Bisexual in a Small Town: How My Family Helped Me Deal
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But despite the drama that infused our relationship, there’s no way I can dismiss it as experimentation. What part of love is ever not an experiment, however high the stakes? And I was in love. Being with girls was a safer place to explore my feelings, partly because they also seemed to have a lot of them, but it was also sexually exciting. There were so many prescriptions for how to love men, and how to screw them. Or rather, be screwed by them. The sexual passivity that I had been surreptitiously socialized in did not apply to sex with women. In my childhood bedroom, I had lifted Jessica’s T-shirt, moved my mouth down her chest, squeezed her hips with both hands. Lila and I might have had a maudlin relationship a lot, but we also spent most of our time together in bed. The excitement that had always been cut short by actual sexual contact with men went on for hours with her. Looking back, our love seems almost chaste — no toys, no talk, incidents of head I could count on one hand — but it was my first introduction to a desire that my body was able to consummate. I didn’t orgasm with a lover until the girlfriend after her, but it was with Lila that I first experienced my body (and hers) as a pleasurable place to inhabit.
It was also a lot easier to convince my dad to let my girlfriend sleep over on school nights.
My father is a sea captain, and so would often return after a three-month voyage to find me considerably changed. After one such return, he pulled into his driveway (my parents had split years before) and turned up the radio. “I Kissed a Girl” — Jill Sobule’s folky precurser to Katy Perry’s club hit — filled the minivan: I kissed a girl, her lips were sweet/she was just like kissing me.
“So,” drawled my dad, with an awkward smile. “I hear you’ve been doing some of that lately.”
“Daaaaad!” I rolled my eyes, and unclasped my seat belt.
I was mortified, having no clue how lucky I was. A far cry from disturbed by my broad view of potential romantic partners, my father seemed to find it somewhat charming. Though he never knew the sexual harassment I suffered as a result of my earliest sexual experiences, it’s easy to see how much safer Lila must have appeared than the sketchy older boys I had a penchant for. Also, I think he probably associated me with my mother, whose bisexuality he also found unthreatening. Understandably, I think he’d have rather seen both of us with women.
To that end, I’ve been asked more than once if I think it’s hereditary. I don’t. I try not to be offended by the suggestion. On the Kinsey scale, my mother and I probably both hover near a 3. Of course, it’s not for me to exclude a genetic component with any certainty; I’m a writer, not a scientist, though I strongly suspect that it has a lot more to do with nurture than nature.
Since those days, I’ve been in love and lust with close to an equal number of men and women (not excluding a few who identified as somewhere between the two poles). At 31, I spend very little time entertaining definitions of my own sexuality. Thank god. I do not miss those early days of wishing I could be one thing or another, of wondering if I had an obligation to push myself in either direction. There was an important moment, a few years later, when I came to the startling understanding that I fell in love with people, that individuals’ personalities, pheromones and even fashion sense were more compelling to me than their gender. This is a cliché, of course. But I came to it on my own, and in the vacuum of my own experience, it was a true revelation.