Bisexual People Are Not Just Going Through A Phase

So, full disclosure here: I’m a bit of a geek, and as such, I’m a bit of a fan of trivia, especially trivia that’s related to movies and books. So it should come as no surprise that today’s rant stemmed from a little bit of trivia. Namely, a bit of obscure Harry Potter trivia.

According to an interview with Entertainment Weekly, actor David Thewlis, who played the character Remus Lupin in the Harry Potter films, was quoted as saying, “Alfonso Cuarón (the director of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), in the rehearsals, without J.K. Rowling’s knowledge, told me that [my character] was, in fact, gay. So I’d been playing a part like a gay man for quite a long time. Until it turned out that I indeed got married to Tonks. I changed my whole performance after that. Just saw it as a phase he went through.” Perhaps as a result of this statement, I have also found some sources claiming that J.K. Rowling herself claimed that Lupin was an ‘ex-gay‘ who, over the course of the series, learns to be straight when he falls in love with Tonks, a female character. However, as the leading source of this latter claim seems to be a user’s comment on IMDB, I wouldn’t put too much stock in the claim that this is something that Rowling actually said.

Now, why am I sharing this piece of trivia, you might be asking? Well, besides it simply being interesting to know from a total geek perspective, I also find it to be very telling as far as how we as a society tends to view sexual orientation.

Look at the language that was used in the above trivia. Regardless of what the sexual orientation of Lupin’s character is actually supposed to be, Thewlis decided that, if Lupin was interested in men at one point and interested in women at another, then that must mean that he was just “going through a phase”. And regardless of whether J.K. Rowling was the one who identified Lupin as an “ex-gay” or not, that is a term that some fans have come to use toward him. So then, what is Lupin’s sexual orientation? He likes men at some point, women at others… it’s almost as though he likes both… as though he might be some sort of strange, previously unknown sexual orientation that lands somewhere between straight and gay, like some sort of… bisexual or something…

Seriously though, why wasn’t this the first place that everyone’s mind went to when Lupin’s sexual orientation supposedly changed between movies? (I’m foregrounding the movies here because that seems to be where this issue is most apparent to the actors and the audience.) Why was there even this mention of “going through a phase”, of being an “ex-gay”, when we all know that bisexual people exist?

Or do we?

The issue of bi visibility has been an ongoing one for the bisexual community for pretty much… forever. In fact, there’s even a whole day in the year dedicated to spreading awareness about the existence of bisexual people, because apparently, the majority of people haven’t caught on yet. Bisexual people are frequently assumed to be going through a phase that they’ll eventually grow out of or overcome. Bisexual men are interpreted as being gay men who are simply afraid to come “all the way” out of the closet (as though coming out as bisexual isn’t coming all the way out). Bisexual women are interpreted as straight women who are looking to impress men with promises of threesomes and getting to watch them make out with other women (because it always comes back to being about men in the end somehow). Or, sometimes, bisexual people of both sexes are merely interpreted as experimenting, being curious, being rebellious, but not actually being what they claim to be.

And when it comes to real people with actual sexual orientations, we still tend to use a perspective that mirrors the one we saw with poor Lupin. When we see actual queer couples, we automatically assume that they are a gay or lesbian couple. A wedding between two men is always referred to as a gay wedding, even if it’s totally plausible that neither man is actually gay. And do you know how many times I have seen someone come from dating someone of the opposite gender to dating someone of the same gender, and the common response is, “oh, so you’re gay now?” or “I didn’t know you were gay!”

And if you do this or have done this, I’m not trying to make you feel bad about it. As human beings, we tend to want to separate everything into two categories, sometimes referred to as a ‘binary’. We want everything and everyone to be male or female, light or dark, straight or gay. And when something doesn’t fit easily into that binary, we tend to ignore it; I mean, what have we done to gender non-conforming or intersex people?

But the truth is, the world doesn’t exactly work this way.

The truth is, of all adults living in the U.S. and identifying as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, bisexuals comprise of a very slight majority (1.8% compared to the 1.7% that identify as gay or lesbian). And of these people, not all of them can be confused, questioning, or going through a phase.

The truth is, I identify as bisexual, and I have since I was ten years old. I tried to change myself. I tried to force myself to belong on either end of the binary, because that was what I thought people expected of me, but I just can’t change who I am. I just can’t not be bisexual, because the way that I identify is very real and very unavoidable.

The truth is, we have been ignored for far too long. We have been dismissed as not even an option for far too long. We have been invisible for far too long.

And it’s time for that to stop.

It’s time for us to talk about bi visibility.

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Growing Up Bisexual

I was ten years old when I realized that I was bisexual.

