I remember the first time I realized that I was bisexual so very clearly. I was sitting in the back of my high school sex-ed class with my two friends Samantha and Amy. I had been dating my girlfriend Elizabeth for about a year, but my friends also knew that I had my fair share of crushes on guys in our school as well. Our teacher was going over a "Spectrum of Sexuality", explaining the three "primary" sexual orientations. (a flawed idea we now know, but it was 2008…) As far as I know, I had never even heard the term "bisexual" before. As a young, confused, good Christian boy, I had no place to put my attraction to other guys in my head. I only thought that it was some sinful temptation and felt grateful that I could still be attracted to girls. I believed I could fight off this "stage" of being attracted to guys, and at last, be normal and straight.
But as our teacher began describing bisexuality to our class, my friend Amy's face lit up. A few seconds later, she had slid a note down our row of desks to me. I grabbed the paper and unfolded it. Inside, she had written what looked to me like "Rubi?" I wrote back, "Who the heck is Rubi?" After class, Amy and Sam surrounded me and said, "Brandan, I wrote "Are you bi?! That sounded a lot like you!" I was hesitant to accept this new label, because it seemed to give validity to this part of myself that I didn't even want to acknowledge, let alone embrace. "No way!" I responded. "I am straight." Amy and Sam, used to my straight-laced Christian responses, rolled their eyes and walked away. Amy turned around and shouted down the hall, "See you later Rubi!" And thus, for the rest of my time in High School, Amy and Sam christened me "Rubi".
My apprehension to label myself bisexual came from both my religious beliefs, but also a stigma that has existed for far too long around the idea of bisexuality. Many, like me, had no clue what bisexual actually meant. Conservative propagandists have suggested that being bisexual actually just means sexually deviant, searching for sex wherever and from whoever you can find it. The progressive lesbian and gay community have largely mocked bisexuals, assuming that we're just gays who haven't dealt with our internalized homophobia and are still holding on to the vain hope that we could one day live a normal, "heterosexual life." And for the rest of the population, there just hasn't been enough bi-visibility for anyone to understand what bisexuality actually is, leading to widespread ignorance about our very existence.
It's been almost a decade since I sat in the back of that classroom and was (rightfully) identified as bisexual by Samantha and Amy, and my journey to coming out as bi has not been an easy one. In fact, when I came out last year in an interview with TIME Magazine, I was still too timid to use the word "bisexual", so I identified as "queer". I did this, largely, because of pressure from my friends in the gay community to just be "honest" about being gay, and not to make the mistake of having to come out publicly, multiple times, as different orientations. For me, queer represented the fluidity of my sexuality. Bisexuality seemed to me to be too binary, too black or white. Queer seemed to leave room for a lot of shifts, changes, and contours, and using the word felt like it freed me from ever having to explain anything about my sexuality or gender identity. And to be honest, while I still love the word "queer" and all of its various meanings, it doesn't really describe me, at least in it's modern meaning. I am a white, cisgender, Christian-ish, man. There simply isn't all the much that's queer about that.
Nearly a year after coming out, after delving deeply into the life of the LGBT+ community and finally getting educated about the spectrum of sexuality and gender, I have decided to come back to that word that Amy and Samantha bestowed upon me in the back of our sex-ed class. I am and have always been bisexual. I can be attracted to men and I can be attracted to women. Those attractions aren't always equal in strength (whatever that means), and are quite fluid. There are seasons of my life where I am still primarily attracted to women. Others when I am attracted to men. For the past year, I've been dating a man. But that doesn't mean that I'm gay or will be unfaithful when I find a woman I find attractive. As you can probably tell, I am not super binary. These attractions move around, change, and morph. Nothing is black and white about me.
Many of my straight friends will hear me identify as bisexual and assume that I desire to be in open relationships. "What happens when you're dating someone, but then begin to be attracted to another gender?" I cant tell you how many times I've been asked that question. The answer, though, is simple. Nothing. Nothing happens. If I am in a committed relationship with a woman and a man comes along that I'm attracted to, then I say "Wow, he's cute" and then move on, because I'm in a committed relationship. This is no different then when a straight, married man sees another woman he finds attractive. His attraction doesn't mean that he's going to leave his wife in pursuit of another woman. It just means he's a sexual being who will always find other people attractive. Statistically, most bisexual people aren't in open or polyamorous relationships (not that that's necessarily problematic for those who are!).
And when a bisexual person enters in to a relationship, that doesn't mean we become either straight or gay. This is where the word "bisexual" is a little misleading. The word implies a binary, but most bisexual people would reject the idea that we fall on a binary spectrum. We're somewhere in between. We move around a good bit. Rarely do we find that our attractions are 50/50 (and I am not sure how we would ever quantify that anyways). To be bisexual means that for us, gender doesn't create a barrier to whom we fall in love with. That could be a man, that could be a woman, and that could be someone who doesn't identify with either gender. Our attractions, for whatever reason, expand beyond the binary. And, for the record, that's not better or worse than binary attractions. It's just the way that some of us experience life and love.
As bi-visibility continues to rise in our world, I believe we will continue to see more and more people identifying as bisexual. This isn't because our society is becoming more sexually deviant, as some would suggest, but because many are learning for the first time this language that helps identify what they've always felt to be true. We're discovering that much more of our society than we ever had been told actually falls within the LGBT+ spectrum of sexuality and gender, and because of that, we will know more and more people in our lives who identify somewhere within it. I can say with some confidence that there are bisexuals in your life. When you encounter us, don't try to box us in with your own preconceived notions of what our label means. Instead, enter in with the understanding that bisexuals are just people like you. We really do exist. We're not afraid, ashamed or lying about our sexuality. And most of us aren't looking for multiple partners. Allow us to be, and support our love lives. Don't make us explain ourselves over and over. We have attractions and fall in love just like everyone else. And that should be enough.
Brandan Robertson is a Christian thought-leader, humanitarian and commentator working at the intersections of spirituality, sexuality and social renewal. He is also the author of "Nomad: A Spirituality For Travelling." Find out more about his work and advocacy at brandanrobertson.com.