It Would Have Meant Everything: Why Bisexual Representation Matters in the Eyes of Someone Who Had to Go Without

The following is an essay I wrote for submission in a Bi-Awareness Week series on another blog but, seeing as it wasn’t selected, I didn’t want it to go to waste! Happy Bisexual Awareness Day to all of my fellow bi guys, gals, and non-binary pals. Love you ❤

I graduated from high school over 10 years ago. It’s been more than a decade, and yet I still have this one particular memory from that time that plays regularly in my mind.

I’ll set the scene for you: a small group of my friends and I were loitering in the hall at lunch break, when another member of our clique rushed up to join us. He leaned in, out of breath and with a conspiratory look in his eyes, he whisper-yelled to us, “Dan* just told me he’s bisexual.”

As a collective, we all ooh’d knowingly.

“Well, we all know what that means,” I said, and my peers nodded.

It meant that Dan, regardless of what he told anyone, was gay.

This was a fact accepted without question, because to us – teenagers in a Catholic high school of maybe 600 students – a person claiming to be “bisexual” could only mean one of three things:

  1. The person was actually gay and was just using the term bisexual to ease into fully coming out.
  2. The person was just “going through a phase”, or
  3. The person was just trying to get attention.

It would be many, many years before I would eventually come to terms with my own bisexuality. Whenever I think or talk about the fact that it took me until my late twenties to appreciate this part of myself, I think back to that conversation in the halls of my high school and I reflect on it with mixed feelings.

One of those those feelings is disgust: disgust that I not only believed those ridiculous fallacies but that I also openly helped to perpetuate them.

But before I can beat myself up too much about being part of the problem, I always stop to remind myself of why my peers and I held those misconceptions up as absolutes. Why, at a time in our lives when someone being openly gay or lesbian didn’t make us so much as bat an eye, were we so quick to dismiss the very existence of bisexuality?

The truth is (non-existent sexual education in our religious school system aside) our naive young minds really didn’t have much else to go on, did we? When I think back to the television shows, music, and books my peers and I were consuming at the time, I don’t recall seeing myself reflected in any of them. I might be able to drag up characters demonized as promiscuous or disloyal, or perhaps more still, a character that did what they wanted under the guise of not wanting to bear a label.

But could I name a character I recall growing up with who was confident enough in their sexuality to actually use the “b word” and be the hero of their own narrative?

Not a chance.

Oh, and for those keeping score at home: we wound up being right about Dan.

So, what were we supposed to think?

What was I supposed to think when I knew that I had feelings for women that were the same – nay, stronger – than the feelings I had for men? I knew I wasn’t a lesbian, so why was I having fantasies about other women? I sure as hell didn’t want people to know, so it couldn’t have been for attention. And, if it was just a phase, it sure was dragging on for a inconveniently long time.

Bisexuality wasn’t an option for me because I had no idea what bisexuality actually looked like. I, like so many teenagers, relied on the pictures painted for me by the media I consumed and, as is so often the case, they let me down. I spent most of my young life defaulting to the concept of “girl crushes” and using the cringe-worthy excuse of “I’m comfortable enough with my own sexuality to be able to admit that she’s hot” to justify my feelings. I spent so much time feeling out of place with heteronormative culture without ever being able to pin down exactly why.

It’s a strange coincidence that I eventually found myself in a piece of today’s queer-positive media created with young people in mind. After watching so many episodes of Cartoon Network’s Steven Universe normalize different types of love and gender expression, it was one scene – a dance between two female coded characters – that finally kicked a hole in the wall of my mind. It felt like the repressed part of my brain came striding in through the rift that scene left behind and screamed, “YOU KNOW, I THINK IT’S TIME YOU ACCEPTED THE FACT THAT YOU’RE A RAGING BISEXUAL.”

In the months that came after my animated sexual reawakening I felt elated, I felt complete, and I felt angry. Angry because it had taken almost 30 years for me to embrace something so simple and true. Would the answer have come to me sooner if I’d had the kind of positive representation that seems to be becoming increasingly prevalent in today’s young media?

I mean, it’s impossible to know for sure. But if I had to give you an answer it would be, yes. Absolutely and unequivocally, yes.

I knew I could spend the rest of my life being bitter about the years I missed out of living honestly. But the fact is, none of us can change the past. All we can do is look forward and do our best to make sure that we make things even easier for those who come after us.

But what would my contribution be?

If it was positive bisexual representation in media I felt I was missing when I was growing up, then I wanted to find a way to help fill the gap. I weighed my options: I can’t act, I don’t sing, and I’m a mediocre artists at best. But my writing is alright, and I love to tell stories, so I made it my pet project to write and share tales that focus on the lives and adventures of queer – especially bisexual – characters.

I haven’t been at this for long, but I can say that I’ve enjoyed every minute of the process. Part of that process has included reading up on other LGBT fiction in the name of research and, if I’m being honest, having some truly relatable books on my shelves for the first time in my life. As has always been my modus operandi, I found myself gravitating to YA offerings, and have since fallen in love with what I now consider to be some of my favourite titles of all time.

I think now about the first book I read in which a character uses the “b-word” in a way that is normal and not at all damning; Tess Sharpe’s “Far From You”. I read it only a couple of months ago and, at 31 years of age, it was the first time I felt like I saw myself in a book. I cried throughout – often at parts that weren’t intended to be sad – because I couldn’t believe how real it made me feel.

When I finished it, I couldn’t help but ask myself: what would it have meant to me to have had this book when I was 15?

It’s impossible to know for sure. But if I had to give you an answer it would be, everything.

So, now I’m trying to add my voice into the mix. I’m writing my own stories and I’m encouraging others to do the same. And all the while, I’m watching my stack of LGBT YA novels grow.

These days I live in a town of 5,000 people and our high school is home to the only GSA in the entire school district (a fact that makes us both very proud and very sad). I think I’m going to find out if they’d be interested in adopting the titles I’ve finished reading. I’ve never been one to give away books easily, but if even one of them could let bi kids see themselves and spare them from having to spend any time wondering, it would be worth it. After all, if it had been me in their shoes, it would have meant everything.
*Names have been changed.

2 thoughts on “It Would Have Meant Everything: Why Bisexual Representation Matters in the Eyes of Someone Who Had to Go Without

  1. amynotdorft says:

    Representation is SO important. As someone raising a young daughter… I often have to go out of my way to find media that shows any sort of diversity. Everyone buys her these Disney princess stories and every single one is about freaking heterosexual marriage. Like a 10 book set where every story is about a princess and her wedded life with her prince. It’s frustrating on so many levels. Luckily we watch Steven Universe too and let her watch sometimes and she’s taken to it like nothing she’s ever watched before (she is OBSESSED with Garnet).

    I have no idea who she’s going to be as she gets older, but regardless, I think it’s important her fiction is as diverse as reality. Like you say, it’s crucial that people have the opportunity to see themselves in the media they take in to accept and understand various aspects of themselves… and I think it’s important that people (especially kids) engage with characters that differ from them too. To empathize with people whose lives and experiences aren’t like their own. I agree that what you’re doing is important… our stories help shape our perception of the world… so keep on writing!

    Liked by 1 person

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