How to Finally Realize You’re Bisexual at the Age of 22
No, that girl you keep kissing is not a gal pal.
Being a bi woman is weird because it’s all too easy to traverse a good part of your life without realizing that odd, burning feeling you have towards other women isn’t jealousy, envy, admiration, or any other feeling other than pure, unadulterated attraction.
It’s very, very hard to pick out the fact that you don’t stare at Savannah because you want to look like her — it’s because you want her, full stop. You don’t daydream of smelling Clara’s shiny hair because you think it’d be cool to be her friend — it’s because you’re super gay. You’re not hoping every girl watches you dance because you want them to be jealous of you.
Your whole life, everyone will tell you it’s normal for girls to like girls — but in a straight way. It took me 22 years to realize I liked girls in a very gay way. Here’s the path I took.
1. Start when you’re six.
When you’re in first grade, touch tongues with Hannah, a girl in your music class. Get in trouble with the music teacher. Feel ashamed without really knowing why and blame it all on Hannah (sorry, Hannah). Feel a little guilty that your sacred first kiss happened with a girl. Even at six, you know it’s not what’s expected of you.
When you’re 10, become obsessed with music videos. Furtively stare at videos that show female pop stars gyrating in cages. Feel ashamed without really knowing why — everyone else is doing it, after all.
Continue to watch music videos in secret. Pretend it’s because you like the music.
2. Tamp down your conflicted feelings about girls.
At thirteen, you’ll discover a reassuring truth: You actually hate all girls, and you simply find it easier to be friends with boys. There’s no drama, no gossip, no confusing feelings about wanting to touch them or be with them. Plus, you’re just not like them.
This realization makes everything make sense! You’re angry about cute girls having boyfriends because you want a boyfriend. You’re staring at their shiny hair and perfect skin because you wish you had shiny hair and perfect skin. If you were like them, more boys would like you. This, you know, is important. So it’s OK for you to continue coveting what they have.
In spite of yourself, learn by rote the mannerisms of being straight. It’s not so hard — you just have to stare at boys at the mall and know which movie stars are hottest. Confusingly, you learn it’s OK for you to find female stars hot, too. This is called a “girl crush” and is totally fine.
To your relief, you find that some boys actually are pretty cute and don’t require pretending. You’re oddly happy to discover you can appreciate a tanned, toned male body as much as the next girl.
3. Kiss (a lot of) girls.
When you start drinking and going out, you’ll find that it’s all too easy to find excuses to kiss girls. Like, a lot of them. Lie to yourself about why you want to kiss them. Lie to other people about why you want to kiss them.
Feel like you’ve discovered a life hack: you can kiss girls and it’s OK! Boys even like it! You can kiss boys too, nobody cares! You kiss everyone. It’s an exciting time in your life.
4. Fall in love with a boy.
It’s like a thunderclap when it happens: you meet the right boy and everything falls into place. You find yourself thinking a lot about the cute way his hair falls into his eyes, and how his shoulders fill out his shirt.
There’s nothing wrong with you! It’s not that you don’t like boys at all — you were just waiting for the right boy! And this boy is the right boy. Wonder how it is you’ve never felt this way about anyone before. Feel so lucky that you love him and he loves you and you can finally forget about girls.
5. Start thinking academically about how weird it is that girls are objectively hotter than boys.
Annoyingly, you can’t forget about girls. You start coming up with reasons about why this might be.
You’ve finally discovered feminism so you can set aside your old ideas that women had to be more attractive for “evolutionary reasons.” Now you can blame the patriarchy that women are so darn hot. It’s obvious that it’s because they’re penalized for not ticking the boxes of what society has deemed attractive.
You do find it a little odd that while you are able to immediately tell whether or not you’re attracted to a woman OR a man from the second you see them, your male friends seem only able to do this with women. Tell yourself it’s simply because women are coached from birth to place value on their own attractiveness and to see other attractive women as threats to their social rank. Uneasily convince yourself it’s nothing to do with eyes that sparkle in the sunshine.
Slowly, realize how often you catch yourself watching other girls. Even more slowly, realize it isn’t the social threat that makes you do this.
6. Read a book with a character who isn’t straight.
You know, of course, that "the gays" exist. You know, theoretically, that heterosexuality isn’t the only option. It’s just always been the only option for you.
