I came out as bisexual at eighteen, and I’ve never really found my place in the LGBTQ+ community. When I first told my friends and family, I experienced nothing but love, and I was so lucky to be so overwhelmingly supported. My mum made an effort to understand a bit more about queer issues and my friends actively made their language more inclusive of LGBTQ+ people, but I couldn’t help but feel lonely.
Growing up in a rural area, there were no queer spaces around me. I knew of a few people at school who had come out, but I felt awkward approaching them, refusing a friendship by queer default. Dating options were non-existent unless I wanted to date men and, freshly out, I found myself stuck. I either had little opportunity to date women, even on dating apps, or was forced to run the risk of dating a man who might not understand my bisexuality. I stayed happily single.
Moving to university, I thought that I would instantly find my queer family in a large city. Leeds had a vibrant LGBTQ+ scene, and to my joy, a flatmate in my halls was gay, which I discovered after I drunkenly came out to him during the first week. I wasn’t sure how the rest of our flatmates would take it, but since we had an instant bond, I felt that I would be supported by him regardless. “Oh my god, I’m gay too! I’ve only told my sister and her boyfriend, so you’re technically the third person that knows,” he excitedly told me.
Needless to say, we’ve been best friends ever since, but neither of us has particularly found an extended LGBTQ+ family. We did eventually come out to our straight flatmates, together, holding hands, and again, were supported, but we continued to frequent the same “straight” clubs. For three years, we had each other, but we never even went to the city’s main LGBTQ+ bar. We didn’t want to disrupt the dynamic or force our friends into a space they might not be interested in, so we remained in painfully straight circles for the entirety of our university experience.
This separation from the community wasn’t helped by the fact that I struggled to understand my sexuality for a long time. I was confused, and navigating the dynamics of my sexuality was difficult, to say the least. I initially came out as bi, but exclusively dating women for almost three years made me wonder whether I was a lesbian. This might be attributed more towards internalised biphobia than anything else: I knew that I was attracted to men, but if I wasn’t dating them, I couldn’t still be bi, right?
In fact, the LGBTQ+ community certainly has an issue with biphobia, which didn’t help matters. I internalised perceptions that bisexual people were less “queer” because they didn’t gravitate towards one gender, and I exacerbated my own loneliness. One Stonewall survey revealed that 42% of bisexuals have never attended a queer space: bisexuals are also less likely to come out to their friends and family than their gay and lesbian counterparts. Whilst 74% of gay and lesbian people are out to their friends and 63% to their family, the figures for bisexual people are only 36% and 20%.
I’m not alone in my feelings. Tor came out in secondary school, first as bisexual, and then as gay: “I never really felt supported or that I had a network of people to talk to. In my later teens, people looked to me to be the support for people who were coming out.” He continues: “Since I got into gaming, it’s been a lot easier. I’m a member of several LGBTQ+ gaming groups, primarily online, and I do feel a lot more supported. I feel less lonely than when I was a teen.”
Kate also feels displaced from the LGBTQ+ community, having struggled to find her crowd as much as I. “I’ve never had a queer group to fall back on since I came out. Coming out wasn’t the most pleasant experience for me and it was very lonely without queer friends to talk to about it.” Kate continues: “I’ve definitely had some good friends that are queer but sadly I’ve never found a queer group that I slotted into. Ultimately, I don’t want to force friendships where there are none under the label of community, but I definitely wish I found one growing up.”
With a handful of good queer friends myself, I’m much the same as Kate, but have never found that these disparate groups have clicked together. I’ve always wanted to be more involved with the LGBTQ+ community, but I’ve often wondered how I could realise that. As an LGBTQ+ journalist, I write prolifically on queer issues and I attend Pride in London every year, so I’m very much involved, and yet, I still feel disconnected, longing for something I never had.
At twenty-three, I still sometimes feel displaced for that lack of secure LGBTQ+ family to go to G-A-Y with, but my relationship with and understanding of community has undoubtedly changed. Sometimes, I find myself green with envy watching people online attend drag shows in their various queer groups, wondering whether I should just gather the courage to go alone and hope that someone will sit with me. Maybe that’s how the community element begins: at one point, all queer people were alone in a bar, hoping to find a family.
All this aside, being placed with my queer flatmate in first year felt like fate, and we carry that bond forward with us, almost five years later. I’ve found that it’s possible to find community in just one other queer person. Sometimes, that’s enough, too.
Read Lois Shearing on bisexual erasure at Pride.