The many ‘flavors’ of bisexuality

I’m going to be blunt here. I only came out as bi about a year ago. Just one year. 365 days, give or take. For the three and a half decades prior, I identified as straight. And not just publicly. I really and truly believed it.

For more than 35 years, I thought that, despite regular and not inconsequential attractions to women and nonbinary folx, I was straight.

Growing up, I only had two examples about sexuality: gay and straight. And let’s be real, the gay rep is still pretty limited, and up until the 1990s, it was mostly the butt of jokes. What I saw reflected in the world was this binary choice. Either or. You either find men attractive or women.

The only problem was that when adolescent me started having feelings, I would often find myself drawn to both girls and boys. Although I don’t think I had the awareness to look at it this way at the time, I had crushes on almost as many girls as I did boys. But my brain, with its conditioning from this binary way of thinking, couldn’t reconcile this. I knew I wasn’t a lesbian, and I knew I liked boys. Therefore, I must be straight.

The logic makes me roll my eyes at my 11-year-old self, but what did she know? The only bisexual examples she ever saw “didn’t like labels,” and this little girl needed a label.

I went years… YEARS, confused about the inexplicable emotions that would pop up around many of my female friendships. I worried about looking too butch, being too needy or too affectionate. I broke off friendships and focused on boys. I kept reminding myself, “You’re not gay!”

If only someone had said, “But what if you’re bi?”

And even if they had, I likely would have laughed because my attractions to girls were less pronounced compared to my attractions to boys. Boys were easier, in more ways than one. I probably would have said, “I’m not bisexual. I can’t be. I’m boy crazy.”

Bottom line: I didn’t understand that bisexuality isn’t a binary. It’s more like a spectrum. Just like different grapes make up different varietals of wine, different bi (and pansexual) folx make up different kinds of sexuality. When you mix red and blue you don’t say it’s half blue and half red; you call it purple. But there are different shades of purple. Some are slightly more red, others more blue. Some are paler; some are darker. And on and on and on.

Perhaps the best description of bisexuality I’ve seen comes from a BuzzFeed article. There’s some genius humor here too, but the graphic that stuck with me is this one:

A pie chart of bisexuality
Source: Anna Borges / BuzzFeed

That, in a nutshell, is the information I needed as a teen. I needed to know that I was normal. I needed the label of bisexual.

All of this is important to know because it directly affected how I portray bisexual characters in Grrrls on the Side.

I consciously chose to portray different types of bisexuality because not everyone experiences sexuality the same. In Grrrls, there are three characters who state on the page that they are bi. One is my main character, Tabitha. In the book, Tabitha initially thinks she has a crush on her best friend Mike, but ultimately falls for a girl. She still identifies as bi, but finds she is more attracted to her own gender.

Another character, Kate, reflects what most people think of when they hear the word bisexual: a person who is pretty much equally attracted to both their gender and other genders. And the third character, Cherie, is only incidentally attracted to her own gender, but still claims the label of bi as her own.

There are no judgements placed on any of these types of bisexuality. That said, some of the characters express biases and even biphobia at times. Tabitha is accused of being “indecisive,” and Cherie doesn’t want her friends to know she’s bi. Both Kate and Tabitha get called lesbians, in an attempt by other characters to erase their bisexuality. Sometimes my characters stand up for themselves. Sometimes they don’t. But they’re still bi.

For me, this is probably the most important plot point in Grrrls because it’s the story I so desperately needed as a teen. I needed it to understand that what I was experiencing was normal. I needed it to understand my sexuality had a name. And I needed it to claim that sexuality.

I hope that young readers can see themselves reflected in my imperfect characters. No one has their shit entirely figured out yet. Who does in their teens? But these characters know they’re not alone. I hope that anyone who reads Grrrls on the Side walks away with that knowledge.

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