Coming to bisexuality from the other direction
January 12, 2020 10:49 AM   Subscribe

Are you a person who moved from a gay/homosexual identity to a bisexual/pansexual identity over time? How did you cope with this shift in self-perception? Did you find any resources or communities (online or off) that helped you?

Personal anecdotes welcome. I'm in my late 20s, female, have had a lesbian identity since a teen. Finding myself cognitively tying myself in knots over attraction to men, struggling to understand it and feel ok about it.

Perhaps it's because bisexuality/pansexuality is maligned or misunderstood in general. General input from bi/pan people who haven't shifted identity also welcome.
posted by Balthamos to Human Relations (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I had almost the same experience as you. Came out as a lesbian in high school, dated women exclusively until my 20’s when I had my first boyfriend. I had realized I was also attracted to men a bit before that, but was freaked out by it and also felt like it was somehow a betrayal to the queer community that had essentially raised me.

I met my first boyfriend when I was studying overseas/away from everyone who only knew me as a lesbian which made me feel more free to explore that side of myself. I identified as pansexual/bisexual, and now just call myself queer. I’ve been married to a woman, and am now divorced and date folks of all genders.

I did not find any resources or communities though I looked. But that was nearly a decade ago, so perhaps others will have leads in that direction. What I will say is that I believe that gender, sexuality, and attraction are not fixed and can change throughout our lifetime and depending on the people we meet. Isn’t one of the presuppositions of the modern queer community/movement that we should be able to love and have sex with whatever folks we want without judgement?

Give yourself time, space, and permission to work your way through your feelings. For me it felt like a strange sort of second “coming out” with all the internal debate and angst that characterized my teen awareness of my sexuality. You can figure out what works for you—for instance, while I date people of all genders, I only date other queer folk, because that shared background and experience is important to me. And if anyone gives you judgement or reacts poorly, know that’s on them and their lack of empathy and not on you for living your life honestly and in pursuit of your own happiness.

I hope that is helpful! Feel free to memail me if you ever need an ear!
posted by nancynickerson at 11:08 AM on January 12

Comics artist/writer Erika Moen went through this, and has written about it.
posted by corvine at 11:22 AM on January 12 [1 favorite]

Might be interesting to try just shrugging off labels completely- like rather than grappling with “I am attracted to men and thus my label is x”, it’s equally valid to say (whether temporarily or permanently), “I am attracted to this person at this time and am exploring that attraction accordingly”.

I say this as someone who doesn’t feel quite right about any sexuality labels, and so my preference, longterm, has just been to avoid labels for myself. When pressed I’ll claim the label that bothers me least, but even that one isn’t a perfect fit.

In terms of your political identity, no matter who you are sleeping with any given day, you can still agitate for equality, stigma busting, and other causes that you think are important.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 11:38 AM on January 12 [4 favorites]

In terms of your political identity, no matter who you are sleeping with any given day, you can still agitate for equality, stigma busting, and other causes that you think are important.

I love the way this is put, and think it's worth repeating. Maybe it would help to spend some time thinking about what a lesbian identity really means to you, and use that to help you navigate any new labels that now resonate with you. Speaking as someone who identifies as lesbian, I just want to say you are just as valid, matter just as much, and continue to be just as much a part of the LGBTQIA (or however you prefer to call it) community as you were when you identified as lesbian.
posted by DingoMutt at 1:20 PM on January 12 [4 favorites]

I understand how the loss of lesbian identity could feel like something to mourn. I call myself (for the moment) a bisexual lesbian, and nobody can tell me not to. Although most of the time I just say “I’m rainbow” since it’s easier. The taxonomy of queers will never be complete. You can invent vocabulary of your own. You can use descriptors for yourself if you find them comforting and useful, or decline to use any label if you find them restrictive.
posted by Sterros at 2:15 PM on January 12 [5 favorites]

Human sexuality is very fluid. People can, and do, go from one end of the scale to the other, and perhaps back again. Give yourself permission to explore your feelings and attractions, and remember that just as you are, you are valid and worthy and wonderful.
posted by xedrik at 4:18 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]

Attraction is a signal that comes from deep inside the oldest parts of your brain. That part of your brain has no access to the modern, updated wing that makes decisions based on previous thoughts you have had. It doesn't know anything about that. It just knows what it sees. Maybe sometimes it sees a hunky guy. Yep, there goes a hunky guy, can't argue with that, facts are facts. Oh look, there's a beautiful woman. Wow, she sure is a beautiful woman. Facts are facts. *time passes* Here's another hunky guy and we talked for awhile and he's sweet and funny and loves me and I love him? Sounds like a good time! Who are we to judge? The only important thing is that you are happy and being treated well by the people around you.
posted by bleep at 5:01 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]

I just also want to say.. it's okay to feel attraction and not do anything about it. Or to
feel confusing attractions where you dig a guy for a short time only, or only this one guy, or you're attracted sexually but not romantically or vice versa. Axes of attraction are not evenly distributed, and you get to choose if and how you even want to explore that. There's no obligation to give an attraction "equal time" just because it exists.

I consider myself a dyke because that's where my desire is centered and where I am holistically fulfilled. But in my mid 20s I had dates who were men. Some of those relationships took nonconventional forms (like a companionate romance, we had very minimal/limited sex) or were satisfying but fleeting (hookups that I only wanted once or twice, no interest in a deeper relationship). It's totally up to you.

