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The Roller Coaster of Sexuality
Why ‘Bisexual’ Is My Placeholder
J.G.
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In middle school, most kids are dealing with puberty and creating friendships and doing schoolwork. But I had another challenge—I was confused about my sexuality.

In 7th grade, I started to feel attracted to guys. Until then, I’d only had crushes on girls, so I didn’t think my feelings meant that I was gay. But I thought it also meant that I wasn’t straight.

I was confused, and I needed to tell someone about it. So that same year, I told my best friend that I was bisexual. For awhile, that was how I identified myself, even if it was just between us for two years. But now I’m not sure if bisexual is really the right label for me.

In my freshman year of high school, I got a girlfriend. Although I still felt attracted to guys, I knew she liked me and I had feelings for her too. We held hands, we kissed, we spent a lot of time together. As freshmen, it seemed normal not to go much further than that. We could save that for later, I thought. It felt right. I never doubted that I was attracted to her until after the relationship was over.

I broke it off at the end of freshman year because I felt us growing apart. She never wanted to talk to me about her problems. But it could just as easily have been an excuse for my lessening sexual attraction toward her. Maybe I only thought I was attracted to her because it was expected of me.

Attraction Distraction

Still, I don’t remember ever faking my attraction or feeling like I should be with a guy. But coming out of that relationship, I began to ask myself the questions that still linger in my head as I write this: Can I ever have a long-term girlfriend? If I am gay, why am I reluctant to realize it?

I can’t help feel a tug in both directions. Certain days I feel almost ready to end the whole internal ordeal, to come out as gay. But I’ll get a crush on a girl, remember the happier times of my first relationship, and I’m back where I started, consumed by these back and forth arguments. This occupies my mind for hours. It’s exhausting. Because even though being gay is just being attracted to the same sex, it comes with a lot of other baggage.

I mean, why would I want to be gay? Who does? It means having to come out to your friends and family. It means instantly shrinking your pool of possible partners (there really aren’t that many gay fish in the sea). It especially means growing up in a world that won’t always be accepting and comfortable for you.

Band of Brothers

Being gay is a taboo subject in my house. I even feel uncomfortable when homosexuality is mentioned on TV or on the radio. My parents become silent and wait it out, as if hearing the word “gay” is just as bad as watching an awkward sex scene.

So I was pretty surprised to find out that my older brother is gay. By accident, I saw an online profile where he identified himself as such. Why did this have to be a secret when he could have helped me with what I was going through? I asked him in a text message:

“I saw on your blog that you’re gay. I’m bisexual, so I am just wondering if you already told Mom and Dad?”

“Yeah, they took it fine. Mom didn’t believe me at first, but I think she got used to it.”

At first, this was a relief, but then I began to wonder if my mother wouldn’t believe me either. I was scared it would be too much for them to handle, two kids that aren’t quite normal.

It was my fear of this that made bisexuality such an attractive option. I thought being bisexual meant only having to come out if I ended up with a man. I could continue the silence in our house by letting my parents assume I was straight. I could continue pretending that I would never have to come out.

The Secret’s Out

As if this internal tempest wasn’t difficult enough, the summer after I broke up with my girlfriend, this confusion was pulled outside of my body. It was splattered out into the world, like paint out of a balloon. I was outed by someone I thought was a close friend.

I knew he considered himself bisexual, and we were both curious about the other side of our sexuality. At an early age, that seems like reason enough to get together. Finding someone like yourself is comforting, and sexually tempting. We were teenagers; we were experimenting. He was the opposite of my girlfriend: spontaneous, noncommittal, and perhaps most importantly, a guy.

We hooked up a couple times, though it didn’t go so far as sex. It was unreal to me. The physical attraction was there, but unlike with my girlfriend, it didn’t feel “right.” It felt like my life was a straight, wide highway and my experimentation was just a side road that wasn’t significant in the long run.

I urged him not to tell anyone, but my protests landed on deaf, selfish ears. He told someone about our “times” together. And another someone. And that someone told another someone, and so on.

Painted As Gay

First it was just my close friends, but that didn’t mean I was all right with it. The information they were hearing was random, unclear, and no one seemed to care how the spread of the story was affecting me. If you heard about someone making out with a guy after coming out of a straight relationship, what would you think?

image by YC-Art Dept

I sent an e-mail to these friends telling them I was bisexual. It covered my bases, having a girlfriend for a year and then hooking up with a dude. How was I supposed to tell them that I didn’t really know what to call myself? Identifying as bisexual was an anchor in the stormy sea of gossip. It dispelled my friends’ confusion about my sexuality even though I still had my own. This was when bisexuality really became a placeholder, and maybe even a facade. It made me sound more sure of myself than I was, and that felt good.