The problem is you don’t know anyone who isn’t outwardly straight. You’ve never seen a movie from the perspective of someone who’s gay. You’ve never read a book with a lesbian in it. So it’s a revelation to you to read a book, find a character who thinks like you do and feels like you do and she kisses a girl, feels the magic, sees the fireworks, and knows it’s just right.
Read the book several more times.
7. (Guiltily) keep kissing girls.
You’re drunk: You can’t help it, can you? And kisses with girls don’t count. You’re only gal pals. They’re just friendship kisses. And there are so many valid excuses to keep kissing girls.
Because you’re stuck at the top of a Ferris wheel with her and it’s midnight.
Because she just broke up with her boyfriend and she needs cheering up.
Because she’s your friend, and you like her, and she smells like strawberries and sugar.
Worry that you’re doing it performatively for the boys who watch. Worry when you do it but no boys are around to see it. Worry that your boyfriend likes it. Worry that your boyfriend doesn’t like it. Worry that the girls you do it with take it too seriously. Worry that they don’t take it seriously when actually, it’s very serious for you, and it grows ever more important to you that you understand what is going on in your confusing, messed up, twisted life.
Start to realize these aren’t friendship kisses.
8. Have a very hard but long-overdue conversation with your boyfriend about why you keep kissing girls.
You’ve both changed since you were 18. He didn’t use to think it was cheating and now he does. You used to be able to convince yourself you were doing it for attention, and now you can’t. Understand that even though he high-fived his friends whenever you kissed a girl in a club, he was also feeling threatened. It was not just meaningless fun for you and, of course, he recognized that.
Have a lengthy talk about what “this” is, and what it isn’t. Dance around the word. Dance around the topic. Dance around the concept, even though you both know you’̶r̶e̶ ̶s̶u̶p̶e̶r̶ ̶g̶a̶y̶ might not adhere to the narrow and rigid confines of what our society understands to be heterosexuality.
Come to an agreement: It’s not OK for you to kiss other girls, just like you’d never kiss other boys. You expected to feel more confined, but actually you feel free — you can still love your boyfriend and find other people attractive. You’re no longer spinning in a free fall, unsure of what’s happening or why you feel like this. There are boundaries and they’re here for a reason. You finally know what that reason is.
9. Say the word, just to yourself.
It sticks in your mouth, feeling as odd as a loose tooth. Wrinkle your face, furrow your brow, and try to spit it out but fail.
Look in the foggy mirror after a shower. Make eye contact with your sinful, shameful self and dredge up the strength to say it.
It feels hollow. You try again.
“You’re bisexual and there’s nothing wrong with that.”
Still, the words trip on your tongue. Your voice wavers. You have doubts. You have insecurities.
Even so, you can finally look at your entire life through the only lens that makes sense. It’s the only thing that puts your experiences and feelings into the right context. You think more and more, your mind racing faster and faster, and it’s as though up until this very moment, your entire life was ever-so-slightly off-kilter and you never realized until just now, when the whole of your lived experience finally slots into place. It all makes sense.
10. Stop lying to yourself about your sexuality.
Without letting even a single lie cross your lips, you can let yourself and everyone around you believe you’re straight. All it takes is a complete and utter suppression of your true feelings.
But releasing that weight off your shoulders happens so suddenly and quickly that you’ll wonder how you’ve possibly held it in place for so long. It slips off like a sack of rocks you’ve been lugging around, and you stretch up to your full height for the first time in your life.
You meet girls who are bi and boys who are bi. You devour books, movies, and magazine articles about non-straights. You go down the rabbit hole of Tumblr, laughing aloud with delight as bi girls describe experiences that could have been copied directly from your life. You’re not alone. You’re not wrong. You’re not straight. You like boys and girls and that’s fine.
You have run-ins with people who say your bisexuality is still a phase, that you’ll end up a lesbian eventually, that it’s inevitable for you to cheat on your boyfriend because that’s just what bi people do.
Even though you’ve made it through the dark forest of assumed heterosexuality, there will still be discoveries, twists, and experiences to come.
Still, you fail to feel anything but relief, happiness, and clarity. You know who you are for the first time in your life.
Unlike many bi people, I never had one moment where I realized that the life I was living was untrue. It was a gradual, slow emergence, helped along by pop culture and the helpful hints from people who loved me and cared about me.
Lying to yourself and your loved ones about your sexuality is the easiest thing in the world because the lie is the default.
It is very difficult for us bi folks to remove the heterosexual lens from our vision, but once you do, it’s the only thing that makes your life make sense.