Bisexuals are the punching bags of the gay internet. We’re constantly the targets of bullying from both members and non-members of the LGBTQ+ community. (It is endearing how we never shut up about being bisexual!) But behind a constant need for affirmation (hence the never shutting up about being bisexual) is a feeling of invisibility, and a fear that if we don’t consistently keep “coming out,” a portion of our identity will be lost to assumptions rooted in heteronormativity.
The thing that makes bisexuality great is also what makes it kinda tragic: Bisexuality is subversive and hard to pin down, which means it’s sometimes hard to actually see. It doesn’t fit neatly into categories or binaries, but instead, transcends them. So there aren’t exactly rules about what makes a person bisexual—you just sort of know it when you feel it.
If you’re looking for a general definition of what it means to be bisexual, the Human Rights Campaign defines it as feelings of romantic or sexual attraction to more than one gender (meaning it could be more than two!) are a sure sign. Where things can get murky, though, is when those feelings for multiple genders don’t occur simultaneously, in the same way, or to the same degree, which Seattle-based relationship, intimacy, and sex therapist Claudia Johnson says is very common. That mismatch of feelings can sometimes contribute to hostility or disbelief from others about a bisexual person’s true desires, or whether their sexuality is “just a phase” (eye roll) or an attempt to be “trendy” (double eye roll).
Johnson says bi-erasure is “deep-seated in our society,” and “denies the existence of a very real sexual orientation, invalidating people’s feelings and experiences.” Unfortunately, this can lead to serious mental health issues. In January 2020, the American Psychiatric Association released a report cited a 2017 study that found bisexual people are more likely to hide their sexual orientation than gay men and lesbians, offering a possible explanation as to why bisexual people experience disproportionate stress and anxiety.
If someone questions your bisexuality based on who you’re dating, Johnson recommends you drop them like a hot potato. “You are bisexual not because of who you’re dating,” she says. “You are bisexual, whether you are in a relationship or not.”
That’s not to say that as a bisexual person you won’t spend hours, if not years, of your life questioning your sexuality and wondering if you really are one thing or another—gay, straight, or maybe something else entirely. But maybe all that questioning is part of the fun. Or at least a necessary step on the path to enlightenment, or whatever it is you’re going for.
To shine some light on what it really feels like to discover your bisexuality, we spoke with 26 women and femmes who can recall a pivotal moment in their lives when they knew they were not straight. *smiles in bi*
1. “There were some inklings and vibes for a while, but it didn’t feel like it became a fact until I was supposed to be meeting someone for drinks and found myself truly flustered for the first time in a long time. Everything she said seemed so smart and so funny and I of course assumed the Negroni had just gone to my head until I got home and turned it over and realized that I’d only felt that kind of energy before when I really liked someone. The fact that she was wasn’t a cis man was almost less of a surprise than feeling that kind of spark during happy hour on a Wednesday in Midtown Manhattan, frankly. Nothing ever happened between us, but it was the moment that made me start reframing how I saw myself, and start realizing that part of the reason I felt so safe in queer spaces was because *I* was queer.” —Kaela, 34
2. “I realized I was a bisexual when I had a beautiful polish roommate at a summer program when I was 15! She would kiss people as a joke and I secretly hoped she would try to kiss me. I think that was truly the first time it occurred to me.” —Rani, 26
3. “I’m not exactly comfortable with the descriptor ‘bisexual’ but that’s mostly because I don’t like any labels, so! When I realized I loved the soft idea of women just as much as men, it scared me. I love being a woman and I was afraid loving the same gender would make me feel like less of myself. But really it did just the opposite. Giving myself the freedom to recognize I’m attracted to men, women, and anyone else in between has made me feel even more like the person and woman I’m supposed to be.” —Alex, 26
4. “I had wondered if I wasn’t straight for a while—I’d been with women before, and then I’d spend hours analyzing my own experiences and wondering whether I could chalk them [up] to exploration or if they meant something more. But the moment I truly realized I was bisexual was when, in one week, three people referenced ‘my future husband…’. I realized that not only was a husband not a given for me, but that they weren’t seeing a whole part of me, and I hadn’t fully seen or felt it myself until that moment either. I came out publicly the next week.” —Abby, 28
