'I surprised myself that I could love some men again'

Sarah, 20

It wasn't until I met Ken, the man I'm having a relationship with now, that I realised I was bisexual. But it's only been in the past year that I've really come to terms with my bisexuality.

I spent most of my teenage years in relationships with men or other boys of my age – exploring sex, jealousy, love, hate, abuse, boy, satisfaction. It was always a challenge for me to ask someone out instead of the other way round – and it always used to work. By the time I was 17 I'd had plenty of experience and decided it was time to settle down! My boyfriend Steve and I decided to get engaged on my 18th birthday. However, the nearer the time came, the more vivid were my memories of the good old times when I wasn't yet a teenager and myself and my girlfriend Gill would go upstairs to bed to play at doctors and nurses or would strip to each other. It was exciting, especially as my Mum would say 'don't get up to anything' as we went upstairs.

Then I got to hear about Steve having a relationship with another wumun and decided it was time to end our relationship before he did. So …. what would I say to him? Of course – tell him I think I'm a lesbian! He laughed, and so did I for a while, but having actually said it, the idea wouldn't go away. Could it be true? By the age of 17 I'd had so much sex with men, I felt really used.

So I stopped having relationships with men at all and became celibate. The idea of lesbianism began to fascinate me and eventually became a major issue in my life. Because I didn't enjoy the sex with men, by the time I was falling in love with wimmin I wanted very little to do with men. Men equalled 'abuse of my body' and I'd had enough. I could have quite easily become a separatist at that stage! However I never lost total contact with men and would go with them to gay clubs – I felt I was dependent on their transport, company or whatever. I didn't like it, though, and even asked straight wimmin friends to come along with me so I could dance with and be with wimmin.

How would I meet lots of lesbians? Someone suggested joining the army. So I started filling in papers and collating information on the subject. I had grown up in the Forces and to join the army was no big deal. Until one day I met a wumun and fell totally head over heels in love with her. She was a feminist and peace activist. I could understand the feminism, but not the peace. She sat me down and talked at length about the Peace Movement, the Falklands War and why she was an activist, In fact she wiped the floor with every argument I presented. So – there were lots of lesbians in the Peace Movement too! Well, I was still madly in love with her, so I decided it was time for another change. The army went out of the window. Here was Sarah the political feminist, and, did I dare say it …. lesbian!

The ball had started rolling – I went on demos, joined groups and tried desperately to meet lesbians of like mind. But it was so difficult actually telling a wumun if I was attracted to her. So I stuck to night clubs where there was a safer environment and a certain code of practice for meeting other lesbians. It was never totally satisfying, but it would do. At least I was having relationships with wimmin.

So, I had put myself in the lesbian world, taken on its culture and told myself that I wasn't allowed to like men. This was fine. Instead of feeling dirty and horrible as I did after sex with men, I felt cleansed and refreshed after sex with wimmin, and it felt more exciting. Wimmin seemed to be more patient, appreciative, and more understanding.

I don't really know how bisexuality came back into it. In my mind it had gone from 'I don't like men, I am a lesbian' to 'I am a lesbian, I can't like men' and I had to undo all that. When I eventually slept with a man again after a two year gap, I saw it as two people coming together, not a man and a wumun.

I met Ken at Burtonwood Peace Camp. There was a man there, Andy, who I found attractive and I could feel him and Ken playing each other off for my affections. Through my loving of wimmin I had become so much stronger though, so that I was now in charge and I used Andy instead of the other way round. It was a complete role reversal and the control felt really good. After a while though I didn't really want to know either Andy or Ken, and I put them temporarily rut to the dustpile in my mind.

Soon however, the warmth began to develop between Ken and I until eventually there was almost constant touch contact. I suppose, as he was gay, he was less of a threat, and also being gay was a bond between us, so we spent a lot of time together. The electricity was growing all the time until the day we first had sex. I didn't fancy him, there was just a lot of feeling there. He was just a person I wanted to share some emotion with. But after the first time, I didn't want to know. I didn't want to become another man's slave and sex with men still equalled slavery to me, as that had been the situation in the past. I was still miles away from any feelings of bisexuality.

Although Ken and I became quite close we didn't have sex again and didn't see each other over the summer. We met up again at a reunion party and it was only when Ken slept with another wumun that, the following night, I joined him in bed again, actually prepared to be sexual. Part of that was jealousy, part of it was loneliness and feeling depressed. I was really surprised how good it was and with our being so close anyway, our sexual relationship developed from there. I still didn't see myself as bisexual, though.

We were very undercover about our relationship because I felt quite anti-bisexual, and I didn't want to be seen as one. Two years before, I had been introduced to a bisexual wumun, who I really fancied and instead of feeling that here was a wumun I might become close to, I felt disgusted that I might be sharing her with a man, and she'd only be giving half her attention to me and still looking at men. In the end I just ignored her; my feelings went that deep.

Now of course, I don't feel this, because I've 'admitted' to myself that I'm bisexual. I only did this because I finally realised that wherever I am I do find both some men and some wimmin attractive. If took a long time to come to terms with that, but I did!

I still worried that other lesbians held anti-bisexual feelings like the ones I'd had. Maybe it is this fear of rejection that delayed my coming out to myself as bisexual. I don't know. I went along to a Bisexual Conference in December 1984, without really knowing why, maybe because friends were talking about it. It was being there, geeing all these other men and wimmin who loved both sexes, that made me realise that I WAS bisexual. So I came out to myself then.

Coming out to others has not been so easy. I'll tell straight people that I'm gay, then bisexual, because it still breaks down the stereotypes and goes against the norms, but I'm reluctant to tell gay people because of fear of rejection. With them I am still a closet bisexual, especially with lesbians. I find it easier to tell gay men, although their attitudes are often naive or bigoted. One gay man told me there was no such thing as bisexual! I may say that I've slept with Ken 'in the past' or that we 'experimented with sex' as we shared a flat, but I suppose I lie about our relationship, and about the other men I've slept with since meeting Ken. 'We are just good friends' is often the way out. I try to put the relationship down, make it out to be a surface thing quite a lot of the time.

With some people, fortunately, I can be honest. I can tell them how I was sure I was a lesbian, how I surprised myself that I could love some men again, and how deep my friendship with Ken really goes. I think the Bisexual Conferences have made me feel stronger and more positive. There are all these lovely people there, who are open to hugs from everyone and who can break down all the labels. I'm glad to be bisexual because I am able to have the best of both worlds and love everybody …. if I wanted to. I'm not just limited to one half of the population.

Although within myself I feel positively bisexual, I still feel that any relationship I had with a lesbian now would be jeopardised by my bisexuality. I have started avoiding lesbians who I know will be hostile and I seek other bisexual women or open-minded lesbians. I do find it a struggle not always being able to be totally open, because honesty and openness are very important to me. I know that deceit, lies and untruth don't belong in my life — not feeling able to be honest about my bisexuality triggers off earthquakes in my stomach.

I don't want to have to 'suffer the consequences' for what I am. Why should I?! But I also don't want to lose contact with the lesbian culture where I have flourished and grown so much. Sometimes I wonder who's rejecting who?

One of the things I have learned through my struggle to come out as bisexual is the problems so many people have with coming out as gay. When I came out to friends as a lesbian it happened very easily. I was sure of myself and had very little trouble with other people. Coming out again has been so, so different, much harder and has really helped me to understand the struggle and traumas of others.

Surely one day there'll be no struggle and no traumas …. and no labels ….

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