The only way I want it is both ways: The ambiguity of bisexuality

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Knowing full well that it’s not easier being bisexual, what with constant battles against erasure and the stereotype of being “greedy,” a writer talks about his struggle with defining his sexuality in his formative years and coming to terms with who he really is. Art by CARINA SANTOS

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Navigating desire sometimes means identifying checkpoints. I’ll name three.

The first boy I desired with my body, I met in grade school. His name was Jules, and he was a soccer player. In an all-male Catholic school, the two main forces that govern your coming-of-age are God and your libido. So you’re taught how to observe mass, pray the rosary, define how a real man should act and think. At the same time, you and the rest of your juvenile peers go through your formative years performing highly sexual actions that mean nothing, like integrating jerk-off motions into secret handshakes, or swirling your hips around while changing for P.E. You can get away with bending over while a good friend pretends to take you from behind, because it’s funny. It’s a joke, two boys going at it. But I remember being caught up in the throes of that shared comedic language, gripping Jules by the hips while he pretend-moaned for kicks. I wanted to keep going. I didn’t know it at the time, but my body did.

The term "bisexual" didn’t exist in anyone’s lexicon when I was going through my adolescent years. The popular view toward attraction to both men and women was that it was an unnaturally intense form of lust, one not limited exclusively to a single sex.

 

The first boy I fell in love with, I met in youth ministry. His name was Enzo, and he was a drummer. I remember sharing a room with him during a three-day retreat, seized by this vague ache to wrap my arms around his frame, press my chest to his spine, let my lips quiver close to his ear. This ache found itself in my bones at age 12, that uncanny valley of youth in which the body reconfigures its nerves to accommodate new desires, physical and emotional sensation coalescing. On the Saturdays I was lucky enough to find him in the worship hall, we’d talk about pop-punk and the girls we thought were pretty while I stared at his perfect teeth. One or two years after that retreat, he left for Canada. Since then I’ve held a petty grudge against that country where snow falls, as a sort of Bermuda Triangle for people who mean too much and leave too soon.

The first boy I ever kissed, I won’t mention his name, for fear of common friends sending this essay his way. It’s embarrassing to think about now, how so many aspects of that memory seem so much like elements of a bad movie — the smell of alcohol and cigarettes, the sound of reverb-laden Telecasters, my freshman frame of mind. But I remember very clearly why I kissed him” — to prove to myself that my desire for men was real, and I wasn’t just reeling from the blear of a vivid dream. Although one could call an event like this a kind of awakening. It was real. He was good.

Growing up, I was led to believe that the only kind of gay man that existed was of the flaming homo variety. Flamboyant, limp-wristed, eloquent in beki, and purely homosexual. I’m not that, so of course I’m not gay. So of course in my small circle of friends, where the word faggot is casually thrown around — whether as an insult or as a term of platonic endearment, I could never fully tell — it doesn’t refer to me. Even when it is directed at me, of course they don’t mean it. Even when it stings. I like girls. I have ex-girlfriends to prove it. I talked about my crushes from the neighboring all-girls school to prove it. A misguided thought process, but the mind has a way of building defenses to make sure you don’t go crazy.

The term bisexual didn’t exist in anyone’s lexicon when I was going through my adolescent years. The popular view toward attraction to both men and women was that it was an unnaturally intense form of lust, one not limited exclusively to a single sex. This is something both sides of my God-fearing upbringing — the Catholic university and the born-again church — espoused. So it was this interesting mix of wanting to be a “real man” and wanting to love God that informed my attraction to girls — a desire assumed normal from the get-go.

I can pass off as a straight, cisgender male. I can act macho when social cues require me to put on that kind of front. I don’t know if I’ll spend the rest of my life with a boy, or if I can bring myself to tell my parents about this boy if that day comes. But I have a girlfriend, and I’m happy with her.

 

Not that it matters much anymore. I learned to discard that kind of thinking in college, where the culture tended to be, to a degree, more secular and accepting. Bisexuality was a part of my identity I couldn’t share with my parents, but it was something I could talk openly about with friends, and people I met at parties. When you tell someone you’re bisexual, they look at you differently. They consider you more interesting than you were before you told them, whatever “interesting” means.

When you hear stories about the LGBTQ experience, whether from strangers or people you know personally, you get the impression that being gay is a life of suffering, characterized by internal turmoil and social prejudice. That kind of life is different from what I’ve experienced. What some gay peers would describe as chains, I can only describe as splinters or papercuts. I can pass off as a straight, cisgender male. I can act macho when social cues require me to put on that kind of front. I don’t know if I’ll spend the rest of my life with a boy, or if I can bring myself to tell my parents about this boy if that day comes. But I have a girlfriend, and I’m happy with her. One is compelled to push these concerns down to avoid the trouble of explaining oneself.

I don’t say all of this to elicit pity. This is not a sob story. But allow me to put it this way: What this act of pushing down has done to me, it’s hard to say. I used to view Jules, Enzo, and the Boy I Will Not Name as anomalies in my memory, one-off instances in which my capacity to desire strayed from a particular norm. I am slowly unlearning this. I would like to comfortably treat these memories as actual, valid addends of who I am and how I engage the world, past girlfriends aside. I can come to terms with these things on my own. Whether others can come to terms with me is another issue. I shouldn’t have to explain myself.