5. “I sent this text to my friend: ‘I had a realization that I’m just kind of bursting with, which is that I’m bisexual. It may seem like a small thing but feels like just the hugest thing to me. Not 50% gay or 50% straight, but just 100% bisexual—which I finally accept as not a state of confusion, but as a whole ass queer identity. […] My sexual orientation does not hinge on/is not defined by who I am in a relationship with. It finally hit me that there is a ‘B’ in LGBTQ, with a rich history and a valid place, and I’m done passing as a lesbian, and I’m done apologizing about loving a man, and I’m done letting my family assume I’m straight when I am just so clearly not. I finally realize that no matter my attempts to sit squarely on one side of a spectrum or another, I am literally not capable of changing who I am, and who I am is expansive and queer and whole.’” —Annie, 28
6. “I can remember the first time being viscerally, sexually attracted to a female friend in middle school, but I did not have the language or lived experience to assign validity to those feelings and I just, like, buried it down and was like, This is just normal puberty stuff! And in my 20s, I had a moment of reckoning, like Hmm, have I been bisexually erasing myself this whole time? And I’ve never ‘come out,’ but I feel like I’ve been trying to do more things to empower and give space to that side of my sexuality. Like exploring dating apps, and going to events, and talking about it more openly with the people in my life and my current cis male partner.” —Alexa, 26
7. “I—like I imagine many other bi people my age or older did—had a constant internal back-and-forth, wondering, Am I straight? Am I gay?, with neither of them feeling right. I suppose I knew bisexuality was a thing in adolescence, but the main representation during that time was Shot of Love with Tila Tequila… which I think I can speak on behalf of bi millennials and say it wasn’t too great for the community. I think it wasn’t until my teens that I realized that sexuality, both in a personal and broader sense, doesn’t work in a binary.” —Megan, 27
8. “Something did switch for me when I started surrounding myself with queer women and femmes. My only firsthand exposure to the LGBTQ+ community before that was my friendships with gay men. Hearing the stories and experiences of those women around me made me start thinking, Hey, maybe I feel the same way.” —Meera, 22
9. “I would say I think discovering my sexual identity as well as my gender identity happened very similarly in the sense that neither was a big discovery. There was never a moment of like, Oh! I’m bisexual! But if anything, a moment of Oh! Not everyone is bisexual? I think that there’s this idea where people are like, Everyone’s a little gay, and I kind of floated around in that space for a long time thinking everyone was experiencing that, which also made me figure that maybe I [didn’t need] a label because I thought everyone was having an experience similar to mine. But turns out not everyone’s ‘a little gay,’ and turns out I’m not either, I’m just fully bisexual.” —Suriya, 27
10. “I came out when I was 26. I had been with only men up until that point, with really no happiness. One day my sister was joking about dating and said: ‘You’ll find the right guy. Or girl. Who knows?’ and suddenly, something just clicked in my head. After I realized I could date both men and women, I felt significant relief and couldn’t stop smiling.” —Cassie, 28
11. “When I was in my 20s in college, I went to see our school’s production of Hairspray with my friend. The second I laid eyes on the actress playing Penny, a lightning bolt went through me. I started to daydream about meeting her and asking her on a date—things I used to only associate with men. That moment was the first time I could really imagine romance with a woman. I googled ‘bisexual’ that night and the rest was history!” —Alyssa, 28
12. “I was about 12 years old and watching the music video for ‘Toxic,’ by Britney Spears when I noticed it made me feel…funny. Afterward, I was very confused because I knew what bisexuality was, but I thought it had to be a 50-50 divide on attraction and I didn’t feel any attraction to the women in my life. News flash: It doesn’t. It wasn’t until I was 16 that I decided to label myself as bisexual.” —Maddie, 26
13. “I knew I was bisexual when I was 15. I had curious thoughts about women for years, but I thought it was just me wanting to be friends with them. When I was younger though, I was a big Glee fan, and that show introduced a lot of female relationships that I hadn’t seen before. I think just being exposed to those really popular pairings made me realize that I wanted what I was seeing, but I was also still equally boy-crazy. Once I realized I wanted a dog and a white picket fence with a girl, that’s when I really knew I was truly bisexual.” —Michelle, 23.