I still remember it clearly: sitting in my car, and thinking to myself, “wow, girls are really cute. But so is Johnny Depp. Maybe I’m one of those bisexual people?”

That was the last time it was ever that simple.

Over the next ten years, my sexual identity was something that I struggled with. Although I recognized that I was bisexual, recognizing it and coming to terms with it were two very different things. I was very hesitant to come out of the closet, and for many reasons, though I didn’t understand them at the time. At the time, I just thought, what do I have to be afraid of? I’m not homophobic, so why should I be against this?

It took me a long time to realize that being homophobic and being biphobic were two entirely different things. No, I didn’t have anything against same-sex relationships, but that wasn’t the only thing I had to come to terms with here. I had to come to terms with the fact that I was attracted to more than one gender in a world that constantly asked “why can’t you just pick one?” I had to grow up in a society that looked down on teenage girls who came out as bisexual because they were obviously “sluts” who were “just looking for guys’ attention”.

When I was thirteen, a good friend of mine came out as bisexual, and I was so excited. Here was someone doing what I knew I would eventually have to do, and so when I went home that night, I wasted no time in telling his news to my mother. She, however, informed me that few people were actually bisexual, and that he was probably just too afraid to come out as gay. And sure enough, a few months later, he announced that he truly was gay. Now, I don’t blame a thirteen year old boy who was struggling to come to terms with his own sexuality for this, and neither do I blame my mother when she really didn’t realize at the time what she was saying to me, but this experience taught me something. It proved to me that bisexuality didn’t actually exist: that what I perceived to be bisexuality was actually a fear of being something else.

So what was I?

I pondered over this question for a long time: was a lesbian who was just afraid to commit? Or was I a straight girl who wanted to be unique? Every time that I thought I knew the answer, something else would happen to prove me wrong.

Then, when I was sixteen years old, I had the worst possible thing happen to me: I fell in love with a girl, and somehow, for some reason, she liked me back.

Now, I’ve never been the type to hide things from my friends and family. And so, in anticipation of my dating this girl, I came out to them. It was sudden and messy, because I still wasn’t sure of anything myself, but I knew that I liked her, and that that was all that should matter. Still, I shouldn’t have done it. It doesn’t matter that the relationship lasted only a month or two: even after she was gone, I was still out, and I was not ready for that.

For the most part, everyone was supportive, except for the occasional friend who I could tell was uncomfortable with it. And as quiet as they kept about their opinions, I still felt them hard. I could feel everyone judging me, and I felt like I knew what they were saying. “She’s a slut”, they’d say, or “she’s not really bisexual” – all the sorts of thing that I’d heard people say about other bisexual girls. It wasn’t long before I started to regret my decision to come out, now that I no longer had a girlfriend to rationalize why it was worth it. Instead, I started to wish that I could just set back to default, that I could just be what everyone originally thought I was.

So that’s what I did. When I was about seventeen or eighteen, I played into the stereotype of the bi-curious girl, pretending that I had made up my bisexual identity because of one girl who I was kind of interested in.

Needless to say, it felt wrong. And I know what some of you are thinking: “why would it – it wouldn’t affect your life much to be in the closet. I mean, sure, you couldn’t date girls, but you can still have healthy, normal relationships with guys.” I know that’s what you’re thinking because I thought it too, and I quickly proved myself wrong. Even when I was with men, the topic of attractive women would always come up, and I had to sit there pretending to have nothing to contribute. Somehow, it felt like I was lying to people, or hiding from them a part of my identity. And that made me feel like I had something to hide, like there was something wrong with me. And from there, it only got worse. Not only was there something wrong with me, but by being bisexual, I had committed an unforgivable sin. Fifty percent of people say that they would never date a bisexual, for one reason or another, and that was enough to convince me that if anyone ever found out about me, then I would never find love. Instead, I would only ever find straight men who just wanted me to be the third party of a threesome, or lesbians who were afraid I’d want to ‘go back to boys’. I was dirty, wrong. I didn’t deserve love.

I’m twenty-one now, and I’ve been out of the closet (for the second time) about one year. And I don’t ever intend to go back. I still don’t know how comfortable I am with my identity, because, really, growing up surrounded by biphobia is a bitch. But I’m working on it, because logically, I know that there is nothing wrong with me. I know that I am a beautiful human being who is capable of love so incredible that it transcends the boundaries of gender. And anyone who doesn’t see that isn’t deserving of my love anyway.

So today, on Bi Visibility Day, I am celebrating who I am. I am bisexual. I am not an uncommitted lesbian, and I am not a straight girl striving for attention. I am bisexual and I am real.