When I was in seventh grade, my mother took me on a trip to Washington, D.C. Although I was dizzyingly intimidated by the colossal and elaborately structured buildings, and terrified that one day, I, too, would have to wear a pantsuit and look like I was in a rush, something else was gnawing away at me. I had just had my first kiss with a girl. The feeling was soft but electric, a slow, fumbling, full body excitement. It was 2011 and I was pretty sure other girls my age didn’t spend their slumber parties fantasizing about the soft curve of the female shoulder. In my middle school, “Are you a lesbian?” was considered a cruel accusation rather than a simple query. My beloved comfort character, Santana from Glee, of course, was sorely rejected by her grandmother when she came out. Worried my own mother could react similarly, I was sweating despite the brisk fall air of America’s capital.
To my surprise, she didn’t seem phased, but she also didn’t seem to believe me. “Okay, and what if you are?” she said. Okay?
The following year, I caught deep feelings for my first boyfriend, and I assumed I’d been mistaken, as if my genuine attraction to a male somehow erased the tsunami of emotion that had marked the last twelve months. I didn’t know that sexuality was fluid and full of currents. I thought that people inherently wanted to fuck the gender that they’d one day marry, and now that it was a male who made my head spin, everything else could surely be reduced to an elusive fever dream. Until ninth grade swung around, and I made out with a girl again. Fiery, hot, real, tongue-down-each-other’s-throat kissing. By the time I was 14, I was able to blame things on alcohol. I would quip, “I have a bad case of alcohol-induced bisexuality,” but there was no alcohol in the nurse’s office where the fiery redhead with the big glasses called me ‘Beautiful’ and I wanted her to Mean It, Like Really Mean It. I was completely sober when I went to the beach with her and so badly wanted to volunteer as tribute when she told me she’d not yet had her first kiss. I was too nervous to ask to kiss her and even more nervous to tell her anything about the butterflies she gave me or that when I made playlists, I fantasized about us holding hands in a field somewhere.
By the time I was 15, my same-sex attraction was punching me in the face, and still I covered the black eye with make up and pretended nothing was happening. My high school best friend had dirty blonde hair, like a wet beach on a muggy afternoon, and dainty freckles along the bridge of her nose. The very first time she asked to kiss me, we were day-drunk and sweating, sitting on a curb in the suburbs, clutching water bottles of dark liquor. It was tactile and romantic and then it was brand new and erotic, our fingers combing through each other’s hair, her hand then guiding me to a secluded spot in the woods behind her house. She slipped her fingers beneath my panties and smiled mischievously, her pointer finger entering my body as if it had always been her home. It felt good the way fast food, cigarettes, and substance abuse felt good. From that moment, I knew that I would never want it in moderation, but I also felt like it was something I wasn’t supposed to be doing. At the time, it seemed to me that if I considered the things that we did to be in ‘true homosexual’ context rather than writing them off as ‘kids messing around,’ then I was somehow lying about my identity to my various male partners, as though I owed them an explanation or a warning that this was a part of me, too.
However, when phrases like, “Mer, can I kiss you?” became “No one on this earth will ever get me the same,” I was in denial. I think she and I were both terrified by our partnership, the boundary blurring the inseparability that made us the main characters in one another’s lives. We travelled together, gave each other matching tattoos, white-knuckle gripped each other’s frail bodies as respective, tumultuous mental health scares began to topple through our adolescence like dominos.
We’d kiss at concerts, fuck in fitting rooms, and when she had sex with her first boyfriend, she asked me to join. When her second boyfriend turned his head for two seconds, we’d make out in the very same room, careful not to be caught. And of course, she despised my boyfriend as well.
It was when I met a girl who made me feel INSANE at writing camp that I couldn’t sit around and play dumb to my own intuition anymore. She had this raspy voice and perfect winged eyeliner and an eyebrow piercing. As soon as she introduced herself and demanded that someone “help her find a cigarette in this god-forsaken place,” I knew that I had the kind of feelings that hurt your head and turn your stomach and make you feel strange euphoria at the same time. Like amphetamines. She sounded like sandpaper and would call me things like “Honey” and “Love” in a warm, slightly southern drawl. We did everything together: sat on each other’s laps, maintained a sickening show of PDA, showered, ate, wrote love letters. When we finally had to go our separate ways, even having known each other for such a short time, I remember feeling like the potential for a great love had been squashed, which burned like sand in my eyes and an esophagus raw from screaming.
And then there was the time that I cheated on my boyfriend with a lesbian on a school trip to England. She was masculine and confident in a way that made me nervous. She said, “I wonder if I can make you cum better than him,” and I said, “Okay” and then we spent two weeks holding hands and skipping through the hills of England, writing journal entries about one another. Then, she asked me to prom.
I’ve always been pretty carefree when it came to acts of “rebellion” or going against the grain so it’s strange that it took what felt like an infinity of experience and growth for me to get comfortable with the label of bisexuality. I had to get rid of the notion that my capacity to love outside of one gender was somehow “wrong.” I now realize it’s not something I’m supposed to justify. Dating in your twenties is about feeling hot and having fun and seeing if you accidentally stumble into something that feels genuine and explosive and purposeful, not about explaining what’s on your name tag. Openly embracing my bisexuality is a radical act of not giving a fuck, which has always been the fuel that I’ve needed to enjoy a liberated, happy life.