Misconceptions abound within LGBT community about the realities of bisexuality, but it’s just as “‘hard-wired’ as any other orientation
I’ve been called many things in my life daughter, sister, wife, lover, friend but rarely bisexual.
People who have seen me with my partner, Ann, over the past 15 years just assume I’m a lesbian. Even friends who know I was once married “to a man” treat that as an aberration, old socially defined history with no current relevance.
Most of the time, I don’t care to spend the energy necessary to explain. I’m clear my attraction to (some) men and (some) women is hardwired, as natural to me as someone else’s unisexuality. I don’t feel insulted to be called lesbian, gay, dyke or queer either. Aside from the power that comes with reclaiming those labels, I consider them really just that descriptions that may be more or less useful depending on the situation like bi.
Yes, Ann knows and, no, she’s not bisexual.
How do I know I’m bisexual and not just exploiting the latest fashion in sexuality? My gut and my history tell me. I’ve always been this way, even though being able to identify what that means came partly in retrospect.
Herewith, my history, as “fair and balanced” as I can make it. You decide:
My first memory is from kindergarten. His name was Keith, like my aunt’s, and I was 4 or 5. What I recall is short and vivid, like a video clip. We were sitting side-by-side in swings on an Indian summer day. There is charged silence, then I twist my swing around and kiss him. Swing back as the chain untwists, red-faced and flustered, but elated, too. End of clip.
I grew up a tomboy in a neighborhood of boys. In summer we’d get on our bikes and ride down to the creek in search of gelatinous globs of tadpole eggs or head over to the community pool to swim before we had to be home for lunch. The we were off again, playing baseball or board games.
I went to Cub Scout meetings with the boy next door, Herbie, but learned girls weren’t allowed to join. My parents made me quit playing football when I was 12.
Between 10 and 13 I also spent five weeks each summer at a Baptist girls camp. In retrospect, that’s where I was first hit on by a female and fell in love with her older sister. Nothing came of that either, but I remember vividly climbing the rocky path to (older sister) Judy’s cabin on any pretext and the gold locket Mary Ellen gave me with her initials on it.
My first boyfriend was Harry Hopkins in ninth grade. Harry was the class clown who later joined the Green Berets and went to Vietnam. The sterling cross he gave me signaled our devotion. We remained friends through college, when my last letter to Harry was returned, stamped “deceased.”
Rick taught me about passion late in high school. My mother called him a bad influence, which he was. My favorite memory clip is one day when Rick was bringing me home from school in his MG. We came to the stop sign a block from my house and kissed and kissed until the lady behind us blasted her horn.
Rick may have aroused my passion, but Anne Williamson owned my heart. Dressed and coifed in the most popular styles, Anne pushed the envelope of high school conventionality with her blue mascara. I didn’t have words for what I felt for Anne in Smyrna, Ga., in 1966, but I wore blue mascara, too, until five years ago when my 8-year-old niece looked up through my eyelashes and asked why they were blue.
My sophomore year in college, heart and passion came together. I had joined a sorority and loved the parade of young women who came through rush almost as much as fraternity parties. Then Kerrie Rhoda Osborne gave a whole new meaning to the phrase “sorority rush.” She was tall, blonde and model-thin, and my heart locked on her immediately. You bet she pledged us!
Months later, alone upstairs at the sorority house I told Kerrie, “I love you.” The tightness in my throat returns at the memory of how frightened I was to say those wordsalong with the flood of amazed relief when Kerrie said she loved me, too.
I recall the isolation, too. We were ecstatically in love and completely silent about it. I’d never heard the word “lesbian” until I started reading about others “like us.”
No one was really like us in our eyes, though; we were each in love with someone who happened to be a woman. I’ve never prayed so much in my life. Who else could I talk to but God?
There was no gaydar then either, or I would have noticed my roommate, Bunny’s, passion for softball and special friends like Arlene. For her part, Bunny never said a thing, although many nights she came into our room to find Kerrie sleeping in my bed.
Ron came into my life when I was 13. He was three years older and a fixture in my house talking to my mother, helping out with things that needed doing. Many images linger of the two years we lived together after he came back from Vietnam, and the next two after we married: Great sex, great fun on volleyball afternoons with my graduate school classmates and faculty. The feeling of safety I absorbed from his 6-foot-2″ inch physical presence.
Getting married turned out to be a bad idea. The freedom we had known as lovers disappeared in the mirror of our internalized norms of what “husbands” and “wives” were meant to be. We parted friends. I anesthetized my huge sense of failure with lots of feel-good sex with men and women, including some two to four year relationships.
Fast forward 30 years. For the past 15 of those years, I’ve been with Ann. I still notice women and men I find attractive; happily married does not equal dead or blind! The difference is I’ve chosen to build a monogamous relationship with Ann, so the fact of being attracted to someone or their sex is irrelevant to my behavior.
For those whose image of bisexuality was shaped by the same culture I came out 30-plus years ago, here’s what I hope my stories offer as food for re-imagining:
Bisexuality is an identity that can be as real and “hardwired” as any other. Someone can like men and women as friends and sometimes both as lovers. It is possible to be bisexual and sustain a long-term monogamous relationship.
Denial of bisexuality is unnecessary and unhelpful baggage on our shared journey to equality.
The labels others may apply matter less than authentic lives. Bisexuality is not taboo or even an issue with most youth of any sexual orientation. The vignettes I’ve described are not unique.
Most importantly in terms of my own identification as bisexual, if my relationship with Ann ended, I cannot tell you whether I would end up sharing my life with a woman or a man.
Yes, Ann knows that, too.
Dr. Susan Gore is an activist in the LGBT community and principal of The Mentor Group. She can be reached at www.mentor-group.com.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, September 15, 2006.