I’m going to stop performing my queerness for validation

As a bisexual woman, I sometimes feel like a splintered off piece from the queer community

Shelby reflects on combatting internalized biphobia to embrace her own queerness.

I experience an enormous amount of pressure to perform my queerness to the perfect rhythm.

If I’m a little offbeat, I risk coming off as disinterested in someone I like. If I forget a step, someone will assume I’m straight. Stumble, and I’m landing face-first in homophobia.

It’s an elaborate dance. I’m tired. And my feet hurt.

Make no mistake—I love being queer. Queerness has helped me find friends who are family and put words to an important piece of who I am. But as a bisexual woman, sometimes I feel like a splintered off piece from the queer community—separate from the whole and a bit of a pain.

In straight spaces, I’m too queer. In queer spaces, I’m not queer enough.

In high school, when I was far more private about my sexuality than I am today, I had a friend who needled me constantly about identity. It felt as if she was trying to poke holes in my “straightness,” to burst this invisible bubble and liberate me from a lifetime of opposite-gender attraction.

She would hit on me, sexualize me, and flirt with me to the point where I would feel extremely uncomfortable, then she’d laugh it off because her actions couldn’t possibly cross a line if I wasn’t openly, outgoingly queer.

She would say things like “the fact that you like men is a robbery to all lesbians” and “I’m just waiting for you to come out.”

When I had a boyfriend, most comments out of her mouth were undermining or criticizing my interest in men.

I checked a lot of the boxes for “stereotypical queer woman.” I was a dedicated competitive athlete, my closet consisted mostly of flannels, and—I’ll admit it—part of my head was shaved.

However, my queerness was something I held close to my chest, something I wanted to examine thoroughly and delicately myself before giving it away to other people.

My friend’s comments didn’t create a safe space for me to be openly bisexual—they were incredibly invalidating. Maybe she was trying, in her own way, to connect with the part of me she suspected was queer. But it was invasive, cruel, and frankly none of her business.

It felt like the parts of me that seemed queer and the parts of me that are queer were cheapened into a dull, unoriginal caricature of queerness.

If I was so obviously not straight and a knockoff of every gay cliche, I probably wasn’t queer at all—I was almost certainly and pathetically doing it for attention, to feel different, to be special.

When people around me told me I “seemed gay,” I started to believe them.

I lost confidence in my attraction outside of the scope of heterosexuality as I started to believe I only appropriated the appearance of queerness. When I managed to pry myself loose from self-doubt, I felt like I couldn’t be open about my sexuality because everyone would believe I was conforming to other peoples’ expectations of me.

My friend sewed biphobia deep inside me. For a while, I didn’t even know it was there. After a long time growing quietly in the dark, nurtured by offhand comments and snippy remarks from other people, it blossomed to bear the bitter fruit of insecurity.

The queer community, as much as some of us like to pretend otherwise, applies the same layers of discrimination as the rest of the world. There are queer folks who still see the world in rigid binaries and refuse to bend their perspectives.

As a bi woman in a relationship with a man, it can seem like I’m constantly wading through assumptions.

I have a boyfriend, so I must be straight. I think Victoria Pedretti is hot, so I’m a lesbian. I only think I’m attracted to men because I’m a helpless victim of misogyny, queerphobia, and heteronormativity. I only think I’m gay because I watched one too many Lil Nas X music videos.

I never formally came out, so I must not be queer.

There’s certainly privilege in being able to be open about my partner without fear of homophobic vitriol from those who don’t know me. In my current relationship, I’m not afraid to hold hands with him in public, take him to meet new people, or post pictures with him online.

But there are times when it feels hard to be written off by parts of the queer community because my partner is a man.

Although I’ve had feelings for and attractions towards women and nonbinary folks, I’ve only dated men. I’m in a long-term relationship with a man. I may never date a woman.

I used to allow this to bother me. My internalized biphobia pressed shame, guilt, and confusion into me. It sat in my stomach and made me lose my appetite; it rested on my chest in the middle of the night and made it hard to breathe.

I was taught the genders of the people I date define who I am as a queer person. But I’m honestly just exhausted by giving a shit what other people think my queerness should look like.

I don’t make calculated moves when it comes to my partners. I don’t plan or plot my feelings around a perfect projection of queerness—one that’s acceptable to straight people and queer people alike.

I’m conflicted. I’m angry. It pisses me off when people are shocked I’m queer. It pisses me off when people assume I’m gay. Sometimes being bisexual and queer means too much to me. Sometimes I think labels are worthless to me and I just want to be left alone. I worry I have to be attractive to men and women and nonbinary folks and that I’m attractive to no one.

I don’t think I’m alone in feeling like this.

A huge part of my bisexual experience has been defending my queerness to myself and others. Another big part has been learning to let that go. And I’m not quite there yet—I can’t seem to pry that last bit of internalized biphobia from my grip, but I’m working on it.

When I’m feeling frustrated, I remind myself I’m surrounded by incredible people who make me feel strong, queer, and happy—and I’ve found a partner whom I love very much.

I wish I could be confident enough to believe in my own queerness. That I could tune out the careful rhythm I’ve practiced for years to make sure I was performing my queerness just right. It’s about time I abandon the performance altogether.

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