I’ve always been afraid of myself. I remember staring at pretty girls in my second grade class and being mad at myself, wishing I could stop looking. I didn’t have one memorable crush like in those clichéd romantic comedies, but I knew that my admiration for some of the girls was not based on envy for their looks; I felt attractions that, at the time, I couldn’t make sense of. All I knew was that liking girls made me confused and afraid.
As I got older, I had feelings for some of the girls I befriended that felt more passionate than friendly, but I never acted on them. I labeled them mistakes and convinced myself that my attraction to women couldn’t be real because I was attracted to men. So I did my best to ignore my same-sex attractions, and for the next few years, I was able to suppress the feelings.
My family had always spoken negatively about LGBTQ people. My dad has routinely told me that he thinks there’s an “evil spirit” in gay people that “made them that way,” and my mom says she “doesn’t understand” being gay. I’ve yet to see her withhold contempt when she sees an openly LGBTQ person appear on television. When Frank Ocean publicly came out, my sister’s fiancé said that he’d never listen to Ocean’s music again, and my sister and father both agreed. My mom refers to a cousin of mine who identifies as a lesbian as “the one that’s gay” in a low, distasteful tone.
Given this, for a long time I refused to even consider letting myself believe that I liked women. Who would accept me after learning that I’m not quite straight? Certainly not my family.
Then, during my sophomore year of high school, I took a small step toward self-acceptance: I told one of my closest friends that I was bisexual. On that day, we cut class and went to the bathroom and talked. I couldn’t allow myself to say, “I’m bi.” Instead, I said I had something big to tell her. I mentioned our friend who was bisexual, saying that this friend and I had something in common. After a few incorrect guesses, she asked, “Are you bi?” I said yes. She enthusiastically responded, “Oh, okay! I don’t care!”
From that point on, she and I never spoke about my sexuality again. Telling her had been a relief, but I felt like it was better to pretend like I’d never come out. I didn’t yet feel comfortable enough with myself to share who I am with other friends, classmates, or family. I cared a lot about what other people thought of me, and I already felt like I didn’t fit in. I figured that not being straight would be yet another check against my normalcy among my peers.
What’s more, I hadn’t truly come to terms with my bisexuality myself — I was only able to identify that those feelings existed at all. I didn’t think my close friends would judge me, but I knew they’d have questions — ones I couldn’t answer because I didn’t know the first thing about sexuality outside of the heteronormative sphere. I didn’t want to be bisexual; I just wanted to fit in. I lived in silence for another four years.
Last year, during my sophomore year of college, I was alone a lot. I had just gotten out of a relationship with a guy who was a source of stability for me while I was traveling a lot and trying to adjust to my new college environment. After the relationship ended, I returned to my university, which is about five hours away from my home city of Chicago. Leaving Chicago had been difficult for me: I didn’t realize how much that city made me who I am. My college is in Columbus, Ohio, a city that doesn’t have the bold culture, decadent food, and diverse people that Chicago does. At times during my freshman year, I felt like I barely recognized myself because all I could think about was returning home or to another city with more culture.
Rather than leave Ohio, though, I decided to embrace this discomfort and use it as an opportunity to rediscover myself — to discover who I am, what hobbies I enjoy, which places I’d like to visit, and to ultimately devote myself to doing things that make me happy. As part of this vow to unapologetically embrace who I am, I finally decided to accept my sexuality. I was tired of living according to my family’s rules and trying to follow the path that was expected of me, and I was also tired of feeling like an outsider on campus. I decided that it was time to write my own story, one that had to include accepting that my attraction to women isn't going to fade. I had to embrace this part of me.
I thought a lot about what life would be like as an out bisexual person. I initially assumed that I’d be excommunicated from my family. I also thought of comments my old roommate made about how she wished she wasn’t bisexual because Christianity opposes it.
But I also thought about how happy I’d be if I allowed myself to be 100 percent me, if I could fully experience all my fears, curiosities, and attractions. To me, it sounded like a dream — one I didn’t think I could ever achieve. But I decided to try. I finally called one of my friends from high school, someone with whom I had never shared my identity, and came out to him. He said he still loves me, because I’m still the same Janaya. Then I retold the high school friend I’d originally come out to. I expected her to say she thought I was joking the first time, but she nonchalantly responded, “I know. You already told me. I told you I don’t care.”
Today, I’m a sorta out bisexual person. By “sorta,” I mean I’m out to the people I know are supportive. I don’t think telling my family would be the safest decision right now, but I hope that one day I can be honest with them, regardless of whether they’re ultimately supportive or not.
Being out hasn’t exactly made my life a walk in the park. The “B” in LGBTQ is so unacknowledged, at times I wonder if it should be omitted from the abbreviation altogether. Many straight men and lesbians won’t consider dating me, owing to the stigma that bisexual people are “greedy” or “confused.”
But even so, I’m still proud to be out and bi. I’m confident that my sexuality is not who I am, but a part of who I am. I’m also a magnificent daughter, sister, friend, and student. I am no longer afraid of myself. I’m still the same Janaya. I finally understand that I deserve to love all parts of me, even if everyone else doesn't.
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