Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Art of Loving on Both Sides of the Barricade

I'm sure you've heard all the rumors about me. I'm just trying to be different and stray from the norm of being straight. I'll leave you for a man. I'll leave you for another woman. I only make out with women when I'm drunk at a party or a club, and only to attract men. I'm not bisexual-I'm a Dyke in Progress. One day, I will have to submit to a lonely, solitary existence with only my vibrator, a lifetime supply of AA batteries, and a subscription to Playboy to keep me company. Someday, in the not so distant future, I'll be the crazy cat lady, and name my feline friends "Dorothy", "Gertrude", and the names of my last three ex-lovers.

My mother will tell you I'm confused, that I'm only going through a phase that will end whenever I graduate from college and settle down with a nice man. My best friend Laura will tell you I'm lucky, because I have twice as many chances for a date as she does on the weekends. My roommates will tell you I'm a whore who will sleep with anyone with a pulse. I was briefly enamored with a woman, whose girlfriend told me I’m disgusting because I sleep with men. Straight men will tell you I'm sexy because I sleep with women, except the straight men with whom I choose to associate. The only lesbian I ever dated once told me I only sleep with men because I'm in denial. To be fair, she might have been a little bitter. After all, I did promptly break up with her after she cheated on me and blamed me for it. I don't belong in the gay community. That's what gay people have told me. I don't belong in the straight community, either. That's what straight people have told me.

Of course, the only thing even remotely true about any of these statements is that one day, yes, I aspire to be the crazy cat lady who still uses her vibrator on a regular basis, and yes, my exgirlfriend actually had the gall blame me for her cheating. Every one of those statements has been made to me at one point or another in the six years I've been out. After all, according to them, I've only come out as bisexual to ease the transition from the Straight World to the Gay World. I recognize the middle of the road can be a safe place for those making that transition, but what about those of us who stay here?

To be fair, a lot of people come out as bisexual first, and I know numerous people personally who have. But for those of us who stay here, it can be a scary in-between place, accepted neither by the Straight World because we are capable of having sexual feelings for another man or woman and that is somehow perceived as wrongful lust, or the larger Gay World because we are routinely accused of being a member when we're in a same-sex relationship, but when in a "straight" relationship, we deny ourselves, deny the truth of our bisexuality. For me, it's not that way at all. When I'm with a man, I still catch myself checking out the pretty girl choir and when I'm with a woman, I'm just as susceptible to flirt with the tall, dark, and handsome cashier at Best Buy.

My sexual identity has absolutely nothing to do with the gender of the person I'm in a relationship with. I was bisexual when I was ten years old, riding around on an ATV through the mountains in Georgia with Loretta, my first girl-crush. I was bisexual in middle school, chasing after boys. I was bisexual when I was fourteen years old and kissed a boy for the first time. I was bisexual in high school when I had a relationship with Gabby, a relationship we never defined because we didn't have the words for it then. I was bisexual when I was nineteen years old and kissed a girl for the first time. I was bisexual when I fell in love with Jenn; I was bisexual when I fell in love with George. I was bisexual when I lost my virginity at the ripe old age of twenty-three. I was bisexual when my last boyfriend proposed to me two years ago, when I said yes, and when we broke up last year. I was bisexual the last time I had sex with a man, and I was bisexual the last time I slept with a girl.

I'm not nearly as confused as my mother will tell you. I'm just as certain of who I am, in my bisexuality, as a gay person is in their homosexuality, as certain a straight person in their heterosexuality. To an extent, I think it makes the people who are certainly gay or certainly straight rather uncomfortable to entertain the idea that there are, in fact, People Like Us who are certainly in the middle, just as certainly as they are in their own sexuality. Jenn, my first girlfriend and the most beautiful and brilliant woman I've ever met, recently told me she hates having that certainty questioned so much, she doesn't tell a lot of people she's bisexual. She said most of them are waiting for her to come out already; and those same people have recently told her, now she's in a contented relationship with a man, she was never bisexual to begin with. I've faced much of the same, which is why I've taken the opposite route- I never stop talking about it. I talk about my lovers, male and female, with equal nonchalance, like it's the most natural thing in the world for me. For me, for the truly bisexual people I know, it is.

I've never been able to adequately explain what it's like to wander in the ambiguous middle ground between gay and straight. My sexual identity, for me, is like handedness. I can't explain what it's like to be left-handed to someone who isn't. It's a subtle power behind my left-hand that makes it more inclined to reach for something than my right hand. My left-handedness is as an intrinsic part of me as my bisexuality-I can't explain it or make it go away. If I could, I don't think I would want to. I think Laura is right-when you come down to it, it’s pretty fucking cool I get a different view of the world than someone who is attracted to one sex or the other.
This is what it’s like for me. When I close my eyes to kiss a lover, I don't care if it's a man or a woman I kiss; just that this person, this wonderful person wants to be with me. I just don't think in terms of boy parts and girl parts; genitalia is as irrelevant to me as physical beauty. If you don't believe me, you should see pictures of some of the people I've chosen to have relationships with. Souls are genderless, and if I'm attracted to another soul in a female body, I want to be with her. If I'm attracted to another soul in a male body, I want to be with him. I can't explain what this really feels like. There is no other sensation like it that I've experienced. You can't explain colors to someone who has never seen them, or is color-blind (believe me, I've tried) anymore than I could explain to you right now what it's like for me to see beauty in someone's soul and being able to look beyond the outward qualities of race and gender. Attraction is all that matters.

