Coming Out: Bisexuality

Here, in the ‘Coming Out’ series of posts, I write on a different topic every time. Generally they will be stories of me coming to terms/coming out about various ‘taboo’ subjects. These posts are a blend of the personal and political, so stay with me!

This is now quite a historic piece of writing, which I never posted when I first wrote it. But I didn’t want to not post it. So although I’ve come a long way concerning my sexuality since this post in terms of experience, etc, I still present as a straight woman most of the time, so the issues I talk about here are still (I think) relevant to the person I am now.

So. Bisexuality. When I had the idea for doing a series of ‘Coming Out’ blog posts, of course, the first one had to be about my coming out process as bisexual. I want to give this series a political touch whilst remaining centred in my own experiences, so I’ll be discussing my own sexuality, and understanding of it as well as the wider implications of being bisexual, and the difficulties bisexual people experience in coming out.

I grew up in a fairly understanding setting. My parents aren’t homophobic, and from the age of around 12, my close female friends and I found ourselves explore our sexualities through sexual games etc. In fact, my first kiss was with a girl. Growing up close to Brighton meant that being gay didn’t seem a terrible or terrifying thing – however, I was of the first generation that used the term ‘gay’ as a negative adjective; ‘Your trainers are gay’, ‘That band you like is gay’, ‘My mum’s so gay’. This meant that, although non-straightness wouldn’t, in serious conversations, be thought of as an awful thing, ‘gay’ was weird, and odd, and defective in our normal parlance, and our ideas of gay people were of exclusively men that were incredible camp/transvestites.

I worried hugely when I first felt attracted to another girl as a young teenager, and worried even more when I confessed my attraction, freaking the other girl out so much that she wouldn’t speak to me.

After that, I decided I liked boys and just got on with it. I continually found myself attracted to women, watched female-only porn and experienced mini crushes on various female friends, which I viewed as intense friendships.

As I got older, I privately started to explore my feelings about women, but only really in my head and on computer screens. I did that fake lesbian kissing that girls do in clubs when they want to turn boys on, but never felt ready to explore my feelings towards women.

When I did feel ready, I joined a dating website and looked for both men and women. I even went on a date with a woman. But then I met my partner. We are perfectly suited to each other, and they understand and support me in a way in which no one else has ever done. I also fancy them a lot, and we have great sex 🙂

My partner, though, is a man.

In fact, despite all my feelings, explorations and sexual curiosity towards women, I’ve never been in a relationship with one. And this is the problem with being bisexual. Bisexuality is so invisible, so easily deniable, because it isn’t based upon behaviour. I am attracted to all genders, but all that anyone sees is a straight girl (or if I was in a relationship with a woman, a lesbian girl).

Being seen as straight, being assumed to be straight, has its benefits. Unlike gay and lesbian people, I can walk down the street with my partner and be accepted by the strangers I walk past. I don’t have to be scared for my life just because I want to hold hands with my loved one. My bisexuality is very easily hidden.

But being easy to hide doesn’t mean that my identity isn’t a challenge.

Common responses to telling people that I’m bi?

“It’s just a phase”
“It’s greedy”
“You’re just not ready to come out as gay”

It’s pretty exhausting to have this invisible sexuality. But I will never regret knowing myself well enough to be sure of who and what I am, and being proud of that, despite whatever misconceptions and stereotypes people throw at me.

#YesAllWomen

I thought I’d add myself to the long, long list of women taking up the cry of #YesAllWomen to document their experiences of sexism, harassment and abuse. *Warning: obligatory #notallmen part coming up* As others have pointed out, by writing this I do not aim to indite all men, I’m only trying to add to the vast swathes of evidence, on the internet and elsewhere, that all women have experiences like this.
So here goes. #YesAllWomen because…

