Finding my space in the queer community

Isabelle Doerschlag/File

I can’t exactly put a date on when I realized I liked girls. Recently, more and more memories have come back to me that have made me realize just how much I missed out of obliviousness or sheer denial, but I know that when I first started to accept it as a facet of who I was, I never considered myself queer.

“I’m about a two on the Kinsey scale,” I told my friend back in community college, which meant that I considered myself predominantly attracted to the opposite gender but more than incidentally attracted to the same gender. Or, to put it another way, I joked, “Mostly guys, but I don’t want to deal with guys.”

The Kinsey scale while it was created in an old study, has continued to grow and expand and is just one of many ways questioning queer people have tried to understand and define their own sexualities. For someone who grew up in a Christian household, it seemed much safer to define myself by a scientific study — by a number instead of a label — even if it was something I mostly kept to myself.

It’s still hard not to feel like a deviant sometimes when discussing sexuality, even at UC Berkeley, but I’d still say that today it’s easier than it was five years ago — or perhaps I’m just more aware.

Today, there is so much good queer content out there, as well as openly queer artists and influencers who are only a Google search away, and while some people complain that it’s for attention or a trend or commercialism, they neglect to realize that these people are also helping normalize forms of queer love.

In today’s society, when someone says they’re “bi” or “queer,” there’s a lot less eyebrow-raising and surprised sounds, at least in communities in the Bay Area and Los Angeles.

Growing up, queer people “looked” a certain way — they were “butch,” edgy and just different somehow. Ironically, I’ve always felt different, and I’ve always been drawn toward these people, even if I was among the many who felt they were merely a passionate ally and not a member of the community themselves.

I only began to use the term “bisexuality” when defining myself this past year (or the umbrella term “queer”), and that itself has been a journey. It was a long, lonely period of listening to podcasts, watching YouTube videos and writing poetry about opening my mouth to tell someone (my best friend, my brother, my mom). But the words kept getting stuck in my mouth.

I was terrified to begin a relationship with — well, frankly, anyone, but I remember the fear of starting something with a girl I knew a few years ago. Even though we had great chemistry and got on really well, I was afraid my feelings were less valid or would change — I didn’t give myself the credit that changing feelings are all part of relationships and growing up, and my fear possibly cheated me out of a beautiful relationship.

A lot of people make fun of people “experimenting” in college, saying they are being “bi-curious” or are going through a “phase.” I think that sadly, many bisexual and queer people have been ignored or dismissed because of this, especially considering how a university becomes a safe place for so many people to begin to explore other facets of themselves away from home and their families.

For me, there was always this fear that I would be lying by saying I was bisexual because I’d never dated a woman. That, somehow, made me feel as though I’ve invalidated my own feelings, even if they were sometimes different than the feelings I’d had for men.

I think at the end of the day, I’ve come to the conclusion that that’s OK. It’s OK to experiment with your sexuality; it’s OK to not know for sure. You don’t have to have a label, but sometimes finding one can help you identify with others.

The way that I am bisexual will look different from the way that another person is bisexual, because we are different people.

“But you’ve always liked people of the opposite gender,” someone might say when you tell them. You don’t have to be split down the middle, 50-50, to consider yourself bi. You don’t have to defend yourself for that; you don’t have to explain yourself to anybody but you.

As a friend of mine joked, there’s sadly no queer starter kit that comes for you in the mail the moment you begin to define your sexuality. Luckily, there is a community out there with open arms.

Everyone expresses their sexuality and their pride differently. Not everyone is ready to jump out of the closet and go to drag brunch and gay clubs.

Back home, my friend was so excited to include me in queer activities and events that she sent me a little enamel bisexual pin that I now wear on my jean jacket. It’s not face paint and glitter, but it is me.

Sometimes you can only do things one step at a time.

Pride is coming up, and this time, I’ll be there. Will you?

Lauren West is the assistant blog editor. Contact Lauren West at [email protected].