When I was 12 there was a girl I couldn’t stop thinking about. I had a small part in the school musical and she was the star.
Once, to watch the action onstage, she squeezed into a cramped space next to me and with no warning. She was inches away. Breathless, I pressed myself into a corner, hugging my knees and hoping she’d stay, willing myself not to take up space.
This wasn’t my lightbulb moment.
For the next 15 years, I identified as “straight with occasional blips.” I’d catch myself staring at a butt in tight jeans or a short messy haircut and the background rumble of confusion would get louder: “Why am I doing this? It can’t be because I like girls — because I don’t, so it must be something else. Does everyone do this? Will I ever figure this out?”
Behind it was an insidious muttering that went, “if I talked about this I’d be taking up space that belongs to real queer people. I obviously just want the attention. I’m a bad ally and a bad liberal and selfish and bad.” I repeated this every single time I saw a cute girl for a decade and a half.
I went ahead and dated boys and married a bisexual man, although for years nothing he said about his identity rang any bells for me. I was still having the same arguments with myself the year Wonder Woman came out. I remember walking out of the cinema feeling giddy.
“She was amazing,” my friends said.
“She was fucking magnetic,” I said.
But that still wasn’t the lightbulb moment.
Perhaps, it started to turn the dimmer switch, but I was still bumbling around in semi-darkness when Gal Gadot kissed Kate McKinnon on Saturday Night Live and I played the clip over and over. Even still when I shaved half my head and felt more at home with myself than I ever had.
I didn’t have one big moment when everything fell into place. What I did was embark on a year of careful consideration. I scrutinized my life, tallying up my memories.
Lying awake, I told my husband I had so many questions. We were happy together, so did my identity even matter? Was it just a brief obsession? Did I like these girls or just want to be them? He said, “I asked myself all those questions, too.”
I lay in the dark with my heart beating fast.
I still thought there was no point in telling people. My colleagues and my parents and my Twitter followers didn’t need to know I stared at girls occasionally. Besides, I could still hear the low roar in my head, like a distant highway: “You’re not going to tell anyone because then they’d know you made the whole thing up.” I thought to myself, it wouldn’t change anything if I came out, so why should I?
When I was at university, the queer department had a banner that read “Come out, come out, wherever you are.” I’ve never forgotten it, but it took 10 years to realize they meant me.
One day in June, I was on the train to work and the Transport for London logo had changed its usual colour scheme to rainbow, along with half the ads. If coming out wouldn’t change anything, maybe I had no reason not to. I could do it for visibility or because it was Pride month. I could tell people just because I wanted them to know.
Elbow-to-elbow with sweaty commuters, I typed out a Tumblr post. I made sure it included the words “I’m bisexual” in case I was tempted to be vague about it. I saved it as a draft.
Then I opened it back up and added a line about that, and I put it out there in writing where I couldn’t change my mind.
I sat at my desk. I checked my phone. People I hadn’t spoken to in years were saying “YEAH” and “congratulations!” and “welcome!” I felt vulnerable and free, as if I’d shed my skin.
It had gone very quiet.
You get used to a noise if it goes on long enough: a siren, a car alarm, the background rumble of a highway. You just adapt. And then it stops, and you discover you’ve been using all this energy to block it out and now that energy is yours again and you’re kind of amazed at how easy everything is.
Coming out was such a rush that I couldn’t stop doing it. I told co-workers, my Slack group, Twitter, Facebook, the choir I sing in, anyone I could think of. I could feel it glowing inside me like the best kind of secret. I was dreamy and distracted, as if I’d fallen for someone, but there was nobody new in my life; just a version of myself I didn’t know before.
When I ran out of friends to tell, I was left with coming out to my parents. My mum seemed neither surprised nor unsurprised.
I asked her, “Were you worried, that time when I was 12?”
She said, “No, that’s just something that happens to young girls sometimes.”
I thought it had gone well, but when we hung up I wasn’t glowing anymore. If I listened, could I hear a rumbling? Was it all over?
I said to myself, “I’m straight,” and waited.
It felt like a disappointment.
“I’m bi,” I said, and like a reflex — I smiled.
In my bedroom mirror, I stared at myself. I’d predicted nothing would change and sure enough, I looked exactly the same as I had the day before, but now I liked it. I took up exactly the right amount of space.
I’m a queer woman in a world that wants me to earn less, pipe down, make my body smaller, pick a gender to love and stick to it, no, not that one. The accepted narrative says I should have a romantic hint of sadness in my gaze. I am supposed to lose something before I can be happy. Well, a lot of people fought so that I didn’t have to and I still haven’t lost anything except a bundle of insecurities.
There is an idea that bisexuals have it easy. We’re not automatically outed by the gender of our partners and straight people who don’t get it tend to think we’re just fellow straight people who are going through some stuff.
To some extent this is true: our problems often have more to do with convincing people that we are what we say we are. But if my coming out has been positive, affirming, conducted entirely on my own terms, I see no reason why it shouldn’t be that way for everyone.
I want everyone considering coming out, and everyone who will ever have someone come out to them, to know that it doesn’t have to be fraught. Coming out can be gradual and it can be casual; it can be deeply, purely joyful. It can be an understanding you reach with yourself, the world be damned, because you know you deserve it.
One way or another, it will always be about love.