  1. At 12, being made to pick up litter in my teacher’s classroom during an afterschool detention, and whilst I was on my hands and knees, hearing my teacher say ‘that’s a woman’s place’.
  2. At 13, being jealous of my friends because they got beeped on their way home from school by men in vans and I didn’t.
  3. At 13 and up, having to text my friends to let them know I got home safe and getting them to do likewise whenever we’d go anywhere after dusk. Never having to do this with my male friends. Still doing this now.
  4. From 13/14, ever since I grew my (large) breasts, having them be an open topic of conversation for anyone to mention, stare at or touch whenever they like, and me feeling that I had to be ok with this and even make jokes about my own breasts.
  5. At 14, in my first job (at a newsagents), having a married dad with kids my brother’s age that I knew from church give me his mobile number.
  6. At 14+, taking out my key and holding it inbetween my fingers as self-defense when walking home in the evening (from a friend’s house 2 minutes away, in a sleepy village) – Still doing this now.
  7. At 18+, being touched up in clubs, every time I’ve been in a club.
  8. At 19, being told by my manager at a well known pizza delivery chain, over facebook, that I had ‘nice breasts’ and that he wanted to ‘touch them’. Having to explain to him why it was not ok for him to say this.
  9. At 20, working at a large arts festival and being persuaded back to my 40 year old, married-with-kids colleague/superior’s flat, at which point he lunged at me for a kiss, then denied he had.
  10. At 21, working packing boxes in a warehouse and being told that only the men packed the heavier stuff because they were stronger. By a man who weighed less than me.
  11. At 22, being forced to listen to the radio at work, which for a 6 month period played Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’ at least three times every working day. People thinking it was hilarious to sing it at me and watch my reaction. People deliberately forcing me to watch the explicit version of the music video to it because I’d said I was uncomfortable about it.
  12. At 22, being warned against meeting with a potential theatre collaborator at his home, even after I’d already met with him a few times in public and was working with him. Allowing this to worry and scare me. Feeling reassured, not because I knew he was a good person who wouldn’t randomly attack me, but because I was pretty sure he was gay. Never having this problem with any female collaborator/colleague.
  13. At 22, going to a burlesque club and the MD commenting negatively on a group of women who had just walked in, saying ‘the strippers have arrived’. At a burlesque club. Where people strip…
  14. At 22. being aggressively approached by a middle-aged guy whilst in a pub with my two sisters (aged 19 & 25). He was asking my younger sister about herself, and whether she was a student. When he asked me and my older sister the same question, we told him we were sisters. He got very offended(?) and pointed at my older sister (who has darker skin than me and my other sister) and shouted ” She is NOT your sister!” He then refused to go away until my other sister threatened to go and ask the bar staff to make him leave us alone. This was obviously threatening but also just bizarre and kinda racist?
  15. At 23, having to sit at the table in a restaurant listening to my fellow diners joke and laugh about the ‘good old days’ when they used to go clubbing and grope the girls in the clubs.
  16. At 23, and watching my partner try (unsuccessfully) to explain why he objected to a comment about how he’d been ‘raped’ at a video game.
  17. At 23, feeling a million times safer walking down the street (no matter the street, time of day or clothes I was wearing), when I’m walking with my boyfriend or any other man.
  • Because I feel lucky as one of my only friends who has not been sexually abused or raped.
  • Because I feel lucky, compared to my friend who was raped at a party and no one believed her, not even her parents. She decided not to press charges because she knew the guy was a ‘nice guy’ and she didn’t want to ‘ruin his life’.
  • Because I feel lucky, compared to my friend who was raped by an acquaintance who spiked her drink at a party, and was told by the police that there wasn’t enough evidence to press charges
  • Because I feel lucky, compared to my friend who was driving an acquaintance home from a club when he refused to get out of her car until she gave him a blowjob.
  • Because I feel lucky, compared to my friend, who had the colleague/superior who lunged at me (point 9), lunge at her too, but was too drunk to say no. He raped her. I know it was rape because she told me she was in and out of consciousness when it was happening. She doesn’t see it that way.
  • Because I feel lucky, compared to my friend who was hit and sexually abused by her stepdad when she was a child.
  • Because I feel lucky, compared to a girl in my town who was raped as a baby and toddler by a relative.
  • Because I read more news articles about cases in which women have lied about rape than about women who have been raped.
  • Because more than two women are killed a week in my country by men.
  • Because of Elliot Rodgers, and other men who think they’re entitled to women’s bodies, and that if women don’t want to give them their bodies, they deserve to be punished.

What are your reasons for #YesAllWomen?

Possessing The Secret of Joy


MASSIVE TRIGGER WARNING – This post contains descriptions of Female Genital Mutilation and therefore comes with a trigger warning

I recently read Alice Walker’s ‘Possessing The Secret of Joy’. The book is a kind of follow-up to her incredibly famous ‘The Colour Purple’, which follows the life of Celie, an African-American woman who is raped by her stepfather and has two children by him, children that he takes from her in the opening pages of the book.

‘Possessing The Secret of Joy’ follows Tashi, the African woman who marries one of Celie’s lost children (a man called Adam). It is briefly mentioned in The Colour Purple that, before leaving Africa, Tashi chooses to undergo the ‘female initiation’, as well as getting tribal markings cut into her face, in order to preserve her sense of identity as a woman of the dying Olinka tribe upon arriving in America. ‘Possessing The Secret of Joy’ focuses entirely on that incident and its repercussions, which seriously damage, and eventually end Tashi’s life.

The ‘female initiation’ mentioned in The Colour Purple, is, in fact, female genital mutilation, a fact that I entirely missed out on when I read The Colour Purple at 12, 14, 16, 18, 22 etc etc.

This book profoundly affected me as a child and young woman, initially giving my Christian beliefs colour and life (and taking away the image I always had of a white guy in a beard in the clouds as ‘God’), and, once my faith left and I became pretty much an atheist, giving me perhaps my first understanding of the importance of feminism, and of the equal rights movement.

This book started my journey (as a white person) to understanding the effects of racism, a journey that for me started with The Colour Purple, Noughts and Crosses, To Kill A Mockingbird, Roots etc.

