Straight-Bi Or Gay-Bi?: Playing To The Audience

bisexual-624743_1280“Yeah, I’ve had LOADS of girlfriends!” Elle Ford on the temptation to present differently to different groups…

Navigating the confusing, awkward, often embarrassing world of sexuality at best results in some good stories or maybe solid relationships. At worst, it ends in tears, pain, more confusion, and shame. For those individuals who do not conform to the dichotomous notion of gender and/or sexuality, navigating this world can get even messier. Although I do not completely like the term, (or being labeled at all for that matter), I am bisexual. This is not something I decided to try after hearing a Katy Perry song, or a curious college experience. It is something deep and intrinsically part of who I am as a person. I have the capability to desire, and love anyone of any sex.

Unfortunately, being born with a more fluid sexual identity does not come with an instruction manual. How do I enter the LGBT scene without being seen as an outsider? How do I continue to appear for all intents and purposes, ‘straight’, while dating a man and come out to my friends and family? It would be that awkward YouTube video of ‘girl comes out to parents and friends – parents and friends are confused because she doesn’t have a girlfriend’. I always meant to come out. You know, like any normal person, I would come out when I had a girlfriend that I cared for and when we were getting serious and fighting social injustice together on the weekends and having amazing vegetarian dinner parties while discussing the pressing political issues of our time. Unfortunately, this never happened. I blame it mostly on the fact that I never quite found my way into the gay ‘scene’. How do you meet someone when you are closeted? How can you go on a date and say, well I have only seriously dated dudes but there was this one girl I started falling in love with, and oh ya, I totally watch female friendly lesbian porn on a weekly basis? I always felt stuck between two worlds, desiring to be accepted into a world I longed to be part of and also trying to keep my membership in the one I was more readily accepted into. It isn’t also for a lack of trying – it just seems that whenever I try I somehow immediately become the straight girl at a gay party. Or, even worse, it becomes the ‘Isn’t she so adorable’ trying to fit in and calling herself bisexual when we can all tell by some obvious style of dress or talking, or flashing sign on her head, that she is really straight. More obvious than just standing there like a person who could only possibly desire men, would be the occasions I was with a boyfriend and trying to identify as bi, but that is a whole other can of confusing sexual identity worms.

I always get very excited about invitations to enter the ‘other realm’ as I will call it. I only label it ‘other’ because my most common experience is feeling like a total loser in an acid washed jean outfit waiting at London’s hottest nightclub only to be smirked at by the bouncer and ousted as someone who just ‘doesn’t fit in here’. Unfortunately, as most of my female friends all prescribe to the gender normative, and are heterosexual, they weren’t often inviting me out to ‘ladies night’ at the hot queer club, so I relied on my male friends to include me. When I had invites to ‘gay’ events I jumped on them, eager to enter this realm, but in a way where I could test the waters without outing myself to anyone on either side. I remember one night, excited to finally be going out in the ‘gay area’ of my newest city and I dressed up imagining all the girls I would meet. I envisioned how I may sneak for a cheeky cig outside and fall into the most interesting conversation with some brunette beauty and how my gay friends may walk out and see us kissing. They would give me a positive wink of encouragement and comment later over drunken pizza how they never knew, but that we make a nice couple. The night on the other hand, consisted mostly of me gazing around the room longingly (perhaps desperately) trying to lock eyes with any female, seeking some sort of approval of my existence. When this didn’t work I made attempts to have jovial conversation with the alternative woman behind the bar, but she did not even crack a friendly smile. In my attempt to enter the gay world I only made myself stick out like a straight, sore thumb.