14. “At 24, I met a girl and found myself not only fantasizing about kissing her, but actually dating her too. You know, like waking up with her in the morning, cuddling on the sofa, etc. I remember standing and looking at her talking to a friend when I realized that I would not make an exception for her, I was just bisexual.” —Christin, 33
15. “I was probably 12 when I realized I had feelings for both men and women. However, I didn’t understand what that feeling was. I was always very intimidated by other girls in my grade, and I never understood why—but looking back, it was definitely because I was attracted to them and shoved that to the side. My senior year of college though, I was crushing hard on one of my friends and it was very apparent to me what that actually meant.” —Laurel, 24
16. “I don’t know if there was a specific moment.…It was more a short period of time in which I realized I had my first crush on a girl—but in a way that I thought was normal until I understood not all people felt that way.” —Lauren, 21
17. “I identified as straight until I was 29. There was one summer when I developed a crush on three women, and one of them ended up being my first girlfriend. We dated for three years. I didn’t really label my sexuality at that point, but I knew I wasn’t straight anymore. After that relationship, I dated somebody who was trans and non-binary, so I started learning more about bisexuality and started to embrace that I’m attracted to people of many genders.” —Cally, 35
18. “I realized at probably 13 that I might like girls when my best friend at the time got her first boyfriend and I felt so heartbroken and jealous. I always just accepted that I could be attracted to both men and women and haven’t questioned it since!” —Samantha, 25
19. “I knew deep down that I was bisexual since puberty, as I was fantasizing about women—even though I had always been attracted to boys from a very early age. So when I got to high school, I started experimenting with girls. Throughout school, I was hazed by other gay friends of mine who insisted I was a lesbian, but I knew I wasn’t. Eventually, I met my now-husband. Coming out to him was the hardest thing I have ever done but the most liberating.” —Becky, 27
20. “I was 20 or 21 when I came to terms with it. I was on a bus and a hot girl came on and I thought, I’m probably gay; that’s it. Then a hot guy came on and I was like, Woah, pretty sure lesbians are not this attracted to men. So then came the light-bulb moment where I realized I was bi and there was no explanation needed.” —Lorenna, 23
21. “I always had boyfriends when I was younger, but I think that was because I knew that’s what girls were supposed to do. I’ve definitely always liked men and women, but I didn’t realize my feelings toward women until my friends bought me a Paris Hilton CD and when I saw her on the cover, I was like, Oh, shit, I like girls too.” —Laura, 23
22. “I went to an all-girls school, and in 8th grade, I was standing in line behind one of my best friends for a Halloween haunted house. She was dressed as Michael Jackson in a white dress shirt and black pants. I felt incredibly attracted to her and realized in that moment I liked girls as much as guys.” —Jayne, 33
23. “I fell in love with a woman at 18, but I didn’t feel comfortable with the idea that all my dating relationships up to that point were merely compulsory. Realizing that neither the straight nor the gay/lesbian labels fit me was my first experience as a member of a marginalized group. Then, I joined a community for bisexual women and the group shaped me personally and professionally. My first marriage was to a man and my second and now current marriage is with a woman.” —Alison, 45
24. “There wasn’t one specific moment when I realized I was bisexual, but I think I realized it when I was 17. I had been dating this guy, but I found myself clinging to his best friend. She and I would make out occasionally, but I told myself it was just to get the attention of guys around us. Eventually, I realized I had a crush on her. When I look back at that moment, I felt relief. I finally had a word to describe the way I adored other women when I was younger.” —Abbey, 22
25. “There were hints throughout my life—my love of the The L Word, my involvement in gay rights, the way I couldn’t keep my eyes to myself when I was at the beach and girls were in bikinis. I was finally able to admit to myself when I went to a strip club and sat at the rack and was like, Yup, I’m bi. I made an OkCupid profile shortly after and then started coming out to my friends and family.” —Tabby, 30
26. “I first knew I was bisexual when I was 17. I was supposed to visit my friend at her house on the weekend and she called me to tell me who was going. She told me her twin sister was bringing her girlfriend, but I was a little surprised to know she had a girlfriend. I asked my friend about it because I had always known her sister to be the boy crazy type, and she nonchalantly said her sister was bisexual. I thought about the conversation all week and realized that was the word I had been looking for my whole life.” —Sam, 21
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