Public intimacy: Reclaiming my identity as a bisexual woman
By: Anastasia Dale
“Oh, that’s hot. Can you kiss for me?”
These words, in different orders and intonations, have been said to me more times than I can count.
I’m fifteen, flirting properly with a girl for the first time at a friend’s house.
She whispers in my ear, and it is something cute and innocent. I’m experiencing young teen romance! I giggle and hold her hand.
A boy yells from the other side of the room, “Check it out! Lesbians!”
I’m sixteen, sitting in a living room with four friends: two female, two male. We discuss sexuality. One boy says the “hottest thing” is two girls kissing. Awkwardly, I state that I’m bisexual.
The effect this has on him is the opposite to my intent: rather than looking embarrassed, he straightens up, widens his eyes, and looks at me expectantly. “Kiss one of them, then.”
I’m seventeen, making out with a girl at a dress-up party. We open our eyes and find a boy we vaguely know staring at us. He pushes our bodies together. “Come on, kiss again.”
Every kiss and every touch between myself and other women has felt as though it must be hidden from prying eyes. Our intimacy is not safe in public, or even around friends.
Some people I have encountered seem to think that queer intimacy is not really for us, but for spectators we hope are watching.
This is often partly based on a lack of knowledge or understanding of bisexuality; people often assume that if they know a woman is attracted to men, she is straight, so if they see her kissing another woman then it is for attention. That if a woman states she is bisexual, then it is for attention. That if a woman flirts with another woman, it is in the hopes that a young man will yell “lesbians” at them.
I have never wanted attention for being bisexual or for being attracted to women.
In fact, my experience has been the exact opposite: I have always wished people would leave me alone the way they do when they see me flirting with, talking to, kissing or hooking up with a guy.
When I do these things with a guy in public, I feel invisible.
When I do any of these things with a girl, I feel the eyes on me. I want to leave, and go somewhere private and safe.
I have been trained to feel as though I am doing something ridiculously inappropriate, as though girls only kiss in pornography and male fantasies.
From the age of twelve, I knew that I got crushes on girls.
By the age of fifteen, I began to learn what that meant to others. In my later teen years, I would often choose to flirt with guys I found less attractive than girls at the same event, simply because I did not have the energy to deal with the fetishisation and that uneasy sense of being watched.
I wanted to relax and have fun, not defensively explain to a drunk guy the intricacies of my sexual identity.
Our society has an annoying habit of viewing things in binaries: gay, straight, woman, man, black, white.
My gender non-conforming and mixed-race friends, caught in the middle of binaries too, often run into that same question: So what are you really? What box can I put you in? The answer is neither. If a non-binary person wears a dress and makeup, it does not make them a woman. If a mixed-race person looks white to you, that doesn’t erase their real identity. And if a bisexual woman is in a relationship with a man, it does not mean she was straight all along.
I am in this position myself; a bisexual woman currently dating a man. I have had acquaintances approach me at social events and say one of two things: “I can’t believe you’re straight now!” or “I knew you were straight.”
The difference is just semantics, but an interesting one. In both scenarios my identity is not up to me but to the perception of others.
The first is a surprising change – you were gay, now you are straight. The second is a little more sinister – you lied for attention, all your relationships with women were fake, but now you’ve settled down.
At the risk of disappointing people, neither statement is true. I have never been straight, and to be honest, I don’t plan on it.
My attraction to women is not ‘hot’ or ‘cool’, nor is it a lie. It’s not for others at all.
Anastasia Dale is a Sydney-based writer, content creator, and filmmaker. Next year she will be free of adolescence. Find her on instagram @anastasiadale.