But then the splattering went out of my reach. The paint began to run through the halls of my school. I could not keep track of who knew about my “experiment.” All I remember is an increasing pressure inside me, a bubbling anger, as more and more people speculated about my sexuality.

About Being Outed

Going into my sophomore year, I would look at people and wonder: Do you know? Are you going to ask me about it? Do you think it’s no big deal that my sexuality is on public display? My ex-girlfriend found out, vague acquaintances found out, the kid sitting next to me in U.S. History probably knew.

I was dumbfounded. Not only wasn’t I ready to come out as bisexual to everybody in my school, but I didn’t like the idea of people assuming I was gay, virtually shutting out any hopes of getting another girlfriend.

One day I decided I had to talk to the guy I had hooked up with. I had largely avoided him up to this point. I wanted to tell him how embarrassed, disrespected, and angry I felt. But as I stood outside of my school in the frigid October air that morning, ready to give him a piece of my mind, I realized I wouldn’t be able to talk to him privately among the crowds of students. And that I didn’t want to.

Yelling at him would have just distracted me from the true, ongoing problem. It wouldn’t have helped me figure out who I am, how I feel.

I decided that if someone asked about what had happened over the summer, I would not lie or avoid the conversation. But in order to explain what happened, I still felt I had to say that I was bisexual, even though I’m still not sure if that’s true.

Being Straight With My Mother

I finally came out to my mother as bisexual in the summer before junior year. She had started to show suspicion, and I wasn’t prepared to lie to her. I realized I couldn’t avoid coming out, like I thought I could before. I did it during a car ride home one night.

“You’re what?” she said, sounding like she was accusing me of something.

“Bisexual,” I repeated.

“What does that mean?” She didn’t ask because she didn’t know what the word meant, she asked because she didn’t believe someone could be this way.

I told her it means I could end up with a male or female, and that was just the way it was. There was a silence as we stopped at a red light. Her voice took on a tone of severe disappointment, as if this was her problem and not mine. “I don’t know how much more of this we can take.”

At that point I felt the anger begin to boil inside me like it had when I discovered I was outed. It took all my willpower to stay silent as she went on. I didn’t want her to become even more flustered and get into an accident. Her face was blank, but I could tell she was trying to keep calm. I looked out the window as she continued, trying to find solace in the dark.

“Jake, I just want you to know how much easier it is to be with a woman. And what about me? Will I get to be a grandmother? Will I still be in your life?”

My mother unknowingly perpetuated my inner conflict by making me feel guilty for something I didn’t choose. Now I knew that being with a woman would make my mother happier, or at least more comfortable. She made it sound as if that was most important.

I am still not out to my father. I’m even more afraid of his reaction.

Q Stands for Questioning

Now, as I enter my senior year, I still meet people that have heard a story of me hooking up with a guy before they’ve even met me. It stings a little, and “bisexual” is still my explanation for people I don’t know very well. But now I feel I can ignore the expectation that comes along with that word. Even if people assume that means I am equally and completely attracted to both sexes, it does not mean I have to be.

I’ve realized I have been placing too much importance on other people’s opinions and pressures. The discovery of my true feelings toward men and women has almost nothing to do with what other people think, know, or have heard from that guy I hooked up with two years ago.

The question you should ask after finishing this article is not, “Wait, so is he gay or bi or what?” If you ask me, there are too many labels. Even though society is becoming more accepting of LGBTQ people (“Q” is occasionally used to represent “questioning,” but not many people know this), individuals who are not heterosexual are still expected to have an easy, defined label. As young people, we don’t always have that label so ready. We feel somewhere in between.

Concrete and permanent labels do not describe how we feel as we grow up during what I call “the discovery process.” For me, it is ongoing and rarely clear. But it’s all right, because I know that ultimately my sexuality is mine alone to explore. I am going to be with someone I love when the time is right and when it feels right. Right now, I just can’t narrow that down to a specific sex.

Instead of letting the splattered paint dry, I have decided to paint a picture of my sexuality. It is not for public viewing, and I have yet to finish it. But when it is complete, it will be beautiful and true to me and no one else.

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(NYC-2014-01-12)

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