News Flash: I'm Bi!

By Natalie Schriefer

July 25, 2022



Photo credit: Pexels/mali maeder

When my first paid personal essay went live, I should’ve been excited. I’d scored an acceptance at DAME Magazine, a feminist publication with more than 20,000 Twitter followers. I’d worked hard on the piece, and I was proud of it.

The trouble was, paragraph three explicitly referenced my same-sex celebrity crush. The rest of the essay revolved around it.

And I wasn’t exactly out.

I wasn’t totally closeted, either. I had existed in a liminal space for three years, out only to a select few. Mostly this was because I didn’t like the idea of coming out. It felt like a burden. It was something my straight friends didn’t have to do, and I didn’t want to do it either.

Underneath that, though, I was also upset about something else: I didn’t have my first same-sex crush until I was 25. I felt behind. A hundred times before submitting to DAME, I thought about writing a Facebook post about my sexuality, or tagging myself as a queer writer on Instagram, but each time I stopped. I was embarrassed. How did I tell people that I’d been wrong about my sexuality for a full 25 years?


That it was okay to revise my label was foreign to me. That there were resources to help me navigate my changing identity — even more so. I didn’t need anyone’s permission to call myself bi, but that was exactly what I was looking for, asking Google: How many women do I need to like in order to be bi? Do celebrities count? Fictional characters? If I currently have a boyfriend and don’t plan on breaking up with him, does it even matter what I call myself?

I didn’t know what biphobia was, but I was buckling under the weight of it.

But maybe I was on to something, writing those coming out posts. Maybe writing was key — not on social media, where users could post anything, but in a more selective venue like a magazine. A personal essay left no room for questions. I could name my experience, and if an editor bought my piece, then my identity had to be valid.

That this too was problematic never crossed my mind — I was too busy writing. And, as if it were meant to be, the essay came out in one (relatively clear) chunk. I wrote about my celebrity crush, Zoe Saldana as Gamora from Guardians of the Galaxy. I wrote about heteronormativity. I wrote about the things I wanted to unlearn.

Lost in my head, I couldn’t see that submitting this essay was just another way of asking for permission. Instead, I told myself I’d feel better as soon as I had an acceptance in hand, not to mention a paycheck to go with it. Then I’d finally be a real bisexual. A real writer, too.

When magazines rejected early versions of the essay, I didn’t stop to consider other options. I didn’t consult my friends or the local pride center. I didn’t look for media that showcased bi or coming out experiences. I stayed stubbornly alone, rereading rejection emails where editors said, “It’s just not the right fit,” and I wondered if they meant me or my writing. I didn’t feel like I deserved the queer community until I could somehow prove I belonged. I gatekept myself so no one else could.

Which is funny, now, because I would never tell a friend, or even a stranger, that their sexuality was valid only if someone else approved. That I held myself to that standard missed the point: I’d experienced both hetero and homosexual attraction. Whether I told anyone what I’d felt, or ever acted on that attraction, was irrelevant. I was bi.

But I didn’t stop to consider any of that.

I revised the essay again and again. When I opened DAME’s email, I was so ready for another rejection that I immediately skimmed it for the fatal “Thanks but no thanks.” This time, though, it wasn’t a “no.” The editor liked my piece. She wanted to publish it.

For a moment, the acceptance was everything I wanted it to be: I was a real bisexual. This stranger approved! Here it was, in writing, just in case I ever forgot. At my desk I leaned back against my chair. I stared at the email as though the words might change, rereading it until the monitor shifted into sleep mode and turned black.

Once we’d taken care of minor revisions, the editor promised to reach out soon with a publication date. I was a real bi, a real writer being put on a real magazine’s content schedule. I thanked the editor — and then spent the next 16 days refreshing my email.

This waiting period would’ve been a good time to check in with myself, or maybe check out bi resources. Instead, I spent it panicking: excited as I was, I’d need to share the essay on social media once it went live, which brought me right back to those coming out posts I didn’t want to write. How would I caption the link?

A coming-out post still felt like a burden (not to mention dramatic because, for the obvious reasons, I wasn’t leaving my boyfriend to pursue Gamora). On the other hand, sharing the link without a caption felt like a cop-out, as did writing about my queerness like everyone already knew.

It never occurred to me that other people might not care. That they might skim or skip any caption I did write. My sexuality was all I could think about, so I figured everyone else had to be obsessed with it, too.

One Friday, the founder of DAME emailed me. Even before opening the message, I knew what it held: the link for my essay.

Ready or not, I was live.

I didn’t have time to think. In two hours I was leaving for Pennsylvania, where I’d be off the grid for the majority of the weekend. I had to post something now.

Without any real plan, I loaded the link onto social media and tried not to look at the thumbnail image, all rainbows and pride. “‘Complicated’ is an understatement,” I wrote, referencing the essay’s title. “This essay took me MONTHS to write, edit, and then submit.” Hands shaking, I thanked my mentors and the editor, and threw in some emojis for good measure.

I didn’t mention bisexuality once.

I spent the drive to Pennsylvania trying not to puke. Did it look like I was trying to hide my sexuality? Had I failed my editor, her magazine, the larger queer community I wanted so desperately to be part of? In the dark I tried to focus on the moon, full and bright, but the tide of fear kept pulling me back. What if people commented on the post? The internet could be ruthless.

But when we checked in at the motel sometime after 1AM, there were no comments. Some “likes,” some “loves,” and some shares, but nothing catastrophic. The world hadn’t ended. I didn’t die.

And I stayed that way — alive — the rest of that weekend. The whole next week. The whole next month. Some of my friends already knew I was queer. Others had surmised it. I got a few encouraging texts, outreach and support that buoyed me. No one disowned me. No one called me a poser.

No one asked if I was going through a phase.

There are so many things I wish I could say to Past Natalie. Though resources such as Planned Parenthood suggest that there’s no right or wrong way to come out, I might tell her not to focus so much on external validation. It couldn’t give me what I wanted, in the end. Acceptance had to come from within.

I might give her more easily implementable advice, too: Follow queer creators online. Read queer books. Watch queer movies. Learn the hashtags to promote your future work. Use them. Not for likes or shares, and not to legitimize an identity, but to find a sense of community. So I didn’t feel so alone.

Because the truth of the matter is this: Publication couldn’t legitimize my queerness, because my bisexuality was real all along.

A woman with long hair holds herself and smiles with her eyes closed.


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