By Stephany Mahaffey
I am from Miami, Florida, a place known for its openness to sexual diversity. I was in ninth grade when a friend who was sleeping over asked me if I wanted to “fool around.” I froze up. I told her I was straight. She shrugged her shoulders, rolled over, and went to sleep. I couldn’t sleep. I laid there hoping she wasn’t asleep. Hoping she would ask again. Or, hoping that each unintentional contact we made was intentional. It was a long night. There were no Gay/Straight Alliances in my high school and I wasn’t comfortable talking about my feelings with anyone. It was not until college that I would have another opportunity to explore this part of my identity.
At 21 years old, I thought I had it all figured out. And then I moved to Texas. I unintentionally went running back to the closet and only frequented the “gayborhood” in Dallas with my gay male friends. They would constantly tell me that I was a lesbian and I should just come out. But that wasn’t it at all. Within four years, I had completely lost my connection with “the other side” of my sexuality. I enrolled in a graduate program at Texas Woman’s University and my world was reopened by the department’s commitment to diversity of all types. It was here that I truly had an identity crisis. I was 25 years old and didn’t know “what” I was. On one hand, I had a close bisexual female friend who encouraged me to wear a visible bisexual identity. She felt this was important politically. On the other hand, I had another close bisexual female friend who was in a relationship with a man. She didn’t wear her identity visibly and told me to do what I wanted. The problem was, I didn’t know what I wanted.
On a trip to San Francisco for a convention, my two worlds collided and so did my identities. One of my best gay male friends was living in San Francisco and he offered to take a few of us out with his friends on our first night. The first thing he said to me when we got out of the taxi was, “So, are you still bisexual?” I screamed in delight and made him repeat himself to my Texas friends. It was validated, I was bisexual. It wasn’t just a dream or delusion. The following day, I was processing my identity crisis with a female friend at the convention who, I thought, identified as a lesbian. She looked at me and clearly spoke, “Well, I think the reason you are confused is because people see you with a boyfriend and they assume you are straight. They call you straight. You don’t correct them and a part of you gets lost.” She wasn’t trying to be condescending, as she is a few years older than I am. She revealed that she identified as a bisexual too. I hit the floor. I knew this woman and her partner for years and I had no idea. She said that she never actually identifies herself as a lesbian. People see her with her partner and they just assume she is a lesbian. Just like I did. It was this conversation that opened me up to being more open with my sexual identity to others.
I tested the waters with friends and acquaintances. I told my story with a group of friends at dinner one night and a friend came to me after to say how powerful it had been for her to hear my story. She said she was glad to hear that she wasn’t the “only one.” After I realized I could help other people figure out their own sexualities, I started opening up to everyone. My parents, my colleagues at school and at work, and anyone else who is eager to listen. Being open to my family and friends has been the most liberating part of my elongated coming out experience. I don’t think I was ready at 21 years old to open up to the whole world. I needed to know that there were other people out there like me, and different than me, who were also bisexual. It was also healing to know that they also struggled with their own identity.
I still have moments of panic when I feel my identity is challenged. For example, filling out a survey for bisexual research there was part where it asked to identify your longest same-sex relationship. I started to freak out. I hadn’t ever had an extensive relationship with a woman. Does that mean that I am not bisexual? It took processing with friends and allies to remember that my identity is just that… it is mine. Mine, mine, mine!
My advice for young bisexual women would be to accept yourself as you are, wherever and whoever that is. Talk to people in the community who are open to helping you figure things out. In my experience, everyone was open to helping because they had all experienced some level of confusion in their identity or loved someone who has. It has also been helpful for me to read books about bisexuals’ life experiences. I have many “Aha” moments while reading about other bisexual persons’ experiences. “Aha! That is exactly how I felt laying in bed that night.” “Aha! This woman has had the same struggles that I have had!” I am relieved to know that a lot of people’s sexuality is fluid and that doesn’t make me crazy. That just makes me cool.
Stephany, 28, is a graduate student at Texas Woman’s University. She hopes that her story will be helpful to others.