'I led a double existence'
Bisexuality for me has not, on the whole, been a rewarding and positive experience. The inner and outer conflicts and isolation have been painful and frustrating. However, I am sure that these would lessen if I could allow myself to take the plunge and be honest about coming out.
I am not one for labels. People are individuals and should not be categorised according to their sexual preferences, which are solely their own affairs. I would prefer to consider my own sexuality as undefined; operating on several levels and conflicting in nature, while evolving with my psychological development. My dividing line between what's masculine and what's feminine has never been clear – I am usually drawn to boyish women and sensitive 'pretty' men. Sometimes I am so confused that I am unsure whether I am attracted to just men, just women, both or neither.
Bisexuality conjures up this concept of 'having a great time' with both sexes either simultaneously, consecutively or alternatively with few exclusive committed, monogamous relationships. Part of me would like to act out these impulses, while part is jealous of people with these characteristics. Another part says that I can only handle one intimate sexual relationship at a time, whether it be with a man or a woman.
Nevertheless I am capable of being attracted to a number of people at once (now predominantly women). But there is a vast gulf between romantic thoughts and putting possibly inappropriate and embarrassing feelings of love into practice. So potential affairs have remained on a cerebral level.
I have been living in one relationship with a man, Cliff, for 14 years. I met him when I felt most heterosexual. We would never fully agree on the timing for having a child and now I am just 41, with regrets about having missed out on kids, as it would not be possible to conceive now.
Although there are incompatibilities, Cliff is the closest person to me. He represents huge emotional security, companionship and stability, and fulfils my desire to be loved continuously and unconditionally by one other – something I failed to experience in my background. He is my best friend and we may stay together for a long time. Sex has a low priority in the relationship, though we are definitely still physically affectionate and cuddly. I have chosen to make this lasting commitment to Cliff, yet have regularly been attracted to others. This may sound a contradiction, yet I don't think my needs can ever be met by just one person.
I have attempted to work through blocks and search for what was missing or unresolved in childhood. One form this took was to seek out 'mother figures'. By that I mean women whom I could fuse with, like a mother with her baby. From the age of six, there was always some girl in my class whom I idealised – I remember them all. But my greatest desire for an ideal girl found its outlet in my extraordinarily vivid imagination and memory, which has always run on the lines of a soap opera.
'She' emerged when I was ten. I created an enormous fantasy world for 'her' to function in. Bit by bit it grew and grew, 'she' being the nucleus with many other fictional female characters in some wax, relating to her. Some of them represented aspects of myself and my family. I led a double existence, fantasy and reality running parallel. To a lesser degree this still applies today. My parents' sexuality played an important role in that I was exposed to too much sexual information too young.
'She' was what I wanted to be like, own, share: the ultimate existence on a symbiotic, spiritual, sexual plane, a sort of unobtainable perfection, like a personal religion. She also acted as a vehicle through which to channel my unacceptable thoughts and feelings, such as anger, randy thoughts, smut and masturbation. But she had endearing faults too. She definitely was not the 'Mills and Boon' heroine – much more human than that. I worked on her character year in, year out. I shall probably carry her around in my head and heart indefinitely, like a continuous love affair engraved on my soul. Some of my real relationships have been impaired as a result, as my fantasy life is an unintegrated part of me.
My actual life in adolescence did not seem terribly significant. My fantasies overwhelmed me and the relevant parts involved drama: the intimate, intricate friendships of these fictional girls. I always had tremendous difficulty divulging any details of my inner life and what specifically excited me about it. I did not want to give it up and so lose that magic, with its obsessive, relentless repetition and meticulous detail. At the time I never made a connection between these lesbian sexual fantasies which involved imaginary women and the schoolgirl jokes about our 'le's be friends' spinsterish staff. This subject was a complete enigma and we treated it as some sort of joke or affliction in the 1950s and early 60s.
Adolescence – Women
As I progressed through my teens, my secret life intensified. Some of it overspilled into reality and my first genuine sensual encounter was with another girl of twelve at boarding school. By night we would burrow down our beds and caress and fondle each other's breasts. We were afraid of getting caught. She was physically more mature than I, with thick dark pubic hair, and I was envious- of her womanly body. I was disturbed and saddened that she used to separate' off these night-time encounters from her daytime contact, when she'd ignore me.
Again at twelve, I smiled across the crowded dining room on the first night of term at a new girl, exceptionally beautiful, who subsequently became the focus of my attention for the rest of my time at school. Yet she was never a close friend. She was almost as perfect physically as my own 'fantasy girl' and the facts and feelings about her got superimposed on to my 'ideal', and vice versa. But fantasy was always best. With hindsight, this school friend was the person I have ever come closest to viewing as a love object.
Boyfriends were just for show and practically meaningless, while my relationships with girls were not about genital sex and had more to do with a spiritual dependence. But at seventeen I started to fancy men — both in reality and fantasy. I felt more 'normal'. But I was aware that my interest in boys had developed rather late, and I was very selective. I was extremely shy and had had very little contact with boys before then.
After two and a half years, I became obsessed with the love for one man, Paul. For three years everything else went out of the window and I put up with the on and off affair with its peaks and troughs, pain and ecstasy. Throughout the following four years I had a number of rather unsatisfactory relationships with men. In retrospect they lacked something which indicated my latent lesbianism. Affairs with men were sexually exciting initially, but usually failed to last.
I was exclusively into men in my 20s, at least consciously, though I was convinced that the insecure, unobtainable relationships were more desirable than the stable, unchallenging ones, so I was often hurt, even after falling in love and settling with Cliff.
