10/26/2020 0 Comments
Olivia Spicer (she/her)
A few things to know about me: I have followed a lesbian meme account on Instagram called “lonely_lesbian_gang” for close to a year. I have openly flirted with several girls in my past. I participated in an almost whirlwind lesbian romance that resulted in one party leaving the country and the other feeling lost; I’ll let you choose which one you want to believe I am.
But most importantly, I have also dated a man for close to five years.
In order to celebrate my sexuality with this year’s Bi Visibility Day, I took some time alone to train an introspective eye on my experiences. I continued the reflection on my sexuality that I had been entertaining for months-- the isolation from the pandemic encouraged me to take a deeper look at my identity and learn how to deep-fry Oreos to golden perfection. That aside, 2020 is the first year I’ve ever known a day recognizing bisexuality even existed and I stopped to consider how it applies to myself. When I finally did, all of my rumination and deep-frying led me to realize something sad and revelatory in equal measures: I’ve never felt visible.
Growing up, I had the incredibly good fortune of never truly needing to come out. Everyone around me held either liberal views or no views at all, my family being an odd assortment of aggressively accepting, closeted-queer, and closeted-conservative. I guess the topic of my sexual orientation never really came up; in all actuality, the notion of me being an “ally” defined the bulk of my connection to the LGBTQ+ community rather than my actual membership. When my childhood best friend came out as transgender years before I “came out” as bisexual, I received the pleasure of experiencing a strange sampler-platter of everyone’s reactions to anything outside the cisgender, heterosexual “norm.” Everyone’s comments were fairly accepting or entirely noncommittal, which I took as a green light for the eventual gay jokes that would constitute my leaving the closet.
Importantly, this is not to say I’ve never experienced homophobia/biphobia from relatives, or people in general, for that matter. Of course I have. But what has been most impactful, and certainly most prevalent, is the insidious bi erasure.
As an adolescent of dating age, the pool of gay options in my hometown proved so shallow, one could break their skull on the bottom just by diving in. As many queer teens from relatively small high schools know, the prospects of dating someone who both identifies as the same gender as you and shows even a semblance of compatibility are slim. Which is to say, I’ve never truly dated a woman. As briefly mentioned, I maybe came close. I won’t elaborate too much for the sake of preserving my dignity, but the girl in question had a magnetic streak, captivating and inescapable in the best way possible. But more to the point, I actually ended up dating a guy throughout all of high school (and one year of middle school), which now, in our freshman year of college, equates to nearly five years together.
Our relationship has been consistently positive; we’ve never really fought, and we achieved the highly lauded, adorable “high school sweetheart” status. In the eyes of everyone around us, we are unchanging, in it for the long haul. I’m not saying I would want it any other way, but the seeming permanence of our relationship has translated into the permanence of my straightness. My straight relationship has absolved me of my capacity to be attracted to women, apparently, and now if I “come out” to people, my sexuality is defined in the context of my relationship with a member of the opposite sex. When I came out to my grandma, her first response was, “Does [my boyfriend’s name] know?” When my boyfriend discussed my bisexuality with a relative, they asked him, “Are you worried about Olivia cheating on you then?” When my mom defended my attraction to women, the other party became confused; “But she’s dating [my boyfriend’s name].”
As a bisexual woman, I lose credibility for both components of my sexuality. In reference to my relationship with a man, my sexuality serves as grounds for suspicion, distrust, or simple dismissal. But with regards to my capacity for loving women, my blatant attraction to women becomes a background, dusty set piece. I am either a guilty party or unseen entirely.
So on Bi Visibility Day, when I looked into both the literal and metaphorical mirror, I saw a person in a straight relationship, straight passing, essentially: straight, straight, straight. I realized while viewing my reflection just how straight I looked, how my appearance essentially aided and abetted people’s perception of my sexuality. I looked like the me that had started and continued to date a man, who everyone knew as straight. I wanted to look “more gay.” Perhaps that’s a stereotypical way of seeing things, but I wanted desperately to be a stereotype so that I might have been viewed as at least partially gay. I had grown tired of people “accepting” my same-sex attraction, recognizing I’m in a straight relationship, and then deciding to treat me as straight eternally. I needed something noticeable about my appearance that would align me more with the queer community at first glance.
I cut off about six inches of my hair into a shaggy pixie, I started dressing more androgynously, I began keeping a pride flag in the background of my Zoom window. Since then, I have felt such a greater connection to my sexuality. I feel visible because now people can view my appearance and connect my style to other expressions of queer identity they’ve witnessed before. In the process of obtaining this quasi-acceptance, or at least baseline acknowledgement of my attraction to women, I have been fully aware that I’m leaning into stereotypes. But these stereotypes have given me personally the closest thing to community affiliation I’ve ever experienced.
I find myself now wondering something entirely different than I had prior to my makeover: by next Bi Visibility Day, will we be able to affirm bisexuals without requiring them to be visible in style?