I told Tinder I was bisexual before I told my mom.
This was three weeks ago now. After deleting and redownloading the app for what must have been the tenth time, I began typing the shorthand “bi” into my bio. I had mentally prepared for an hour, repeating over and over that this was right, that this was what I wanted. The “b” came with ease. One letter down, one to go.
Then, my thumb recoiled, hovering over the “i” like a claw machine waiting to wrap its metal fingers around a prize. All I had to do was push the red button on the joystick. But a cold burning in my stomach stopped me from finishing the word.
It took years to even get to that moment. I wish I could say I knew I was bi since I could walk. Unfortunately, I wasn’t afforded that level of personal understanding. Throughout high school, parents, teachers and friends alike assumed if I was anything, it definitely wasn’t straight. I always auditioned for school plays. I vehemently shopped in the women’s clothing section. I would spot my friend Michael from the end of the hall, run towards him, and jump into his arms before class. In our heteronormative society, I was an outlier.
Whenever I heard that someone thought I wasn’t straight, I was compelled to prove them wrong. Instead of exuding mainstream masculinity, I leaned even heavier into their assumptions, being as boisterous and goony as possible. I wanted to prove I could be an outlier while still claiming I was heterosexual, that two sides of the spectrum aren’t mutually exclusive.
A friend once told me I was “the most queer straight guy” she knew. From that day on, I told myself that’s what I was.
At the beginning of this semester, I was on the bus heading back from North to Central Campus, chatting with a new friend from class. She was a freshman and wanted to get involved in some LGBTQIA clubs.
“Can I ask you a personal question?,” she asked.
I choked out an affirmative response, beads of sweat lining my hairline. I knew what was coming.
“Are you queer?”
I almost said yes. A gut instinct tried to take over and all of the questions I have asked myself about my history with my queer identity flooded in. Why is my favorite Frank Ocean song “Good Guy”? Why did I pour over the written exchanges between Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassady, soaked in repressed male love? Why was I so inspired by Amy in “Booksmart” coming out as gay when she was in the 10th grade?
At the last second, my defenses kicked in.
“Nah, I’m not.”
For the rest of the bus ride home, I could feel my quickening heartbeat reverberating in the pit of my stomach. This feeling is familiar; it happens about four or five times a week at this point. I feel it whenever I see a couple holding hands, or embracing each other before they part ways for class, or laughing together over steaming cups of coffee while I study a few tables away. Any act of public intimacy makes me shrink inside my garish outfit of the day.
While I continued to make small talk with my new friend and give her what little advice I could about how to find clubs, I could only concentrate on my stomach pains. There were no couples in sight, no interwoven fingers dangling between the felt-covered seats, no FaceTime conversations about how each others’ days went, and yet I could hardly breathe.
For the following weeks — even while writing this article — I teared up every time I thought about that moment on the bus. I could have confirmed my identity to someone else on my own terms. No rumors echoing down the long, third-mortgage-gray high school hallways, just an earnest question from a newfound friend. I was given the opportunity to share a moment of intimacy with another person and, instead, I threw it away. I was ashamed and wouldn’t let myself forget it.
But even if I had said, “Yes, I am queer and I’m goddamn proud of it,” it wouldn’t have mattered because I hadn’t told myself yet.
Embracing who you really are takes insurmountable faith and self-confidence. Convincing myself I was straight for so long meant, when it finally came down to being proud of my bisexuality, I had to reckon with the years I spent denying myself happiness and self-love. There’s a healthy amount of guilt in this too. How could I have given into peer pressure and heteronormativity, purposely sabotaging any chances of being myself?
In her book “All About Love: New Visions”, author bell hooks writes, “Giving ourselves love we provide our inner being with the opportunity to have the unconditional love we may have always longed to receive from someone else … When we give this precious gift to ourselves, we are able to reach out to others from a place of fulfillment and not from a place of lack.”
Rapper Kendrick Lamar confirms this sentiment in his song “Real” with the line, “What love got to do with it when you don’t love yourself?”
I have my stomach aches to thank for clueing me in to my bisexuality. I do believe hooks and Lamar are right when they say the acts of loving yourself and loving others are inseparable. If my stomach turns when I see public displays of affection, a healthy dose of self-love will do more than a Tums. Being honest with myself about my sexuality is a good first step.
Weeks after that fateful afternoon on the blue bus from North to Central, I waited for the “i” in my Tinder bio. But frankly, I was tired of waiting. I’d spent too many years waiting. As I took a deep breath and typed the word “bi” in my Tinder bio, I felt a surge of warmth from my stomach to every extremity. If the shoe fits …
While reading over this piece just a few days ago, making sure every word got across what I was trying to say, I listened to the new Avett Brothers album. My dad had recommended it, claiming it was “exceptional” and “def worth the time.” On the second track, the Brothers sing, “Tell the truth to yourself / and the rest will fall in place.”
I stopped editing and grinned like an idiot into my reflection in my coffee. Here’s everything falling into place.
*cue “I’m Coming Out” by Diana Ross to play us out*