From a feminist perspective, The Colour Purple horrified me with its portrayal of misogyny and violence, then beautifully showed me the joy of female relationships and independence.

Back to ‘Possessing The Secret of Joy’. I’d like to say that this book touched me, that it affected me, that it made me cry. But I can’t. Of course, it did all of those things. But it was deeper than that, it was more than making me upset or sad. It was more than feelings. This book attacked me and shocked me to the core. It shoved itself down my throat, beautifully, and made me swallow the bitterest pill I’ve ever swallowed.
I didn’t have a good understanding of female genital mutilation before I read ‘Possessing The Secret of Joy’. Now I understand all too well what the practise is, what it entails, what brought it about and the horrific lifelong pain and suffering it inflicts on the women who survive it. The women who survive it, because a lot of them don’t. A central part of the book revolves around Tashi’s buried memory of her sister bleeding to death after being mutilated as a young child.
We need to take female genital mutilation seriously. You may be wondering why I’m typing it out each time, instead of using the common abbreviation (FGM). I’m typing it because, before I read this book, female genital mutilation was, to me, a shadowy practise that I thought had something to do with cutting the clitoris so it didn’t feel pleasure, possibly removing the labia, I wasn’t sure. I really didn’t know anything.
Female genital mutilation refers to the utter decimation of the female sex organ. Practises vary, but can include: Cutting (with knives, scissors, scalpels, pieces of glass and razor blades) out all of the clitoris (that is not inside of the vagina), cutting off the labia, and holding the vagina together (often with a thorn), so that the wound heals either partially or entirely over, giving the young girls who make up the majority of victims with a tiny hole and absolutely no way of finding pleasure.
This is done so that the girl will not be tempted to have sex before marriage, but, more importantly, it is done so that, when she is married, the girl’s husband will get to enjoy the inherent tightness that comes with rupturing the wound that is the sewn-together sides of her scarred vagina.
We can’t use abbreviations to marginalise female genital mutilation. We can’t excuse it with cries that it is in line with any religious belief. We can’t allow women who have survived it to be the only figureheads and initiators of every campaign to stop it. Mainstream politicians and decision-makers should concern themselves with stopping this disgusting ‘practise’. We can’t allow the fact that 20,000 girls in the UK are at risk of female genital mutilation every year, despite it being criminal for nearly 30 years, and yet there had never been a prosecution for it until this year.
Finally, we can’t give any airtime to the MRA cry of ‘what about the meeennnsss???’. Yes, male circumcision happens. Yes, it’s not pleasant. Yes, men should be able to choose whether or not they want it, instead of it being performed on them as children. But no way, absolutely no way, should male circumcision get an equal platform, as a human rights issue, as female genital mutilation.
Female genital mutilation is not cutting off a piece of skin which has no little/no effect on the function/pleasure capability of the sex organ. Female genital mutilation disables women. It leaves them unable to pass urine, defecate, have a period, have sex, have children and even walk, without pain. It is lifelong. It is constant. ‘Possessing The Secret of Joy’ has a passage that refers to the after affects of female genital mutilation:
“Her own proud walk had become a shuffle. It now took a quarter of an hour for her to pee. Her menstrual periods lasted ten days. She was incapacitated by cramps nearly half the month[…]cramps caused by the near impossibility of flow passing through so tiny an aperture as M’Lissa had left, after fastening together the raw sides of Tashi’s vagina with a couple of thorns and inserting a straw so that in healing, the traumatized flesh might not grow together, shutting the opening completely[…]There was the odor, too, of soured blood, which no amount of scrubbing[…]ever washed off.”
I don’t care about your religious views. I don’t care about your worries for modesty or cleanliness in women. The systematic torture and sometimes death of young girls, resulting in them living lives in pain, any capability to feel pleasure stolen from them before they’ve even had the chance to discover it, is evil. It is evil and it must be stopped. I’m all for tolerating and making allowances for religions, but are you really saying that a relationship with a god that may or may not be imaginary is more important that millions of (actual) mutilated little girls?
When I finished ‘Possessing The Secret of Joy’, I cried. But that really doesn’t cover it adequately. When I finished ‘Possessing The Secret of Joy’, I sobbed. Great, racking sobs that took hold of my body and made me curl up in bed, wanting to hide from the pain that is inflicted on women every day. It was hard getting out of that bed. I felt as if there was no point, as if the fight was impossible to win, as if female genital mutilation, and the thousands of other methods that are used to torture and kill women and girls every day – because they are female – were winning, and as if women, and feminism, could never win.
I still don’t think, deep down inside, that women can win. But I got out of that bed anyway, because even if we can’t win, I will never stop fighting.
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A day spent with UCSB shooter’s friends.

A day spent with UCSB shooter’s friends.

Bit depressing for an early post, but I think it’s been under-read, and it’s a really good bit of proof to the misogyny argument about the recent shooting. Huge TRIGGER WARNING though. It makes me feel genuinely terrified of being killed because I have a vagina…and also makes me feel justified in having that fear.