Overcoming Bisexual Shame

Category: Points Of View

Author: Molly Frances

“I couldn’t imagine what I’d do if one of my children told me they were gay,” my mother flicked the ash hanging from her Marlboro Red out the open window.

The cloth-covered walls of the Ford box van close in on me, my vision narrows, and my stomach rises into my throat. There’s a roaring in my ears so loud I can barely hear what she says next. Tears burn my eyes, so I turn my face towards the window as if I am studying the trees whizzing by.

If I cry now, she will know. So I don’t.

I’ll have to stop seeing her. I can’t get involved with a girl like that – my mom will eventually find out. I am supposed to only like boys because that’s what good girls do. I’ll grow out of this; it’s just a phase.

The message at home was good girls don’t kiss girls. Good girls want to marry boys and have children. I needed to be a good girl.

This idea permeated the ‘90s and early 21st century, that women go through a bisexual phase. It was a joke I heard in the halls of my high school, in the media, and all over my university. Girls would regularly make out with each other at dorm parties and after a few drinks at one of the clubs just off campus. When they did, the boys would hoot and holler, encouraging them. The porn I stumbled across wasn’t any different. When women were rolling around together, it was always for the entertainment of men.

The message was clear: female bisexuality exists for the sexual enjoyment of heterosexual men. It’s not real. It’s not about me.

I had all these feelings – romantic love, animalistic lust, and incredible tenderness – towards men, so I could make myself believe, sometimes for years at a time, that I was straight. But I also had them about women… so I was broken. The thoughts and feelings I had about women caused shame to build like a brick wall. All of the positive reinforcement I got for acting straight was mortar filing in the gaps until the wall was impenetrable.

If urges for women squeezed through the cracks, I alternately ignored them or tried to silence them. My shame caused me to overperform, stay busy, and chase achievements so hard I couldn’t think. When it caught up to me, regardless of my speed, shame led me to numb myself with a host of habits that disconnected me from the world.

With each passing year, I stuffed those pieces of me further inside. I reinforced the wall until I couldn’t see those parts of me anymore. I kept women at arm’s length and avoided close friendships because I couldn’t let someone see over the wall. My shame kept me hidden.

I continued this pattern for another two decades. If I didn’t reach out to women, they couldn’t get to know me. If they couldn’t get to know me, my secret stayed hidden. If I stayed busy and stacked up achievements, no one would try to take my walls down. I’d be safe.

I just didn’t know I’d never find a safe place until I stopped lying to myself.

When you lie to everyone around you long enough, it becomes easy to believe the lies yourself. For so many years, I kept my bisexuality hidden so deep that even I forgot it was there. I forgot how it felt to kiss a woman or touch her skin. I forgot that part of me needed that. I forgot who I was.

Then, I remembered.

When I came out to my ex-husband, he called me a sex addict and maintained that I was going through a phase I would eventually outgrow. That sentiment carried me through the rest of that marriage.

I didn’t come out to my second husband all at once. Shame kept me from trusting him and trusting our marriage. I came out little by little, like the way I’d peel the petals off a daisy as a child. I like women, I like them not. I like women… When we first got involved in the swinging community and embraced non-monogamy, Hubby would describe me as bi-curious or say that I play well with others. There was some truth to that, except that I wasn’t curious. I was in denial.

Then I met a woman who made me want. When I met her, I couldn’t pretend anymore, and I let Hubby know all of my secrets. I told him about the first time I found myself naked and wrapped around another woman and about the times I tried not to but fell anyway. I told him about the way I avoided close friendships with women, even though I craved them. I told him that I feared he’d leave if I admitted I needed more than our heterosexual monogamous marriage could provide.

I chose better the second time around. Hubby responded with compassion, inquisitiveness, and flexibility. We realized that we get to dictate the rules of our marriage. Blocking all of the expectations coming in from outside was as easy as pulling up a drawbridge.

I know plenty of bisexual people are also monogamous. They can love a man or a woman and not yearn for the touch of another for the duration of the relationship. I’m not wired that way – and I’m done apologizing for it.

The shame about my sexuality eroded relationships, affected my former career, and negatively impacted my children. Shame is a nasty little beast born of societal norms, family pressure, and internalized ideas about what we should be or do. Shame is the enemy of potential.

Once my bisexuality and my tendency toward nonmonogamy weren’t a reason to wallow in self-hatred – now that I loved me anyway – I uncovered another problem. Other people still see my bisexuality as performative. I’ve had friends pitch threesomes with their boyfriends (repeatedly, and despite me saying no), and many men I meet assume my bisexuality means I’m always DTF – whoever and whenever.

However, now that I’m not wrestling shame about who I am, it’s easy to dismiss people from my life who think I’m a performing monkey or who make their sexual arousal my problem. I’m living on my own terms now.