Recently, a dear friend of mine has been going through the preliminary stages of some big life changes. Her marriage is changing, not necessarily dismantling, but it’s a difficult time. Her kids are facing some health and school challenges and she’s also going through a phase of rediscovery regarding her sexuality. It’s a lot so I’m trying to be as present and supportive as I can be, and it has led us to some interesting conversations, particularly around attraction, desire, and relationships.
We’ve been friends for a very long time, nearly 30 years, so we tend not to hold back when we are discussing even the most intimate situations and ideas. We’ve also had points in our relationship where we were more romantically and physically entangled then we are now, and we both consider the other one a life partner. We essentially have no secrets, and no shame, when it comes to each other. This means that I have a ton of insight into her journey and we discuss her orientation quite a lot. We have both always identified as bisexuals, but there have been periods where she has felt more like a lesbian in a bisexual situation and a lot more non-monogamous than her current lifestyle would indicate. I feel for her when it comes to the hard parts of her situation, and my heart soars for her at the prospect of her really following her truth and possibly having a very different life. But more than anything, our conversations have reminded me of how fluid sexuality really is, and how so many of us are evolving and changing, in big and small ways across our entire lifetime. And that can be a really good thing!
It can also be a really hard thing. I consider myself quite lucky that my gender and my sexuality have always been clear to me and neither one has ever felt wrong or uncomfortable. I’ve definitely felt uncomfortable in some queer spaces because bi erasure is very real, but as for my own sexual self, I’ve never had any questions. I see my friend processing all of these thoughts and feelings and I know that a lot of what she’s thinking and feeling is not brand new to her. I also see her recognizing that it could be her new normal. This of course has me asking existential questions like, at what point does what we identify as become our identity? Is it simply a matter of saying I am a (fill in the blank)? Or is it when others recognize and validate the change? Is identity entirely fueled from within, or can external factors define our identities for us?
When I look at myself as an example, my gender was assigned, and I have never disagreed, so that part of my identity was externally supplied and internally validated. When I ask the same questions of my sexuality: I was never told I should be straight but I had with straight privilege, and I didn’t have much external validation for my inner bisexual identity. I knew it was there, I was comfortable with it, it just didn’t feel like the world was ready for it, so it’s an area of my identity that I’ve played down for most of my life. But given some external validation re: bisexuality, my confidence and my attitude toward it changes and improves. It has always come in and out of focus at different points of my life, in a very organic, fluid way – so much so that I’ve come to see my sexuality a bit like a tide, ebbing and flowing rising, and retreating.
Sexuality and identity are so varied that it’s hard to imagine a universal experience for either one. The more people I talk to about sex and sexuality, however, the more I understand how common these gentle peaks and valleys are. Some people have a very firm and singular idea of their sexual identities, and they don’t experience a lot of change and evolution. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, but now that I feel more aware of it I’m also pleased to be among the more varied examples. I’ve always known I was bi and I’ve always known I was non-monogamous, but there’s a ton of ways in which I have identified, or still identify, with my own sexuality beyond those orientations. I used to not feel ‘queer enough’ due to internalised bi erasure. Now that I accept that how I live out my sexuality and how that feels, may not always remain the same, there’s no more “ideal” version to aspire to. Recognizing this in myself has been helpful as I support my friend as she navigates through this phase of her life.
I’ve come to feel very positive about the idea of the evolving sexual self. Where once I felt like maybe I was “doing sexuality wrong”, or feeling worried about how my perceptions of sex had changed, I now see it as one of the most valuable parts of sexual self-knowledge. There’s something comforting to me about knowing that none of it has to be static. There’s no right and wrong, we simply follow our interests and ask ourselves questions, and if we’re lucky, we enjoy ourselves along the way.