“Hi, I’m thirteen and I’ve been questioning whether I am bi or not. I am a girl and I identify as one, but what I am not sure of is if I’m straight and just making illusions for myself, or bi, or just lesbian and denying it, or something else I don’t know of. Uugh, it’s all so weird. How could I find out what I am?”
- Question submitted by Anonymous
It is confusing, isn’t it? We are given these letter-shaped symbols to mush together in ways that will explain our millions of feelings to ourselves and to other people, and they don’t always just “fit.” Now, I do like letters and words, and I think that they can help us work through our feelings in incredible ways. For example, it is helpful for me to be able to say “My name is Kristin and Demi Lovato has come out as not straight and that makes me feel SIMPLY DELIGHTED.”
Now, I know you didn’t ask me about my feelings regarding Demi Lovato, but I do think they are relevant. Hear me out. Right now, in the year 2017, I call myself bisexual because I know I have the capacity to be attracted to more than one gender. I also call myself queer because I love the word and all of its infinite possibilities. In years past I identified as a lesbian, because I didn’t yet fully understand all of my attractions (do we ever?), but I knew that I felt at home in the “lesbian culture” of the early 2000s (think The L Word, fedoras, pin stripes, and lip gloss). I have used a lot of words over the years to help me move through my various understandings of myself, but one thing has remained true: when I think a girl is pretty (and especially if that girl is into kissing other girls), I am SIMPLY DELIGHTED.
There isn’t really a word for that feeling, and it’s one I have had for as long as I can remember. It’s a feeling that I had before I even knew I had it, but it is also one that took me a lot of time to understand.
When I was thirteen, my best friend’s name was Katie. She was hilarious and loud and strong and her hair was always shiny and smelled like this one deliciously incredible conditioner, the name of which I cannot remember, but that came in a blue plastic bottle. I never thought about kissing Katie, ever. I thought about the idea of dating boys (seemed interesting) and the asshole teacher who made me spit out my gum even when it wasn’t disturbing anyone (the worst) and how much I loved music (it made me feel like I could do anything) and how I wanted to dye my hair using Manic Panic (blocked by parental bullshit, of course). Looking back on my friendship with Katie, I can now draw connections between the way I felt about her and her hair, and my reasons for going out of my way to get the same conditioner so I could smell that amazing smell all the time… but that is because I am now 36 years old, and I have a wife and a cat and a long history of crushing and dating and wondering and questioning – which is what you are doing now!
*blasts ‘The Circle of Life’*
Here is one promise that I can make to you: You are not making illusions for yourself. If you have feelings that are confusing when it comes to people of many genders, that is real: you have confusing feelings about people of many genders! I will go out on a limb here and say that prooooobably means you aren’t 100000000% straight, and that it will also likely shift and change as you grow. And I am not trying to pull some “you’re 13 and shit will change because you are young now” crap on you, I am literally saying that your attractions and desires will shift and change forever.
Part of our identity is the wondering. Do you want to kiss the girl in your science class? Rad! I’ve been there. Do you want to hold hands with the boy who lives three houses down? Makes total sense. Do you want to spoon with the nonbinary barista at your local coffeeshop? Hooboy, I totally get that. For now, maybe that means you choose to call yourself bisexual. Even if you kiss that girl in your science class and it isn’t fireworks, you can still call yourself bisexual! And, if you do suddenly realize that, hey, you aren’t attracted to more than one gender after all? THAT IS OKAY! It doesn’t mean you were just lying to yourself about your feelings before, it just means that you have a mind that is open to the many possibilities that exist out here in this crazy world.
Before I go and leave you with all of life’s confusing feelings, let me do two more things to try to help you walk this maze (we all walk it! I promise!). First, let’s break your question into three concise lil bits:
How do you know what to *call* yourself?
I think most of us just choose a word that seems kind-of-correct and then change it down the line if we find something that fits even better. It’s okay to do that, and it isn’t “attention seeking” or “lying” to yourself or anyone else to try on identity words and see how they feel.
How do you know you aren’t lying to yourself?
Well, you wrote into an advice site anonymously to figure out more about feelings you are having. That isn’t the typical behavior of a person who is lying about their feelings… it is the typical behavior of a person who has very real feelings that they are trying to sort through. Trust your feelings. The world out here will try to tell you not to trust them, especially when you are a girl, and that is a giant pile of bulllllllshittttt. Your feelings are real. Confusing as all hell, sure, but real.
How do you know what you are?
You’re you. I know, I know, my part-time job is probably writing cards for Hallmark… BUT IT IS TRUE. You are you and right now that you has confusing feelings about attraction and sexuality and identity. Some of that will always be confusing, and some of it will solidify over time. For now, explore those feelings. Write them down. Remember to trust yourself, and remember that you can be more than one thing (at the same time! at different times! ahhhh!).
Second, some music. I mentioned earlier that music made me feel like I could do anything when I was thirteen. It still makes me feel like that, and it also helps me stand up to a world that tells me to doubt myself and my feelings. Music helps me face those confusing feelings and say “fuck off, world, I can be something different than what you expect. I can change. I can be a million things all at once, and I don’t have to pick one and I don’t have to apologize.”
Last week I asked all of my internet pals to tell me about songs made them feel like they could be whatever the fuck they wanted to be, and so together we created this mixtape for you. When you are feeling that creeping doubt, pop your headphones in and remember that you are who you say you are even if that is *not knowing exactly who you are*, and anyone who challenges that can SCREW.
Kristin runs Everyone Is Gay, My Kid Is Gay, and OUR Restroom, co-authored This is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids, and worked as host & producer of PBS Digital’s LGBTQ series First Person. Additionally, she co-hosts a weekly Buffy the Vampire Slayer podcast called Buffering the Vampire Slayer with her wife, Jenny Owen Youngs. You can follow her on twitter @kristinnoeline
Cover Art designed by the incredible Isabella Rotman!