The first time I kissed a woman, I was eighteen. While I realized that I was bisexual at a young age, conversations with my peers about sexuality had always been surrounded in judgment and disgust. Politically and religiously, I understood that same-sex relationships were seen as a moral failing in our culture. I planned to remain straight-passing for my entire life.
I didn’t express interest in women until a party shortly after my high school graduation. At that age, my ideas about female bisexuality resembled an episode of Girls Gone Wild. I noticed it was never treated like a distinct sexual identity but as a costume worn by women for male consumption. This was made particularly clear within college movies, where parties existed solely against a backdrop of bisexual women making out passionately. Even an episode of Gossip Girl featured women kissing at a sleepover, though only as a dare, and while still maintaining their heterosexuality for the remainder of the series. I was ten years old when I watched Madonna, Britney Spears, and Christina Aguilera share a three-way kiss on television, another performative aspect of bisexuality that sought only to contribute to Oscar buzz. I saw women kissing each other for publicity, for shock value, for their boyfriend’s approval, but never out of romance. From that, I concluded that if I wanted to be with a woman, I had to make it palatable for a man.
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That day, my best friend turned to my boyfriend and asked, “Do you mind if I kiss her right now?” He gestured for us to go ahead and when she grabbed me, I kissed her with more enthusiasm than she probably expected. I was immediately insecure about how much I’d enjoyed it. To prove that the exchange was still in service of my boyfriend’s desires, I pulled back and let him kiss her too, to which everyone at the party applauded. Later, someone patted me on the back for being such a ‘good girlfriend’. My boyfriend asked if we could have a threesome with her soon.
Prior to our three-way kiss, his strong stance against homosexuality had resulted in more arguments than I could count. I observed the same disconnect in attitude and behavior in my male partners that followed him. Women who had same-sex experiences, and particularly bisexual women, represented an eroticism that wasn’t real and therefore not threatening to them or their sexuality. Their disdain predominantly applied to gay men, who they saw as sexual deviants. I even saw this expressed in the antiquated concept of body count, which considers penetrative sex as “real” sex and therefore a ‘body’ while oral sex or sex with toys remain preliminary sex acts. By this line of thinking, men engaging in anal sex were having real sexual experiences that others could disapprove of, but women who had sex with women were not. They were hypersexual commodities. They were hot. So the men I dated were often loudly homophobic, but obsessed with participating as I explored my sexuality with other women. I saw bisexuality could be acceptable, provided it was between two women and men could watch.
I saw bisexuality could be acceptable, provided it was between two women and men could watch.
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As I got older, I remained too afraid to actually pursue women independently, but I did so proudly from the safety of those relationships. I kissed them, I danced with them, and I more seriously considered the threesomes my boyfriends were interested in, but as a vehicle for expressing my own desires.
Over time, the fact that my experiences with women were solely performative caused me to question my own sexuality. I used the same language others used to attack or dismiss bisexuality. “Am I even really bisexual or do I just want attention?” I wondered silently.
I claimed a different sexuality depending on the day – sometimes I was straight, and sometimes, in a moment of vulnerability, I admitted how much I liked women and wanted to cry. I was excited for games of truth-or-dare because they inevitably led to me kissing women I had crushes on. I started to think they were my only consistent opportunities to express my sexuality.
At a guest bartending gig shortly after I’d turned twenty-one, my friends were dancing on the bar top as I stood next to them, wiggling and pouring shots into guests’ mouths. My manager announced that if we all made out, he’d provide free shots for everyone. I looked nervously towards my best friend. We hadn’t kissed since that party when we were eighteen but she reached for me without hesitation. We kissed as cameras flashed from beneath us.
The next morning, photos of those kisses were all over Instagram. One of my best guy friends had even posted one, posing in front of us like a tourist at the Empire State Building. As I scrolled past it, my heart sank. It was suddenly clear to me that my sexuality was being used, and although our clothes were on, it felt pornographic and dirty. The shame was so heavy, I avoided my friends for weeks.