Every time I liked a boy, I knew what to do. And my worst fear was that maybe I would say, “I like you,” and he would say, “Oh, I don’t like you like that.” Embarrassing, but not the end of the world.
But when I liked a girl, I didn’t know what to do. No one told me I would get these feelings for girls too. What could I say, how could I confess my feelings, if none of us knew we might be anything other than straight? So I stayed quiet, my usual confidence gone, admiring and wishing and dreaming with no real sense of clarity.
Most of the time, I lived in fear of being discovered. I avoided physical contact with my closest girlfriends, explaining it away as a general need for personal space. In reality, I was and have always been a physically affectionate person. But how could I explain my worries? If I held them too close, for too long, they might think I was trying something. They might think I had a crush on them.
Late at night, in the glow of my phone screen, I took “Am I bisexual?” quizzes and studied the Kinsey scale. In my notebook, I wrote about my feelings and the crushes I was too afraid to act on. The girl in my summer program, the girl on my soccer team, the person at school. I couldn’t say it out loud but I knew for sure – I was not straight. Never had been, never would be.
I came out to my parents a long time ago, by accident. They were calm and supportive, although I’m sure they had some questions. After all, I had only dated boys at that point. Were those relationships real? Was I actually just gay?
From that moment in high school, I identified as bisexual and was feeling ready to come out publicly. Then I found out that I might have to use the term pansexual instead if I wanted to be clear that I was attracted to all genders, not just those within the binary. I wondered which term would be harder to explain.
People seemed to assume that all bisexual people were just “halfway out of the closet” or “in denial.” I had no idea how to explain my existence to anyone else. So I just sat with my feelings, and finally told a few close friends.
After a while, I wondered if maybe the assumptions were true. Was I straight and just lying for attention? Was I gay and just afraid to admit it? Bisexual erasure is powerful like that. The constant gaslighting by folks both gay and straight makes you start to feel like you’re not real. And sometimes you almost feel like it might be easier to simply choose one side or the other. We all just want to belong, right?
But every time these doubts crossed my mind, the answer rang out loud and clear in my head: I was attracted to all people, regardless of gender. Identifying in any other way would be lying to myself. So when I left for college, I decided I would start with the truth.
When I met the man who is now my husband, I was in the practice of coming out to everyone I met and staying open to all possibilities. I didn’t choose him because of his gender, or in an attempt to conform to heterosexuality out of fear. He just appeared in my life and became my person. There’s no other way to explain it.
But when I returned home I had to face the reality that I was living two versions of my life. In my new life in Los Angeles, I was out and proud. I wrote and performed art about my sexuality and faith. But around family and on social media, I was mostly quiet. I spoke out about LGBTQ+ issues but never admitted my own truth because I wasn’t sure what would happen if I did. If I came out now, I felt like I would have to constantly justify my relationship with a man.
I explored LGBTQ+ spaces online and in person, only to find that so many of them were filled with the pressure to be thin, the desire to be white. I had spent so long trying to avoid these toxic pressures that led to a history of disordered eating and a fucked-up relationship with my body. And yet here they were, still so prevalent in spaces I had hoped would be inclusive of all sizes and colors.
In these spaces, I also felt the pressure to express myself as a liberated sexual being. Sure, it wasn’t the toxic objectification bullshit of heteronormative society, but it still placed an emphasis on physical appearance and showing skin. I wanted to express myself freely, but my own experiences with sexual assault had fucked up my ability to do so. And yet here I was, expected to be so comfortable dressing to express my sexual freedom, while my unresolved trauma filled me with insecurity and fear.
I wanted to have fun in queer spaces, but the emphasis on drinking and partying made me hesitant. I wondered if there were any safe spaces for LGBTQ+ folks who might be struggling with addiction, still underage, practicing their faith, or otherwise unable to participate. Couldn’t there be coffee shops, game nights, anything else?
The last thing I wanted to do was explain how I could be bisexual and Muslim. In my mind, my faith and sexuality were completely harmonious. The more I studied the truth of Islam and uncovered the lies, the more I listened to the stories of other queer Muslims, the harder it was for me to see an issue. Because, you see, my faith is deeply personal. It is not the actions of hateful, repressed groups and individuals. It is between me and Allah, who created me this way, and to whom I am thankful. My faith is also very simple at its core. I am called to be open-minded, non-judgmental, compassionate to all. I am called to be well-read and to think critically. And I am called to worship and be thankful. Through all these things, I know that there is nothing wrong with who I am or who I love.
But I also knew that not everyone would see it the way I did. My non-Muslim LGBTQ+ friends would never understand how I could be religious at all, what with the homophobia that is so rampant in churches, mosques, and temples worldwide. I must be repressed or in denial, right? In fact, I encounter this confusion and disdain more often than I’d like to admit. And my newfound Muslim family, with whom I had formed such a strong bond, might reject me if they believed my bisexuality was a sin. In fact, they still might.
For a while, I wondered if I should ever come all the way out. It might just be too risky, too complicated. But then I looked around.
They weren’t always in plain sight, but they were out there. Queer women of color. Bisexual Muslims. Sober LGBTQ+ people. Plus-sized folks of all sexualities and gender expressions with the confidence to dress and carry themselves however they pleased. Maybe I wasn’t as alone as I felt. Maybe I could do this thing.
So here it is, long overdue, in the way I always hoped I might do it one day. I’m coming out.
I am absolutely, 100% neither straight nor gay. I am definitely, and will always be, bisexual. To me, that means I am attracted to 1) my own gender, and 2) other genders. My mind, heart, and body will always see the world this way. Who I’m in love with, who I’m intimate with, these things have no impact on my core identity. You may identify as straight, but don’t assume I’m just confused. You might be gay, but don’t assume bisexual people don’t exist.
And guess what? My identity doesn’t have to make sense to you. I don’t owe anyone an explanation. I’m being gracious enough to give one if only to convey some of the struggles faced by those of us who are bisexual or pansexual. But it’s not my job to justify my existence to anyone. It’s my job to live freely, and for me, that involves being open about my life and identity.
I’m the one who has to live with my choices.
I’m tired of choosing to hide.