I identify with a lot of different labels. Daughter, girlfriend, sister, friend, powerlifter, member of the EMLA team, foodie, millennial (avocado on toast pics on Instagram and all). For the most part, these labels bring me a sense of comfort in ‘knowing’. But sticking a label on my sexual identity hasn’t always been a walk in the park. These days, I very confidently and happily identify as bisexual. It’s taken a while to get there though.
When I was a teenager, I knew two things about my sexual identity. I wasn’t straight and I wasn’t gay. Using that solid bit of knowledge as a starting point, it didn’t exactly take the work of Sherlock Holmes for me to figure out that I was bisexual. Funnily enough, that initial realisation was probably the most straight forward part of the journey. As a teenager in 2006, bisexuality really wasn’t that unheard of and in my (lucky) circumstances, it wasn’t nearly as difficult as it could have been. But it wasn’t easy either.
The problems began with the reactions of others. I began to find that if I disclosed my sexuality to people, it would usually be met with some…interesting responses. ‘Bisexuals are just greedy’, ‘So you’re a lesbian who doesn’t want to come all of the way out of the closet?’, ‘Yeah yeah, you’re just looking for attention’. It made me question if I was right about who I thought I was – did bisexuality even really exist?!
I’ve been with my boyfriend for years now, and I wish I had a pound for every time a person has denied by sexuality, because I’m in a relationship with a man. Surprisingly, this sometimes came from people within the LGBT community. I suppose on reflection this may have been grounded in their own negative experiences, but it still made me feel alienated. The idea of sexuality as a spectrum is hardly a ground breaking theory in 2018, and yet people still seem perplexed by the idea that somebody could possibly be bi and be in an otherwise heterosexual relationship. Disclaimer: bisexual means being attracted to both genders.
These reactions made me feel like I wasn’t being taken seriously. I wasn’t straight enough for the straight people, and I wasn’t gay enough for the gay people. I didn’t want to exist as the butt of the joke, so I just stopped being honest about it. Little did I know at the time, this is a symptom of what is often described as bi-erasure. Whilst it was logistically easy to exist in my relationship with my boyfriend and let people assume what they wanted, it caused an inner conflict. The knock on effect of pretending to be somebody I was not, was an extremely diluted sense of self and a feeling that I wasn’t living up to my expectations of myself. I’m a massive supporter of LGBT+ rights, and yet I wasn’t even able to accept my own space within the community.
Working within the East Midlands Leadership Academy taught me that in order to lead others; you need to be able to be honest with yourself, so that you can lead with authenticity. Anything else is a pretence that is pretty transparent to everybody around you. If people can’t trust you, why would they be willing to be led by you? I’m not saying everybody should go and shout their sexual preferences from the roof tops, or share anything they aren’t comfortable with, but health and wellbeing is so massively propped up by self-acceptance and being comfortable with what that means for you.
I’m just a person with one set of experiences, so I’m not in a position to tell anybody what they should and shouldn’t do. What is right for me might not be the same for you. But if you’re in the same boat that I was in, I hope this entry provides some sort of acknowledgement of you during LGBT+ history month, and a sense of reassurance that your experiences are real, they’re valid, and that you deserve to wear the LGBT+ badge with pride, if you so wish to.
Written by Lucy, GMTS Leadership Development Administrator
Midlands Leadership and Lifelong Learning