I've tried to pinpoint when I knew I wasn't gay or straight, but I can't remember not feeling the way I do. I remember being a little girl and wanting to kiss the pretty girl in class. I remember having a simultaneous crush on a girl in high school and her boyfriend. I remember how natural it seemed, just as natural as breathing, when Gabby and I used to walk through the deserted hallways after school, holding hands. It felt just as natural as when I did it with my boyfriend during the day. My best friend Laura will tell you she sat me down and told me I was bisexual, but I don't remember this at all.

On some level, I always knew I wasn't straight, but I definitely wasn't gay. What was I? I never overanalyzed this; I never plotted out the embarrassing trajectory of my sexuality. The revelation that I was bisexual came in what I can now pin down to four separate events. There was the day someone in our group of friends went around our circle of friends at lunch and proclaimed our sexual preferences. When she got to me, she said I was straight. I felt the wind knocked out of me, My stomach churned heavily, my breathing hastened; that gut feeling, that voice inside of me I'd never known existed cried inside of me for the first time that I remember, No, I'm not straight. I didn't have the courage to speak up in the group when I was eighteen or nineteen, at the time of the inquisition at lunch that day, but I do now. I'm not straight. I never was. The second was when I saw that movie House on Haunted Hill. Bethany asks the other woman, played by Catherine Zeta-Jones, if anyone had ever thought she was crazy. Catherine Zeta-Jones' character shrugs and says, “My boyfriend thinks I'm nuts, my girlfriend thinks I'm normal.” With those ten words, something inside of me clicked. It wasn't just me. The third event was the day the teachers union went on strike, and a number of classes were in the auditorium. In my group was Brenda, a girl I'd known since middle school, but hadn't spoken to in a long time. She and a number of her friends were seated behind me and talking about National Coming Out Day, and I remember her smiling, throwing up her hands and saying she was out. I remember her correcting someone, and saying she was bisexual. Bisexual. It was a word I'd never heard, but I remember so clearly as if it happened yesterday, I looked at her and felt that gut feeling again. Me, too. The final knell came the night my friend Mary slept over. We were sitting together in the recliner, watching a Drew Barrymore movie, but we weren't really paying attention. At least I couldn't. I didn't think there was anything particularly strange about us sitting in the same chair, as we were close friends. This was different. Once in a while, I can still close my eyes and feel her sitting next to me. I felt a heat between us, something I'd never experienced before and rarely since. It was unbearable until we went into my room and lay together in my bed to go to sleep, neither of us knowing what to do next, knowing something was going to happen, something monumental, and we just held each other, waiting for the other to make her first move. I was terrified. I'd barely kissed a man at this point, let alone done anything else, with anyone. When she kissed me the first time, I knew it was all over. Everything finally made sense. That first, scary kiss wasn't the final culmination of a lifetime of questioning like it is for some people. It was more like a light going on in a dark room. I was who I was before Mary kissed me, but after she did, I knew for certain that everything I'd been experiencing, however subtle, was leading me here, to this night, with this girl. This was the final act that would officially tear me out of Ambiguously Straight Land forever and plop me in the middle of the great sexual divide. I had been there my whole life; I've never been straight. But this act, this kiss, was my moving into the big purple house in the middle of the great sexual divide. There was a reason I used to hold hands with Gabby after school. There was a reason I got that gut feeling when Soumiah went around the circle of friends and said I was straight. There was a reason that line from House on Haunted Hill resonated with me. There was a reason the teachers went on strike right after National Coming Out Day and I was stuck in the auditorium with Brenda. There was a reason Mary came over that night. I was supposed to figure this out. And, because of those events and many more, I finally did.

There is a line in the movie Dogma I like to paraphrase a lot: You are who you are. No one can take that away from you. Not even God. If you're like me, if you were that girl, if you were that boy, if you're frustrated by your friends telling you to just come out already, one way or another, don't be. You're not alone. Don't be afraid to celebrate it; celebrate who you are, celebrate the fact that there is an intrinsic quality about you that some people just can't understand, and talk about it with people who do. It's an amazing experience, one I highly recommend. Don't be afraid to move into that big purple house in the middle of the great sexual divide. There's plenty of room, and more of us out there than you think.

No comments: