Somewhere back in that hallowed antiquity known as the “nineties,” I faced a crisis of identity. I was eighteen years old and back in the Bay Area for the summer, staying with my parents. You could call this respite; I had barely escaped my first year of college with my academic career intact. I had a summer job teaching swimming lessons and guarding a pool. OJ Simpson was on trial, AOL was the biggest online service, and Jagged Little Pill had just been released.
It was 1995.
My crisis had been growing during the prior year. At some point during my freshman year, I had opened a door I hadn’t realized was even there. Fueled by the burgeoning internet and the availability of chat rooms, the web, and Usenet, I had tip-toed into something I had no experience with. I discovered that I was incredibly open to the idea of having sex with men. In fact, I realized that I was very much attracted to men in general. Looking back on this, it doesn’t seem like such much of a shock. I had a poster of Nirvana Unplugged with Kurt sitting with his guitar and ratty tan sweater, and I must have stared at it for hours, not really knowing why I found his blue eyes so engaging, so enrapturing.
And let’s not even get started on the X-Files.
What made this a “crisis” was that it didn’t make sense. I liked women. I had dated in school, loved a girlfriend in high school, had my heart broken, and tried again. The thought that maybe I didn’t like girls was maddening because I knew it wasn’t true. And yet, here I was online joining — and then promptly leaving — “m4m” chat rooms and probably pissing off a number of guys with my vacillation.
It wasn’t that I was cruel or indecisive. I was terrified. Without the knowledge of the word “bisexual,” I was lost in a learned dichotomy. The way I had learned it, if I wasn’t straight, then I must be gay. Yes, I had also been taught that being gay was bad, but that wasn’t it. I just knew that it wasn’t the truth. But it didn’t quiet the fear of discovery or the dread curiosity to continue. So my grades suffered. My social life was buoyed with alcohol. Like I said. Crisis.
It was then in that summer of 1995 that I happened past a magazine, its cover conspicuously standing out atop a pile of periodicals. There, in big print on the cover of "Newsweek," read a word I had never known.
“Bisexuality. Not Gay. Not Straight. A New Sexual Identity Emerges."
Now the article and its cover were not the “Ah-hah” moment one might think it would be. I gave it a cursory glance, too afraid to open its pages for fear of being outed as “not straight.” And yet, through the next year, it would stick with me. I would come back to that thought over and over until the simple plain truth was too potent to ignore. Pushed beyond where fear would hold me back, I took out a journal and wrote in black ink three words that liberated me like a magic spell.
“I am bi.”
The word “bisexual” opened an entire world for me, but besides that magazine, there wasn’t much out there that spoke to what I was going through. The '90s offered a growing consciousness towards LGBTI folk and the hate we’ve faced over the years, but the conversation, as it played out popular culture, focused much on gay and lesbian people. Tom Hanks won an Oscar for playing a gay lawyer suffering from AIDS in Philadelphia (1993). Ellen DeGeneres famously came out on national TV as a lesbian. Examples of bi femininity became more visible, though, sadly, many of those were just pandering towards male fantasy. (Wild Things (1998) comes to mind here). As a bi man, I didn’t have a lot of models to anchor to as I figured things out. Many guys I talked to would tell me that once I found some really good sex, I’d realize that I was really gay. Many boyfriends and girlfriends would offer honest understanding, but it wasn’t until just a few years ago that I would (knowingly) date another bi man for the first time.
Change comes at the moment it wants to, and never fast enough, it seems. In the intermittent time, you simply do what you can. I joined an LGBTI group on campus, though back then, it was GLBU. It was nice that they included the "B," I suppose, but it would be years before I started to see trans folks and more added under the umbrella. I started to write an online journal, my first foray into self-publishing. I joined a ring of other weblogs.
Oh shush. The word “blog” wouldn’t be coined for three more years.
I wrote — extensively — about Aaron, a classmate that I had some serious crushing over. We never dated, but that’s probably because I was way too terrified to ever ask him out. We had dinner a few times, and he had introduced me to the GLBU group. I developed a circle of friends that loved me for who I was, as I hesitantly dated men and women.
In 1997, something kind of amazing happened. A movie came out that explicitly told a story about sexual fluidity. Except it was written by the same guy who wrote Clerks (1994) and Mallrats (1995), which I loved but a romantic comedy from Kevin Smith? And it starred… Ben Affleck? Despite its faults, Chasing Amy (1997) found its way into my heart as the first time I experienced someone’s story on the big screen that spoke to all the various levels of sexual confusion I had harbored. It wasn’t perfect, and it wasn’t first, but it was a perfect first for me.
After the movie, I sat sprawled out and a little drunk on my friend Melissa’s couch. On her coffee table was a bowl of M&Ms, all of them blue. I asked her what the deal was with the blue ones.
“I don’t eat them. They’re too strange”. Blue replaced tan in 1995. See what I mean about change coming slowly?
“Well, we both know I’m too strange. May I?"
Melissa laughed. “Hah! Bisexual M&Ms!" She grabbed a handful. “You’ve convinced me, mister," she toasted and raised her fist of blue chocolate goodness to her mouth. “Here’s to change."
I tossed a few into my mouth. “Here’s to it,” I chomped with a wide smile.