Bisexual Youth Identity: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love my Crushes

The first time I realized that I had a crush on a girl, it was too much for my twelve-year-old brain to handle, so I promptly filed the information under “deal with later.” I mean, I liked boys. I really liked boys. I was even occasionally described as “boy crazy.” What did it mean that I had a massive crush on a girl? I didn’t think about this again until six years later when I embarked on an intense sexual relationship with my (female) best friend. I was still thinking, “But I like boys! I really like boys!”

My confusion is not uncommon. As guilt-inducing as first same-sex experiences frequently are, for young people who have never found themselves attracted to the opposite sex there is often an accompanying feeling of relief or recognition—a “this feels right.” When you’ve spent your childhood knowing that something was different about you because you had no interest in the opposite sex, realizing (or confirming) that you are gay or lesbian makes things simpler, although not exactly easy.

But it isn’t as easy for those of us who find ourselves attracted to both men and women. We may take a lot longer to come out or even become aware of our attraction to the same sex, because it doesn’t necessarily occur to us to examine our feelings towards them. Why go looking to complicate things when the status quo is working for you? Chrystie, 19, said, “I had always liked guys, so when I realized that I was also into girls, it was kind of a surprise. I’d never wondered about my sexuality until that moment.” For me, it took a couple of months of having an zealous relationship with a girl, continuing to crush on boys, thinking about past crushes on girls, and reading books about sexuality before I understood there was a word for this dual attraction, and that it did indeed apply to me. The word was bisexual.

Bisexuality is not an easy identity to adopt. Some folks identify as bisexual before ultimately coming out as lesbian or gay, which means that it’s difficult to know if someone is “truly” bisexual or “in a phase.” Bisexual is often a safer identity position than gay; your parents can still hold out hope that you’ll meet a nice girl/boy, get married, and have 2.5 children. However, this transitional bisexual identity leads people, both straight and gay, to conclude that “realbisexuality doesn’t exist. Folks who are only attracted to one sex seem to find it hard to believe that someone could be genuinely attracted to more. They tell us it’s just a phase, or ask us if we’re still bisexual. A gay male acquaintance responded to my irritated “yes” to this question with, “Yeah, I know. I was bisexual for a while, too.”

For a young person trying to come to grips with a new sexual orientation, this dismissal from supposed allies is extremely discouraging. There is a lot of pressure to pick a side. As for coming out, it seems much easier to explain to parents that you’re just not attracted to the opposite sex than to explain that while you could, in theory, lead a “normal” heterosexual life, you’re also attracted to the same sex and are just as likely to be a sexual deviant. Josh, 18, after struggling with his attractions to boys for a few years, found himself interested in a girl and wondered, “Why did I have to go through all this if I could just be attracted to girls?” However, just because he liked a girl didn’t mean that he could just abandon his feelings for boys, which were still there.

Invisibility is one of the biggest issues facing bisexual youth. There are few bisexual role models, and those that do exist are frequently defined by the gender of their current partner. Historical figures known to have slept with both men and women are generally co-opted by the queer community as lesbian or gay figures, and since we don’t know how they might have identified, can we really claim them as bisexuals? Sexual orientation was not constructed in the same way that it is now; words like homosexual, heterosexual, and bisexual are relatively recent inventions. The need to label and construct one’s identity relative to that label has not always been so strong.

Part of what’s difficult about bisexual identities is that they are not static. Many bisexual folks describe their identities as fluid; there may be many times when they find themselves more attracted to woman and times when they find themselves more attracted to men. It’s rare that anyone is always equally attracted to both men and women in a 50/50 split. Even if it were, such a thing is impossible to quantify, despite my landlord’s assertion that I am a “true” bisexual – “I’ve seen who comes out of your bedroom!” he quips. Fluidity can make it difficult to be sure of your orientation. When you’re struggling to prove that you’re not just going through a phase, but worried that you might be, a swing to either side can be harrowing. I’ve known many bisexual youth who’ve breathed a sigh of relief and said, “No, I think I’m actually just attracted to girls” and then had to recant when a cute boy walked by.

“I wonder if I’m just jealous of other women’s bodies,” says Katie, 21. “Women are so sexualized in the media that it seems normal to look at them and think about how sexy they are. Sometimes it’s hard to tell what’s attraction and what’s social conditioning. Sometimes I can’t tell if I want to have sex with somebody or to BE that person.”

Forming an identity is a terribly important part of life for young people today. We constantly search for ways to present our identities to others. Whatever aspects of ourselves we share will be the aspects that define us to those we know. Changes or fluctuations, especially around sexuality, seems hard to understand and hard to believe.. “When I told my friends that I thought I was gay,” says Josh, “they accepted it. But when I talked to them about also being attracted to girls, they just said ‘nah, you’re gay’ and didn’t want to hear about it.” Learning to cope with shifting attractions and relationships is probably one of the most difficult parts of growing up. Adults who come out as bisexual frequently do so from a context of having sexual experience and (one hopes) confidence. Bisexual youth attempt to explore their sexuality in an atmosphere of guilt, repression, fear, pressure, and ineptitude. It’s hard to relax and enjoy sex when you’re not sure what you’re doing and you think that your parents will be coming home soon. Young people don’t usually have the skills to negotiate what’s comfortable and what’s not, and frequently have the paralyzing fear of “what if I don’t do what this person wants and nobody else ever wants to sleep with me?” Sexual approval is a strong motivator for young folks trying to build self-esteem and establish themselves as sexual beings.

So what’s a bisexual youth to do when their identity is fluid and suspect? How does one avoid the pressure to choose a side? What if it is all a phase?

The first and most important step is to accept yourself. Figure out what you need to feel comfortable with yourself and your attractions. Our society gives us very few options about what attractions are acceptable, and you are not the only one having feelings that you think you shouldn’t be having.

Finding community is a big help for a lot of people. It’s nice to know that you’re not the only person in a situation like yours. Community can mean a lot of different things—you may want to have close friends who are also bisexual, you may want to interact with other bisexuals on the internet (in chat rooms, or on sites like this one), or you might attend a support group for bisexual youth. While you will probably be unable to associate only with bisexual people, minimizing the presence of biphobic individuals in your life will make a big difference. Having a bi-positive community can keep you feeling positive about your attractions, remind you that you are not alone, and confirm that your identity does indeed exist.

There are many queer communities on the internet, but bisexual-specific ones are a bit harder to find. An internet search for “bisexual youth” may bring up some good leads – but here are a couple that I’ve checked out.

It’s not terribly easy to find many online communities for bisexual youthmost youth groups or sites have a broader LGBT mandate (which sometimes lists the “B” but doesn’t actually talk specifically about bisexuality) or else are not age-specific, or are even youth-exclusive because they’re intended for adults. If you know of specific groups for bi youth, please feel free to comment and let us know!

When you do find yourself in situations that are not bi-specific or bi-positive, be selective about coming out. Your sexual orientation is your business, and the only people who need to know are the people that you want to know. If you feel good about talking to someone about bisexuality, that’s cool, but you don’t have to educate everyone about the subject. People can do their own work.

After my first girlfriend and I broke up, I found myself wondering if bisexual was really the right identity for me. I still liked boys. I mean, really liked boys. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever feel that way about another girl. But my attraction to my first girlfriend was real; our relationship was real. Even if I was never attracted to another woman, I would still be bisexual.

Of course, since then I’ve found myself attracted to and in relationships with several other girls, all the while still liking (really liking) boys. And after twelve years of identifying as bisexual, the “phase” hasn’t passed. The only thing that’s really changed is that now I have a much better idea of how to deal with it when I have a crush on a girl.