By Mel McConachie
Before the fifth grade, most of my friends were girls. I was always a tomboy, but somehow the other girls and I got along. I liked games involving imagination, but I got stuck with stereotypical girl toys and tried my best with them. I remember crying at a birthday party because someone gave me a Barbie. I identified with gender-neutral stuffed animals. I had a dinosaur collection. Pteranodons were my favorite, along with a plastic triceratops I named Fred. Those and Legos were as gender neutral as I could get. The youngest of three girls, I inherited a lot of “girly” things that I never wanted.
In fifth grade, all the elementary schools in the neighborhood funneled into one middle school, so the kids I had known since preschool were suddenly diluted among the new population of students. For some reason my fifth grade class was very close. We all spent time with one another both inside and outside of school. I discovered, in contrast to my own experience, others had dated in elementary school. In my school, it had been taboo even to talk to someone of a different gender. I remember for years I was the only girl at my friend Blake’s parties.
My friends started dating boys, so I did as well. I really got along better with guys anyway. In middle school, the transition from all girl friends to boy friends began. I thought everybody saw everyone as attractive. I did not realize that my feelings were unusual. I was probably in the eighth grade when I saw “But I’m a Cheerleader” late one night on HBO or Showtime. The main character is forced to attend a camp that “fixed” homosexuals. She does not see herself as a lesbian, until someone points out to her that not everyone has the same thoughts about women that she does. This hit me like a ton of bricks. Not everyone looked at women and men like I did. I had never tried to pursue a girlfriend, as I understood that was not considered acceptable. At that age, my relationships with boys were not serious anyway, so overall it did not seem to make much of a difference. Whoever I was dating was like a best friend with whom to be preoccupied and kiss. But wanting to kiss both boys and girls was not universal. Feeling both liberated and scared, I confided in my best friend at the time that I thought I was bisexual. She proceeded to tell many, many people, and people started asking me if it was true. Boys suddenly wanted to watch me with other women, and I was mortified at what other women might think. What if they think I’m eyeing them in the locker room or in other situations? I immediately denied everything.
Years passed and, feeling stifled by the lack of diversity in the student population, I slowly began to disengage from my school. I joined a local Rocky Horror Picture Show shadow cast and found a world outside of the neighborhood I grew up in. Having a sense of belonging outside of school gave me the confidence to join with my openly gay friend David and his friend Emma to work with GLSEN to bring a GSA to our high school. We officially formed it at the end my sophomore year. That summer, there was an editorial battle in the local newspaper between members of the community who supported or opposed the formation of the GSA. It got pretty ugly, with adults attacking David and his family in the newspaper. Throughout all of this I had the impression that my parents were all right with the gay community as long as I was not a part of it. Neither ever asked, and I never told. I know my dad assumed I was straight due to all of my “boy toys.”
To date, I have slept with women, but only dated men. I have never had a serious girlfriend and I feel inexperienced dealing with them. I am suddenly in middle school hoping to pass over a note that says, “Do you like me? Yes/No.” I have few women friends, and I’m terrible at conflict resolution with women. I feel I can relate better to men. Recently this thought has brought me to the idea of the gender binary. Maybe I’m genderqueer/fluid? I don’t know. I was lobbying for gay rights in high school at the state capital when I met my first person who did not identify in the gender binary. It was eye opening.
When I was 18, I got a bi-pride flag star tattoo on my hip. Now that I understand more, I say I’m pansexual, but I identify as bisexual. I continued my advocacy and activism into college, where I became the vice president of my university’s GSA. I began to study bisexuality and the invisibility of the community on my own. I am guilty of keeping it hidden, as I am not more open. I am still not out to my parents. I feel lesser somehow for still not having anything beyond one-night stands with women. I want to have a girlfriend, or someone who identifies as something other than a man by my side to take home to the parents. I want to show the world that this is who I am and that this is not temporary, a phase, or something I am not serious about. I feel that it is really important to come out to my family and co-workers, but I am so scared to do it by myself. I want someone by my side when I do, to tell me: “See, it wasn’t as bad as you thought it’d be.”
Mel, 26, grew up in Dallas, Texas and lived briefly in Florida. Now she is enjoying herself in Washington state and looking forward to the future.