide who I am. I can’t help what I desire, and I shouldn’t feel ashamed.
In coming out, in accepting that part of me, I feel like I’m finally wearing what fits. I have a confidence and a feeling of self-assurance I previously lacked. What finally got me there wasn’t a shift in the people around me, it was a shift in me.
The person I had to come out to was myself.