It took me 30 years to call myself queer.
I first realized that I was attracted to women when I was just a girl, standing in front of a poster of a brunette in cropped top showing off major underboob, asking my god at the time to not have my dad catch me drooling. I was 10, and having my heart rate speed up while I looked upon a woman in all of her feminine glory was jarring. I had been boy-crazy my whole life, and had always had a boyfriend. I think I had my first boyfriend when I was five, and “dates” were really playdates, during which we would run around the boy-of-choice’s backyard, pretending we were pirates. I always wanted to have a crush — to have someone to love me back.
I grew up in the conservative South in a small college town in Georgia. My dad was (and still is) a professor at the local university. I had had no experience with girls, other than being amazed by them (and often bullied by them). My mother, being staunchly religious in some form or another, brought me to churches where I was taught that gay people go to hell. Sex education for me was waiting til marriage, because I was to be a gift for my future husband.
But then the internet became a thing in every home, so I got to learn more about women virtually, if you pick up what I’m putting down. In high school, even in my small town, experimenting with the same gender became the cool thing to do, so I relished in getting to kiss girls at parties. It was, for many of us, for the pleasure of the boys, to show that we were the cool, wild girls who did those sorts of things, but for me, it was magical. I started hanging out with the theatre kids more and more and felt like I was finding my home.
At 20, I came out to my then-boyfriend, who thought it meant that we were on our way to a threesome, which we weren’t. I told him I was bisexual and had known for years, but he was the first person that I had told. My relationship with him was off-and-on for ten years throughout high school and college; I was a serial monogamist and only dated men (not for lack of trying with women, though). I was femme, straight-passing, and when I started to, in my twenties, tell members of the LGBTQ+ community and the straight community that I was bi, I was told all of the usual garbage that bi folks are used to hearing:
“It’s just a phase.”
“You’re not really gay, because you mostly date men.”
I was literally hitting bisexual bingo, but instead of that making me feel like I really was bisexual, as it should have, it invalidated me. I kept quiet. I went to one lesbian bar once, and was scared that out-and-proud women were eyeing me in the same way I was looking at them. I had a relationship with a woman who didn’t identify as queer, who didn’t really want me except to screw me (both literally and figuratively), and I continued to go after men, feeling too scared of my own powerful feelings for women, my love of their bodies and their smells, to ever make a move.
I met my husband. We fell in love. We now have a daughter. I love fashion, doing my makeup every day, and my business website looks like millennial pink threw up all over it. I’ve been well-aware of my passing privilege for 30 years, and it took that long to stand up for myself, to stand against bisexual erasure, and to call myself a name that our community has taken back: queer.
I did this by meeting LGBTQ+ people that validated me, by joining an all-queer improv team, and, perhaps ironically, by having a daughter who I didn’t want to grow up thinking that her mother was ashamed of her own identity. However, my way out of my head isn’t necessarily a path that others can or want to take, and the worst part of my story is the feeling of not being accepted by my own community. How many times have I stared longingly at LGBTQ+ events on Facebook, wanting to go, but scared of feeling lost and alone? How many times have I hesitated to speak out against injustices against my community? Bisexual people make up the majority of the folks in the LGBTQ+ alphabet soup, and yet, we so often feel that we do not have a voice in our own community.
I once had a coworker tell me that I couldn’t be bisexual, because I was “married to a man” and thus would only be truly bi if I was “cheating on him with a woman.” Another well-meaning co-worker asked if it felt like I was living without a limb to be with a man and not a woman - whatever that’s supposed to mean.
How loud do we have to be to state that who we are with does not define or detract from our sexuality? I believe that the key is support from our own. Our feelings of misplacement will not change until we are fully accepted within the LGBTQ+ realm, whether we are femme, butch, somewhere in-between or undefined; whether we are with men, women, or non-binary individuals; when our romantic or sexual history no longer defines us, but what’s within our hearts — what we state with our voices raised in unison does.
Anna Jones is a writer and producer currently based in Atlanta. She is the proud owner of digital copywriting agency Girl.Copy and independent film production company Tiny Park Productions. She loves a lot of stuff, but mainly: her husband, kid, and cat, writing and filmmaking, coffee and Diet Coke, millennial pink, sushi, gay stuff, and horror films.