woman-918616_1280Inevitably, I smoked outside by myself – bumming cigarettes off some guy who asked me earlier if I wanted to buy some MDMA. While I sat in the smokers’ area, as a non-smoker normally, I felt a pang of irony. At this point a girl who I spotted in the bar early walked up and asked for a light. My brain was like, ‘OMG it’s happening!’ However, the conversation quickly turned and the girl joked, asking if I was outside because I felt uncomfortable being surrounded by gay people. I thought of crying and going home, but the whiskey shots I kept ordering and taking with the bartender in attempts to get her approval encouraged me to seize the opportunity. I responded and said ‘Well actually I am bisexual, so it makes no difference to me’. The girl gave me the look I am used to receiving, which I have dubbed the ‘aww smirk,’ and said, ‘So, do you have a girlfriend?’ I instantly knew where this was headed, but I held hope and said I was single. I knew deep down what she was getting at, though. She asked when my last relationship was and when I answered I knew the follow up question would be – was it with a girl? And of course, just like she knew before she asked, the answer was no. How could it have been when I obviously have straight girl written on my forehead? So, instead of letting it throw me, I did what any self-respecting, closeted, bisexual would do to gain street cred in a gay bar – I lied. The look of surprise was worth it, although I don’t recommend it. Nobody should have to lie to be accepted, and other people shouldn’t judge how ‘valid’ your orientation is based on your relationships. But, as the saga of living the straight lie continues, the moment of dismantling somebody’s preconceptions was totally worth it.

5 Responses to Straight-Bi Or Gay-Bi?: Playing To The Audience

  • #BigBiHugs

  • K. says:

    I hope this will not come across as cynical, but it sounds like personal appearance is really the main thing that is keeping you from fitting in at these LGBT events. Fashion expectations for queer women are often different from those for straight women.

    You might want to try to wear different outfits to these events – maybe experiment with a different hairstyle that day – and see how you fit in. Look at photos of queer women online to see what they are wearing.

    There are a range of queer-friendly visual appearances that are seen as recognizable for women. These looks vary in their femininity and cultural meaning. Look at photos online to see the range of different ways queer women present.

    When you attend LGBT events, participate in conversations and listen to the kinds of topics people are talking about. Go with the flow of the discussion. It’s sort of like how it is when you enter a foreign country or a new social scene – you need to observe the customs.

    This may result in you dressing differently at different kinds of events. That’s OK. It happens to a lot of people. It’s all right to have different outfits at different times.

    Hairstyles that are recognizably queer are often very attractive to women, but a lot of workplaces don’t accept them. There are guides to queer hairstyles for women online – you can look it up. Of course, many LGBT women don’t have these kinds of hairstyles.

    The reason I feel cynical about this is that I know it’s all about looks (and secondly, about culture, and thirdly, about who you know). People make assumptions based on outfits. If you want to be accepted, people will expect you to change your appearance, social circle, and topics of conversation.

    What bothers me about all of this is that it is so f*ing annoying to be mistaken for a heterosexual when I have long hair and mistaken for a a lesbian when I have short hair. I know I am the same person all the time. My gender self-perception is the same all the time too. I do not become any more or less butch when I cut my hair or grow it out. Same goes for clothes. If I am dressed up for some occasion, that doesn’t make me straight either. But it makes me a heck of a lot less attractive to women, because women, like men, are drawn to certain appearances.

    And if you try walking down the street in different outfits, you’ll see what I mean.

  • Elle says:

    K- I see what you are saying here, but I feel the need to change my appearance in order to ‘fit in’ is something I have avoided because ‘playing gay’ is not something I feel i should need to do. My hope is for a society where we can all be our authentic selves without having to conform to certain preconceptions or stereotypes in order to fit in or be noticed.I know this is very idealistic, but I think forcing women to ‘play up the gay’ is quite similar to telling those to downplay their ‘queerness’ in order to fit in and be accepted to a more straight world. I believe this is big part what the LGBT world fights against- having to conform to some predefined norms. I also think by being able to be my authentic ‘straight girl looking’ self but also be accepted in the LGBT world is an important move forward, particularly for those who do not fit nicely into either dichotomy. I appreciate that, just as the article highlights, the temptation to alter who we are or play it up is there and strong. I write about it because I hope to highlight this issue as a larger one that is problematic and not something to encourage. We shouldn’t have to feel compelled to exaggerate our pasts, or dress a certain way to be accepted for who we are. But, for now, the struggle continues!

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