Tuesday, September 23rd may sound like an unassuming date, but a lot can be packed into one small square on a calendar. Today is the first full day of autumn (following a late night autumnal equinox on Monday) and also the first day I walked home shivering in the late afternoon sunlight. It is National Voter Registration Day, and the three week anniversary of my thus far exhilarating and exhausting academic adventure at Harvard Law.
It is also Bisexual Visibility Day.
I have always been a private person when it comes to sexuality. As a child, I abhorred being asked about my crushes, both real and celebrity. I did not want to have to admit that I found Revenge of the Sith-era Hayden Christensen dashing despite his sometimes questionable acting choices, or that I spent a good deal of my childhood confused about whether I wanted to date Jeremy Sumpter’s Peter Pan or be Peter Pan himself. When I finally realized that I liked women as well, I had no desire to share this information with anyone outside of the queer community, not out of shame or confusion or even fear of anyone’s reaction, but just out of a basic desire for privacy.*
Unfortunately, privacy is not a luxury that I can afford. I spent the first twenty years of my life paying the steep psychological price of society’s collective silence concerning bisexuality, and I cannot allow myself to perpetuate the same silence that almost destroyed me.
Growing up, bisexuality never seemed like a feasible option. I had no bi role models. There were no bi characters in any books, television, or movies that I watched or read. There were no bi politicians or actors in the newspaper or on NPR (yes, I listened to NPR as a child). I grew up with the presumption that I was straight, and easily brushed any moments of awkwardness involving girls out of my conscious mind.
However, as I grew older, it became increasingly hard to lie to myself. No amount of repression was sufficient to completely hide my attraction to women. Did that mean I was gay? But what about my hopeless crushes on boys? The evidence of my senses no longer added up to anything that fit into a monosexual worldview, but because I had never encountered bisexuality outside of the dictionary, I had no alternative framework to process the feelings I was experiencing. I became confused and distraught and eventually, severely depressed. I was so scared of my own erratic thoughts that I worked myself to exhaustion and eventual physical illness, picking up more and more jobs and responsibilities to avoid being alone with myself. I put myself in harmful situations and became apathetic about my own safety and life expectancy.
Not all my coming out experiences have been stellar (although most have; my friends are amazing people), but by far the hardest was coming out to myself.
And I am not alone: 45% of bisexual women and 35% of bisexual men have had suicidal thoughts (compared to 29% of lesbians and 25% of gay men). And unlike depression rate among gay youth, bisexuals are less likely to report decreases in depression as they grow older.
For me, it did get better. The world makes sense again, and I could not be happier with my orientation or my decision to be an openly bisexual Harvard law student. However, bisexual erasure is still pervasive. Coming out again and again in new social situations can get tiring, and each time I do I risk being stigmatized. I still have very few role models and have to listen to characters on television and national figures in the news perpetuating negative stereotypes associated with bisexuals. Sometimes I have to consciously stop myself from classifying people as either straight or gay, as if those were the only options.
So please, take a moment to educate yourself. Read the stories of other bi individuals, and think twice before using phrases such as “lesbian until graduation” or insisting that someone is gay because they were in a same-sex relationship. We exist. In fact, we are half of the entire LGBT community according to many counts. Remember this, acknowledge this, and you could save a life.
*After all, the knowledge that I am bisexual should have no bearing on my interactions with either straight girls or straight guys.