At 32 I had one affair with an older man – Cliff's and my boss – brief but euphoric. He was definitely unsuitable – 'macho', with a wife and teenage boys. I was just another of his several mistresses. With the close proximity and job complications, it nearly split Cliff and I up. But we had something much stronger. After this I became disillusioned with men and their typical disrespect for me as a professional woman.
My parents, sister and many friends all assume, quite incorrectly, that my long-lasting relationship reflects my sexual preference. Their resistance to fresh outlooks makes me very angry! Hiding the truth usually makes me feel aggressive and irritable, like a permanently coiled spring. Carefully guarding my tongue, I have had few to identify and empathise with, while having to tolerate all the usual, offensive, biased remarks.
My attraction towards men gradually diminished. I developed an aversion to penises, although I could be and still am attracted to the 'whole' man, especially those I know, trust and respect; particularly father figures.
I perceived sexual intercourse as unequal and threatening, with the man in the role of the aggressor. I had extremely ambivalent feelings about it all and became sexually switched off to men. The reverse was also true, as I no longer gave out the right signals and messages (however non-verbal) to men. Love-making though was still a turn on – in fantasy.
Six years ago my suppressed homosexual feelings started to manifest themselves for real: first in powerful lesbian fantasies (a repeat of the adolescent ones, but more explicit); later in reality as well. It seemed exciting territory – sensuous, beautiful, fair, and not at all threatening. In 1982 I fell in love with a younger woman at Art College. It was bound to happen – love at first sight, like an enormous burst of age-long suppressed sexual energy, releasing itself in one huge explosion.
She proceeded to play emotional games with me and suddenly one day she unexpectedly disappeared from my life forever. I thought she might. She couldn't cope with her own stirred-up, confused emotions. It was unfinished business and I still feel bitter, and haven't quite come to terms with 'what might have been'.
This was followed by my becoming infatuated with a succession of women from various groups I joined. I never let the women in question know, and feelings were not reciprocated, mostly because the people concerned were either straight or in regular relationships. I kept selecting rather attractive, tall, heterosexual women. Was I searching out someone to match my fantasy ideal? Was this a defence against unknown areas and men, or purely a reflection of my circumstances and the limited number of gay or bi-women in my social circle? Were my choices too unrealistic for my own good? When meeting a woman whom I fancied for the first time, I was always disappointed to learn that she was heterosexual. I have never taken the initiative sexually with another person, so making opportunities work in my favour is something which has totally passed me by. Much of the time, as a compromise, I have sublimated my lesbian side through minor sexual encounters with friends, physical contact, fantasy, art, women's groups and massage.
I felt rejuvenated when the tables were turned and my friend Lilly fell in love with me. It was what I needed, and although I was unable to reciprocate, I was enthralled by the stack of love letters and cards she persistently sent me. Gilly was the first woman who cared in that way and it was an incredibly good morale boost which gave me a buzz.
Learning to accept my growing desire for a strong, emotional, sexual bond and comfort from another woman has been an easy path, though predominantly an unfulfilled one.
Coming out as Bisexual
I have never had any problems acknowledging my bisexuality to myself – it has been potentially exciting and liberating. But the acceptance of my sexual orientation by some of my friends has been a different story – a painful and ambivalent one. Some have been embarrassed or disbelieving, and have refused to discuss it. Others have devalued it. They have presumably seen me in a stereotyped position which made them feel safe.
Some established female friends have perceived it as threatening, keeping a distance and sweeping the subject under the carpet. They fear that I might make an approach towards them. The trust has gone. This experience appears to be a common phenomenon for lesbians and bisexuals. I realise that many people have far more builtin prejudices than they care to admit. Now I gravitate towards people with similar feelings whenever possible.
The idea of coming out to my parents now seems absurd. It would be inappropriate and devastating for them. Perhaps at 17 or so it would have made more sense. I may be able to overcome that hurdle with my sister, if she doesn't suspect already. It has also been a struggle for Cliff to come to terms with my bisexuality, and understandably so. He has found it a terrible blow to his masculine pride, he gets depressed, avoids discussing it and is rather defensive about the whole issue.
I have had to be selective about whom I 'confess' to, anticipating and measuring the response. It is easier to 'come clean' with a new friend or a stranger where I can start from scratch and be accepted without preconceptions and involvement. Coming from the hetero side has meant I've come out to sympathetic gays. I have found myself frequently defending gay people in discussions, yet fear seeming foolish if it escalates into a big issue or if people react with indifference.
Because I am non-scene and look reasonably anonymous and femine I am typecast as heterosexual with all its trimmings. My lifestyle reinforces this. Only I can take the responsibility for breaking out, but it is hard to take new turnings at my age and leave familiarity behind. It is easier to keep the status quo.
I am not very political with a capital 'P' and do not wish to play an active part in a network. I find it difficult to equate fully with either gay, straight, or even feminism. I might lose my individuality in ditching my old identity, lifestyle, philosophy and opinions in favour of new ones, thereby perpetuating my confusion. There is a contradiction for me, as I want to be accepted for myself. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why so many bisexuals (especially the older or married ones) remain firmly in the closet. Like me, they are scared of the risks involved and can only take one step at a time.
Yet all bisexuals need to work cohesively together toward greater recognition, acceptance and integration in our society. I hope this vicious circle will be broken one day, although I think society takes decades to adjust to fundamental changes. Please may it be sooner rather than later.