When I was around 14 I remember getting upset and saying to my Mum 'I think I might be gay'. I panicked because I didn't know what this might mean for my future and I didn't know if it was even OK to feel that way. Fourteen is a painful age to believe you might be different from those around you, when all you care about is fitting in! Mum asked me if I was attracted to boys and I said '...yes' and that was the end of the conversation. So I wasn't a lesbian.
Decision made. I thought that perhaps I was just confusing admiration with attraction. That was the 'party line' for the next five years until I was at university and I realised the capacity in me to love men and women; so my bisexuality became a formalised part of my identity.
I consider myself to be very lucky as I've had a smooth and relatively painless coming out experience. I've got supportive friends and family, which I know isn't the case for many people in my position. Not to mention, I work at Stonewall, which is an LGBT rights charity, so it's a very inclusive place to be! However, there have been times when I've felt insecure about my sexual orientation. I remember some kids in school being extremely biphobic and saying all sorts of nasty things about the bi girls (because it was unheard of for boys to bi). There was an underlying belief that being bisexual just wasn't real or legitimate. I've had ex-partners telling me that men wouldn't trust me in a relationship, so it's best if I just don't tell them I'm bi in case they think I'll cheat on them with women. I'm also constantly coming into contact with the belief that being bi is a phase, so it's not genuine or something to take seriously.
In my opinion, the hostility that bi people experience from both straight and gay communities stems from ignorance, which is why visible role models are so vital. If there were more high profile bisexual people when I was at school, perhaps my peers wouldn't have been so vicious and mistrustful. If I'd known a bisexual adult when I was 14, maybe I wouldn't have been so panicked and maybe I wouldn't have felt insecure later on in life. Having people in your life that you can relate to - whether you know them personally or not - is a great way to make you feel empowered and more comfortable about your identity.
I think there's a misconception that being a role model means that you need to be perfect, fulfil certain criteria and behave in a certain way. We are all role models whether we like it or not. The choice we have is whether we want to be a positive influence on the people around us or not. As one MY role models, Gandalf the Grey, once said to a tearful Frodo Baggins, "All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us." (I'm also a nerd, something else that I had to come to terms with, but thankfully there are tons of nerdy role models for me!)
Something that helped me feel comfortable in my own skin is the realisation that you can't be bi and 'do it wrong'! When I met some other bisexual people and we talked about our identities, it was clear that we all live our lives differently. Although we had this key characteristic in common, it was more obvious how different we all were from one another. After that experience, I stopped worrying that I needed to feel equal attraction to different genders in order to 'qualify' as bisexual. What's important is that 'bisexual' accurately describes a part of me and no one else can tell me I'm wrong. There are many things I'm confused about and need help understanding, but my sexual orientation isn't actually one of them!
Of course, I say this as a white, privileged, able-bodied person whose first language is English and I firmly believe that, while I hope to be a positive role model, I'm certainly not the authority on bisexuality! I shouldn't be speaking for bisexual people who are trans or second-generation immigrants or Muslim. I think that the most helpful thing that I or anyone else can do is amplify the voices of others around me. This isn't just vital for the bisexual community, but for all of them. Everyone has a unique story and the more we can learn from the beautiful diversity of the human race, the better off we are as people.