I’ve long known that I was bisexual, way before I ever had the word for it; inklings stirred by playground crushes on girls and funny butterfly feelings I had learned I should only have for boys. At the same time, without ever truly knowing what it meant, it felt like something I should be ashamed of.
It’s no wonder why. Looking outwards for validation, I fell painfully short. Starting my small, rural high school in the mid-2010s, ‘gay’ was a common classroom slur and all social dynamics were strictly heterosexual. Teen media of the day offered little remedy. Rather, in the small morsels of queer representation I feasted on, I struggled to find anyone that was like me: interested in boys and girls, and completely overwhelmed by it all. Instead, bisexual characters were few and far between, and when they did survive the cut, they played up to damaging stereotypes. From the media I learned that, at best, bisexual women like me are simply confused and ‘going through a phrase’; at worst, we are greedy, hypersexual, and to be fetishised by male characters.
At the very worst though, our identities are erased completely. Take Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Willow, a character I identified with so strongly but who was never allowed to openly identify as bisexual, a fact that the show’s creator Joss Whedon commented on in 2002: “We can’t have Willow say, “Oh, cured now, I can go back to c*ck!” Willow is not going to be straddling that particular fence. She will just be gay.”
Naturally then, I turned to shadowy, digital spaces to explore my feelings. Deleted Internet searches for queer advice pages and artistic black and white Tumblr gifs of girls kissing spoke my truth. Careful not to leave a trail, I adopted anonymous account names and hid behind profile pictures of my favourite pop stars. Anything to stop what I was doing – or feeling – from linking back ‘real world’ me.
“I had only downloaded TikTok to escape the news and to stop myself doomscrolling on Twitter, but then something surprising happened.”
It was under this secrecy that I went to university and had my first sexual experiences with men. Carefully positioning myself as outwardly straight, the few men I did trust to come out to nearly always made me regret it. More times than not I was asked about threesomes and how many girls I had been with, and one memorable Tinder match told me about his girl-on-girl fantasies before he had even asked what subject I was studying.
I wanted to date girls, but I had trapped myself in a Catch-22. Internalising other people’s comments and everything I had been told about my bisexuality from the media – that I wasn’t really queer enough, that I was just ‘confused’ or experimenting for the sexual approval of men – scared me out of even considering it. Putting myself in that position, I thought, would expose me as the fraud I really was; ‘real’ queers would see right through me in an instant. In a destructive self-fulfilling prophecy kind of way, I actively shied away from the very thing that I wanted to do the most.
Flash forward to 2020. Initially, I had only downloaded TikTok to escape the news and to stop myself doomscrolling on Twitter, but then something surprising happened: the algorithm seemed to know myself better than I did. Instead of videos of rescue pets and aesthetic cottagecore picnics, I quickly found myself choking up over teens coming out to their parents to Katy Perry’s I Kissed A Girl and liking videos riffing off queer stereotypes. It didn’t take long for my feed to speak to the parts of myself that I had tried to hide for so long.
“I can’t help but think that, if I had something like TikTok when I was younger, it wouldn’t have taken me so long to finally accept who I am.”
Now I’m not saying that TikTok alone helped me come out – that has been a long journey, one aided by age, experience and the world growing a little kinder to queer people over the last decade. But it did force me to reconsider much of my own internalised learnings about my bisexuality. Here were teens who, though younger, appeared to be far more confident about owning and claiming their identities. Finally, I had found a space where I didn’t need to police my own feelings or quantify my bisexuality, no matter who I have or haven’t dated. From TikToks about unabashedly fantasising over both genders to teens with the bisexual flag proudly plastered across their bedroom walls, these videos confirmed for me that my bisexuality isn’t a phase, or something done for others pleasure. It is just who I am and that’s okay.
Since joining TikTok, I’ve changed my dating app preferences from just ‘men’ to ‘everybody’, which may not seem like a lot but felt like a major step. I’ve started dating women and I’ve openly talked about my sexuality with friends and family for the first time. Slowly and steadily, I’m starting to pick apart my own internalised biphobia.
Truly, I can’t help but think that, if I had something like TikTok when I was younger, it wouldn’t have taken me so long to finally accept who I am. Queer TikTok is a powerful space for representation, celebration and empowerment and a platform for young queers to tell their story themselves, rather than letting archaic stereotypes rule. I’m happy to know that it might play a small part in some other teenager’s coming out, but wish that it didn’t take a social media app to help me stop denying myself.
Esther Newman is a freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter at @estherbnewman
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