Content warning of homophobia and homophobic language.
I remember first coming out at the age of 15, to my best friend. It wasn’t the earth-shattering epiphany I thought it would be. I had recognised that I probably fancied women a little bit more than I fancied men, and saying it out loud to my best friend confirmed that. The conversation mostly went: “What would you say if I told you I was bisexual?” “I’d still love you for who you are.” That gave me the strength I needed to half accept the confusion I felt in my mind when I was more interested in talking about women than talking to women.
I can’t really remember the order in which I told people about my sexuality. I know somewhere in the middle I let my mother know, and that was the hardest conversation of all. Ever since I’ve begun to really understand my sexuality, there have been people there to tell me that bisexuality doesn’t really exist, that’s it’s a phase, that it’s down to indecision or greed, or that it’s really an attention seeking mechanism. If it is about attention, it’s the wrong kind of attention – attention I don’t think anybody would purposely bring on.
You see, my best friend may have told me from the very beginning that she would love me no matter what but not everybody was so kind. In fact, when I began to slowly let people know about my sexuality, it was as if I’d had a personality transplant. People would physically avoid me, purposely ignore me. Suddenly, because I was attracted to women, I was obviously attracted to every single woman that ever existed and spent my school days in an all-girls secondary, purposely chosen so I could lust over as many females as I possibly could (ironically, my mother sent me to an all-girls school so I couldn’t be distracted by boys – ha)
And then I met you. We were friends. You were kind and funny and interesting – we talked about films and clothes and our hopes for the future. And in a few seconds, you blew apart not only our friendship, but any hope that I had of coming to terms with my sexuality too. I remember the look on your face, as clear as day, when the penny dropped. I remember the vicious argument that erupted between us. I remember it ending with wiping your spit from my face, the word “dyke” bouncing around my mind. I remember the crushing feeling in my stomach as I realised our friendship was well and truly over because of who I may – or may not, for that matter – be attracted to. And I never forgot the way I felt when you decided you didn’t want to be friends with a “dyke”.
I also never forgot the day, four years later, where you apologised for your actions. If I was a better person, that would have been the end of it. In some ways, I suppose, it was. I accepted your apology, said all the right things in all the right places whilst you told me what an idiot you were (that wasn’t too hard to agree with). But where I should have been pleased that you had decided not to be a homophobe anymore, I just felt anger. Whilst you had eased your conscience, the effect that your actions had on my life and the way I felt about myself were not so easily eased.
Every time I tick the “bisexual” box on an equal opportunities form, I think of you. Every time I talk about my sexuality, tell a new friend about this part of me, I think of you. Every time I have to defend equal rights, equal marriage, I think of you. I think of you with sadness and hurt, but most of all, I think about how I felt in that moment when you were spitting in my face – ashamed. I felt ashamed of who I was. And worse, I carried that shame with me for a long time afterwards. I hid away from who I was, tried hard to forget about it. Because of you. Why could that moment be wiped away by an apology for you, but not for me? Why did I have to suffer?
And then I started to learn about myself. I met women, beautiful women, funny women, women I had no desire to be in a relationship with. I had feelings for women, I had relationships with women, I struggled with having feelings for straight women. I met other people who had faced the same difficulties I had, who had felt lost and scared and ashamed. Eventually, I learnt not to define myself purely by my sexuality. When I couldn’t understood who I was, it was easy to believe that everybody else just saw me as “the bisexual”, that there was a huge neon sign following me around which alerted everyone to the fact that I fancied women – and then I allowed it to become a part of me that was as important – or unimportant – as the colour of my eyes or my height. I learnt to feel comfortable in my own skin. I realised that, actually, I am quite funny, and hard working, and I care about people, and absolutely none of that is dependent on whether I share a bed with a man or a woman.
I had to force myself to learn to understand who I was. It’s a long journey of confusion and fear and, eventually, hope – one which I don’t think ever really ends. I still don’t fully understand my own sexuality. Bisexuality really only scratches the surface of who I am and how I feel about men and women. My sexuality and my relationships are mine and mine alone to define – and yet people like you believe they know better, that they have the right to tell me who I should or shouldn’t be, want, or love. And for that, for forcing me to understand myself, I wanted to thank you.
I didn’t know it at the time, but that moment changed my life. It was the moment which, years later, taught me to love and respect myself. I knew then, and I know now, that I didn’t deserve that. Would I have learnt that without being spat in the face by my friend? Probably. But that was your decision and, ultimately, your loss.
So thank you for allowing me to teach myself to love every part of me. I’m only sorry you didn’t feel able to do the same.