I remember sitting in the living room with my boyfriend as I nervously tried to work up the confidence to finally tell him about my sexuality. I had known I was bisexual for a few months but never openly admitted it to anyone. Despite being in a relationship for a year and a half, I was scared that society’s toxic stereotypes about bisexual women would negatively impact his perception of me. I was worried that he would think of me as “unfaithful,” “promiscuous” or “indecisive.”
Leading up to this moment, I had spent weeks contemplating how the conversation would go. I was scared to just bluntly admit that I was bisexual. So, I planned to wait until the conversation would come up naturally — but it never did.
In a moment of confidence, I finally blurted out, “I like women… romantically and sexually.”
His response was underwhelmingly, “Really? OK.”
And then the conversation continued as if nothing happened. I was shocked and disappointed by his response to my sharing of such a personal epiphany. I was relieved to finally get this off my chest but was hurt by his lack of response. I expected him to have questions and to encourage me to open up about my feelings, like I always did for him. I felt like my sexuality was being dismissed — but this wasn’t the first time.
I had tried before to hint at my sexuality, hoping it would spark a conversation. I would openly compliment women we saw in a film or on TV. I’d say things like, “Oh wow. That woman is so beautiful — I can’t get over it,” but he didn’t respond or ask what I meant by my comments.
At the time, I was scared to boldly exclaim that I was bisexual because I was still coming to terms with my sexuality. But as my boyfriend, I wanted him to be my support system as I learned to accept my attraction to women. I wanted a partner who would validate my sexuality and have a genuine dialogue about my feelings. I wanted him to understand my experience and be proud of me for coming out.
I felt like I was hiding my true self by not being able to talk with him about my journey. I was disappointed in myself for keeping my sexuality a secret from him. So when I finally came out, I thought this would open up a new chapter in my life. I thought I would be able to fully embrace my identity and that I wouldn’t have to ignore the part of me that was attracted to women. I thought that our relationship would be stronger as he would respect my sexuality — but this wasn’t the case.
Every time I tried to open up about my sexuality, it turned into a conversation about how he could benefit from it. He viewed my sexuality as a way to fulfill his threesome porno fantasy. I initially agreed with it, despite feeling uncomfortable. I wanted to have that experience with him and another woman so I could be the cool girlfriend who does it all.
The more I thought about it and the more he fantasized about it, I realized I was doing this for him, not myself. While I was in the relationship, I realized that the only way I could explore my sexuality with a woman was in a threesome. I felt utterly objectified by my boyfriend. It seemed like he was using me for my identity by turning me into the hypersexualized stereotype of a bisexual woman.
I realized that I was being pressured to decide between being with him or exploring my identity. If I wanted to stay with him, I could only understand my bisexuality by having a threesome or denying it by staying in a monogamous relationship. I felt restricted by having to decide between one or the other. I knew that if I wanted to have genuine experiences with a woman, then my relationship would have to end, so I broke up with him.
I wish I could say that I grieved the loss of my relationship, but more than anything I felt empowered. It felt like a weight had been lifted off of my shoulders, as for once, I wasn’t my partner’s mom, caretaker or sole emotional support system. I finally felt like I could be myself and express my feelings without the judgment of my boyfriend. I was proud to be able to say out loud that I was bisexual. It was liberating to gain agency over my sexuality — I could date whomever I wanted without feeling like I was being fetishized. And I felt relieved that I no longer had to ignore my attraction to women.
Since then, I’ve been learning and relearning how to fully embrace my sexuality. I thought that the ending of my relationship would be the last time my body and sexuality were directly policed — but I was wrong. I am still constantly being regulated and policed by society’s toxic expectations of what it means to be a bisexual woman of color. So, I am still discovering how to be comfortable and confident in my own body.
My hope for this column is to help people feel more comfortable in their bodies, to own their sexuality and to discover or rediscover what it means to be a sexual being, whether it’s for themselves, for others or both. I’ve realized that understanding my sexuality is a complicated and ongoing journey, and I want to take you with me.
Ashley writes the Tuesday column on sex. Contact her at [email protected].