I'll also say, the one time I dated a man long term, I felt very othered from my queer friends. Many felt deep down like I was a traitor. And I was totally invisible in his world, where I was seen as straight despite being open about my identity. He was never as supportive as I deserved and couldn't understand why I still considered myself a dyke even though we were dating. (Notably, he never even thought to consider himself queer for dating me, a genderqueer person.) The whole thing was exceptionally painful. I hope you don't experience that, but it's not uncommon if you do. I felt so cut off from myself after going through that, I haven't sought out a date with a man since. Am I theoretically open to exploring an exceptional connection? Sure. If it drops into my lap. Will I put any effort into seeking men out? Nope. Outliers happen but I'm not gonna bank outside my sweet spot.
posted by aw jeez at 8:17 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]

Dating straight men as a queer person has been kind of an unpleasant mindfuck for me, the lens they need to see me through in order to be attracted to me when they identify as straight makes great big important parts of me feel invisible. Happily, queer folks of all genders also exist!
posted by quacks like a duck at 11:26 PM on January 12 [5 favorites]

I'm bi, would probably say pan these days but pan didn't exist when I was a baby bisexual and I've been that for so long I think it's stuck now :)

I'm married to a man, and have never had a long-term relationship with a woman, but that doesn't change my preferences, attraction or anything else. But gatekeeping culture is rife - everyone wants to tell you what you are (in their opinion), and I think bi/pan folks get some of the worst of it. Get ready for everyone to have an opinion! And to share it!!

I've tried to work on being at peace with my own knowledge of myself, and tried to recognise when I feel like I need to somehow "prove" my identity, and gently knock it back.

Also - I follow an instagram account with a nice mantra you might like, which I use for times I feel I have changed or am different to what I thought I was (whether in sexuality or other questions) : "I am constantly shapeshifting, adapting and evolving".
posted by greenish at 3:35 AM on January 13

I went through this in my late twenties. I had been out as a lesbian for a decade at that time when I first encountered a guy I was attracted to and actually wanted to sleep with. It fucked me up, if you'll pardon the language, for quite some time afterwards. Because I did end up sleeping with him and THEN tried to figure out labels etc. It was a bit backwards.

What the problem was for me was the whole "Oh you just haven't found the right man yet" trope. Had I proven these people right? I had just gotten out a five year relationship with a woman I thought I would marry, so that didn't help either.

I now identify as queer, because it's nicely all-encompassing and frankly sends the signal that the specifics aren't anyone else's business but me and my partner's. I still have trouble seeing myself in a relationship with a man, as I feel there are a lot of gender-role trappings that I don't think I could get behind, but maybe I'm wrong?

Regardless, at 41 now and 10 years on the other side of that revelation, I am much more comfortable in my own skin. I wish I had a resource to share with you though.
posted by aclevername at 7:50 AM on January 13 [1 favorite]

You might like the comedian Mae Martin, who talks about dating men after a decade of being with women, and while also looking visibly queer. She's also recently come out with a book about sexuality and gender, though I haven't read it yet. The show Work in Progress might also be good for you to watch - it's about a self-described queer dyke in a relationship with a trans man. A few people ask her questions about what that means for her sexuality, and she just dismisses it in such a perfect way. It's a really great show.

I think this is actually pretty common, even though it's unfortunately not very well-represented in media.

My own situation/history is super-messy and would take paragraphs to explain, and is not really like your situation, but I am a trans non-binary dyke-identified person who is sometimes attracted to men but just does not gel with them romantically or sexually. I call myself queer and that works pretty well, but I did tie myself up in knots about how I felt about men for a long time, until I realized it was kinda ... patriarchal for me to define my identity so strongly in terms of how I related to cis men.

Anyway, my own complicated history and identity means that I get to have lots of really interesting conversations with people who would seem to be totally monosexual from the outside. Based on this, I really think there are very few people out there who are 100% straight or gay. I think a lot people are rounding up to make their lives simpler or for social reasons, which is totally fine. It also means that you could date men for a while and decide you are a lesbian after all. Or be attracted to some men but decide you'd rather be in relationships with women. Or meet one guy you really like a lot and spend the rest of your life with him while still calling yourself queer (or even a lesbian if you wanted - it's your life).

I will say - dating straight men is WOW SO DIFFERENT than dating queer women/people. I think it would probably only take a brief period of exploration/experimentation to clarify things for you.

I think it's worth asking yourself what you're worried about. Is it your sense of self? Your community? If it's the former - well, I firmly believe that our identities don't change based on who we're with, but our understanding of those identities can. So you go on some dates with dudes, and you see what happens. Either way, you'll learn about yourself. If it's your community, well, I don't know what your current community is like, but I do know plenty of queer women who have gone through periods of being in relationships with men and kept their friendships with lesbians. I think it comes down to your specific friendships/how strong they are, what your community is like in terms of being biphobic, and how much you continue showing up for the community.
posted by lunasol at 1:21 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]

I really think there are very few people out there who are 100% straight or gay. I think a lot people are rounding up to make their lives simpler or for social reasons, which is totally fine.

Sorry but this line from lunasol's post right above is so spot on I had to pick it out, and I really like the phrase "rounding up to make life simpler", so will be stealing that.
posted by greenish at 5:15 AM on January 14

Thanks everyone, these are all really great perspectives. I feel very accepted and seen!
Corvine's post reminded me that I have a severe allergic reaction to Erika Moen that might well have been contributing to my discomfort around this. I'm not like her! Sitting with this a little further has led me to the realisation that the biphobia is coming from inside the house... Eek.
Which is good in a way as it helps me see ways beyond my limited mindset and be more accepting of myself and others! Nice.
posted by Balthamos at 2:25 PM on January 16

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