Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on Postmodern Woman under the title “Learning to Love Without Filter: The Many Contortions in the World of Bisexuality” and is republished with permission.
“I want you to myself,” she whispered to me as her soft fingers curled through the baby hair growing on my neck. She twirled a few strands around her fingers and tugged, hard, as if to pluck them from my head. The actions mirrored her internal struggle.
“I want you too much,” she’d always say when I reminded her I wouldn’t be owned. In a world in which the beautiful was eviscerated and sold back to the masses in pieces, she couldn’t bear to know someone like me. It was like that for so many others.
Over and over again, I would hear these words. When they realized how rare I was, how special, the struggle would begin.
To keep or not to keep? To run or not to run?
Being around me exposed all the ways in which they hid themselves from the world. My natural vulnerability and radical honesty stood in stark contrast to societal sensibilities. I never sought to be anything special or to incite existential crises. Yet that’s what I ended up doing for everyone who crossed my path. I was the only person they’d ever met who didn’t care about fitting in, who had never prayed to just be normal, who accepted my reality without comparing it to everyone else’s.
Just by merely existing, I was proof of another way of living, of possibilities that didn’t fit within the worldview they were allowed to have.
I have been, and still am, what Franklin Veaux likes to call a “game changer”.
But that’s only because the world at large forces people down very narrow approved paths.
And so they left in trickles.
Not because I’d ever done anything wrong. They left because they couldn’t face the truth of who they were in a culture that actively discouraged standing out.
This was especially true of the bisexuals. I don’t know what it is about being a Black female bisexual, but the additional pressures of being such a person often meant choosing between security and social approval and more trouble than anyone should have to deal with.
The women I knew, the women I loved and who loved me, were forced to choose between pretending to lead a heterosexual life and our “friendship”.
I have yet to be involved with one who hasn’t chosen monogamy and men. Even the friends and family I have who have come out to me in secret still hide it. In the uber religiosity of the Black community, being gay is sin enough and being bisexual doesn’t really exist, but if you secretly have threesomes (and only with two women and one man) then everyone looks the other way. And so ironically, I became the priest that everyone confessed to.
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All my life people have felt free to share their deepest secrets with me because I saw them as human first. Everything that our society forces us to hide they felt free to pour into me because I was so open.
Eventually, I had to put up some strict barriers. I was their therapist and wasn’t even getting paid! But in all seriousness, my own mental and emotional health became my focus.
For me, who never desired to settle and who would never stand for a stacked choice, I couldn’t understand why these wonderful, beautiful people were so afraid of being themselves or why they thought they were deficient for wanting something different. For the longest time I wondered why people kept running away from me.
When you live authentically, when you love fully with no expectations, when you thrive in vulnerability and creativity, it challenges everything that the culture has set up to limit you. When you have no inner turmoil about your story and experiences, it spits in the face of pretty much all that people think about the human heart.
When you’ve dined and danced with your demons and angels, it tends to scare the shit out of people.
So, given the choice, most ran back to the comfort to which they were accustomed. It’s easier to be straight, or so they thought. It’s easier to get married, because it’s such a sign of being godly in the Black community. It’s easier to deny your love for women, because what kind of life could you have with her anyway?
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Some Black women are actively working against their own desires, minimizing them, erasing them, and fleeing from them in order to fit in. In an America in which Black women face the most violence (especially if they’re queer on top of it), it’s the smart thing to do to be inconspicuous. Why add trouble by being a dyke on top of everything else?
Just as the white people I was involved with wanted to keep me a secret, and just like the men who wanted me to be monogamous, so did the bisexual women. The commonalities between the racism, amatonormativity, and bisexual erasure of these acts speaks to how not okay our culture is with love and sex.
Our culture and our entertainment typically show horribly unhealthy, contradictory, abusive, and emotionally stunted depictions of love and sex.
Why would anyone truly believe it ever works out, then?
Even though we have all these fairytales telling us true love always wins out, people tend to run away from it and settle for less. When who you love is more a matter of survival than a matter of your values and desires, the option that makes the most sense is to survive no matter the cost.
I’m not implying that these women don’t truly love their male partners or that they shouldn’t marry men or be monogamous. But that’s the other thing they can’t allow themselves to see: that we are capable of loving and desiring more than one person. And while out loud most bisexuals do their damned-est not to be associated with non-monogamy in any way (because no one trusts a bisexual), pretending like it’s despicable or not an option only ends up hurting the bisexuals who are already struggling with their identity. Especially those who are of color and have to deal with intersecting issues beyond mere hetero- and amatonormativity.
“I still love you,” she told me with her voice breaking. This time we were separated by phone. She’d moved out, thankfully. But she’d stayed with her abusive boyfriend. I knew this wouldn’t end well. And there was nothing I could do.
Because given a false choice between the society that treats us as disposable and living a precarious life with me, abuse was familiar, expected, and more acceptable. She found a better man eventually, and she’ll be getting the wedding she wanted. She still hangs around my family — but it came at a very high cost. It got much worse for her after we transitioned into nonsexual friendship. I nursed her through the shame and pain without blame, without word, without expectation.
And then I wished her well and let go.
[Feature Image: A black and white photo of an individual from the chest up as they look off to the right wearing hoop earrings and long dark hair. Source: Flickr.com]