By Nancy Marcus
Before I began confining myself to home to hide from COVID-19 forty-five days ago, I didn’t even know what Zoom was. These days, Zoom is my primary social outlet.
As I write this at the end of April 2020, I am one of the fortunate few who are still receiving a paycheck to work safely from home, although I have received a painful pay cut because of the pandemic’s effect on my profession. As the chaos of the pandemic is finally starting to feel like a “new normal,” I have been moderately successful in re-infusing my normal work hours and routines into this dramatically new setting of carrying on a stressful workload from my home, isolated physically from others.
But I haven’t been completely isolated. Like many others, I am maintaining contact with the outside world through text, phone, and lots and lots and lots of video chat. And since the pandemic grounded me, I’ve also put up a new profile on a dating website, for which I’ve clicked “both men and women” as my target audience, but which only men have responded to so far.
And so, once I close the lid on my work laptop at 5 P.M. every workday and open up my personal MacBook, my virtual social life connections await and re-energize me.
But now that my various community connections are laid out in front of me in clear black-and-white text, and in clearly titled Zoom chats, it is harder for me to deny that I live in a virtual world of bouncing back and forth among distinct communities.
My primary social community online has been an extension of my “real life” bi community. Since moving to Los Angeles, I have been fortunate to be surrounded by a wonderfully diverse and vibrant bi community with thousands of members, including a “core” group of around a hundred of us that get together for various events in person throughout the year. Until, you know, March of this year. Now we have transitioned to virtual video events to connect. We aren’t always on the same page about exactly how we want any given video event to go, but it’s a large enough community that there are more than one bi-themed Zoom group to connect with. Not only that, we expanded way beyond L.A. by opening our online events open to people around the world (look for AmBi’s meetup page to connect).
So that’s my primary social community, which includes some of my closest local friends, whose hugs I am missing something awful right now. And I won’t lie, it also includes a couple of people that maybe I might possibly have crushes on.
Yet, I’m always hesitant to come “out” about my crushes in my friend community. It feels safer to flirt with strangers, where I don’t risk endangering friendships or bringing tension to my “friend” community if things don’t work out with my crush.
And so for my flirting and crushing (and hopefully, when the pandemic lifts, real-life dating) needs, I have been jumping back and forth between the lesbian Zoom chat world and the dating site where the (primarily cis het) men are the ones responding to my profile and flirting with me.
It’s a bit dizzying, and I start to feel imposter syndrome with it all, bouncing around between the bi community, the lesbian community, and a mostly-straight-cis dating community.
The bi community is, obviously, the safest-feeling virtual space for being myself as an out bisexual. But it is also the least safefeeling space for flirting, since, as I said, it is my precious real-life community of friends as well, and I don’t want to threaten that with a crush or flirtation gone bad, you know?
So my primary flirting is either with members of these virtual Zoom chat groups of lesbians who probably assume I am one of them (even though as I befriend them individually, I do my best to come out as bi sooner than later to stay true to myself) or with men who respond to my profile on a dating site (although my profile is clear that I don’t want to hear from people who don’t take safe distancing seriously, who vote for Trump, or who are anti-LGBTQ… and again, I come out as bi within the first or second conversation with the men who hit me up).
It is disconcerting sometimes, feeling myself bifurcated, or trifurcated, bouncing (or Zooming) back and forth between different online social communities to make connections, whether they are romantic or just general social connections and friendships.
But this is only true if I look at it the wrong way. If I’m perpetually waiting for the other shoe to drop, to be judged for my bisexuality (or to have to explain it, or push back against stereotypes), by the lesbians or (generally straight cis) men in those different online communities, then, yeah, it feels unsettling and uncomfortable.
The truth is, however, the other shoe hasn’t dropped at all through any of this. Among the lesbians and cis men I’ve interacted with, even flirted with, since I began this dance swinging back and forth between virtual pandemic-era communities, not one has given me any kind of negative feedback when I’ve come out as bi. Not one. Not one lesbian has sneered at me that I’m not really one of them, and not one man has reacted with the assumption that I exist to provide him with a threesome.
Why? Because, in truth, and especially perhaps in game-changing historic moments like this when we are all more vulnerable and more aware of each other, I have done a good job connecting with communities of people of all stripes who are just, at the core, good people. Those I am drawn to are, like me, looking to connect not just because of similarities, but because of diversity as well. I am not a stereotype, and don’t want to be treated as one. But as a very wise (bi) friend recently reminded me, by the same token, I need to not make assumptions about others as well—including the assumption that lesbians will judge me, straight men will objectify me, or that those in “other” demographic groups beyond the bi community will not fully welcome me or accept who I am.
If I resist the defensive and unfair inclination to approach each group as a monolith of exclusionary narrow-minded sheep, but instead approach each community with open mind and heart, willing to view each individual person in each respective community as their own distinct person as capable of warmth and acceptance as my bi friends, life just feels so much more peaceful.
And it feels more honest. Because, ultimately, we’re all different, but we’re also all in this together. I pick my communities, my friends, and my crushes by who they are at the core, not by their sexual orientation, and not by their gender identity.
Of all the self-growth I am focused on during this world-turnedupside-down pandemic, among the most important is my work on approaching my various social communities not as opposite worlds in tension with each other, but rather each as beautiful landscapes of unique individuals. And each of those landscapes may be framed differently by differently titled communities, but in the end are each as lovely in their diversity and openness toward me as long as I am also open toward and with them.
As the saying goes: we all have much more in common with each other, after all, than we have differences. From common humanity to community, I am consciously endeavoring to bridge my connections smoothly, viewing each not as an isolated island, but rather an archipelago chain of communities, each one a precious part of this beautiful, fragile, wounded but wondrous world we all share.
Nancy Marcus is a lawyer in Southern California who has been proudly out as bi for three decades. She is the co-founder of BiLaw, a national organization of bisexual lawyers, and the author of a series of “Legally Bi” articles on bi.org.