Where is the line between being comfortable, but bored, and stuck, and not growing; and growing as a person, but being uncomfortable, anxious, and unsure of yourself?
At the beginning of this year, I wanted a year of less anxiety. 2018 involved a house move, and a couple of months separated from my partner, and feeling unhappy in my own body, and more travel than I’m used to, with its accompanying worries. 2019 I wanted to be settled, and quiet, and relaxed.
I am not good at directing my own life. Or at least, I don’t feel like I am. Travel this year was mostly within the UK, mostly with family. The first of these holidays, in April, was so stressful that it pushed me to start attending a support group for people with families like mine. This was something I’d considered doing for many years, but had never had the strength. It has started a chain reaction of personal growth, and pain, that I could not have foreseen.
Talking to other people with experiences like mine allowed me to feel free and heard and to focus on myself in a way I’d never done before. My formative teenage years were spent more worried about the effects of my behaviour and self on other people than they were in working out who I was and what I wanted. I was visited by feelings of exhaustion and depression from a very young age, writing poems about suicide, which deeply disconcerted my friends. While I had no intention of acting on these thoughts of destruction, I was already fascinated by this idea that we go through life, and suffer so much, only to die at the end of it anyway. Why do we bother?
I know now that these feelings aren’t as unusual as society likes to think they are, especially when you’ve grown up in an environment with people who seem to be struggling so much to enjoy the day-to-day. As I listened to everyone in my support group, I started fully forgiving myself for not being a saviour child, for not being perfect, and started exploring who I actually was without those impossible expectations.
What I realised quite quickly, now that I really bothered to look, was that I had long repressed feelings of attraction towards women. This revelation to myself, and then to others, of my bisexuality, has brought about exactly the feelings of discomfort, exhaustion, and anxiety that I was hoping to avoid this year. In trying to have a year of standing still, I’ve had a year of more mental and emotional movement than I’ve ever had before. At various points I’ve wished I hadn’t figured it out. Negotiating changes to your sexuality when you’re in a long-term monogamous relationship is not easy, not easy at all. I know I am not alone in this. I have been remarkably lucky that I have a partner who has been as understanding as it is possible for a person to be, who even after these revelations, still proposed about six weeks later. Although we’d talked about getting engaged, for me, the timing was difficult.
If you imagine that you’ve discovered that you’re not who you thought you were, and your way of interacting with the world has just fundamentally changed – people who you thought couldn’t be romantic or sexual interests suddenly can be, and the thoughts you had about them have a new shape, and you’re not sure how to articulate that, or even if you would want to articulate that, even in fun. The world sees you not as one of the normal people but as one of the slightly odd ones, and you don’t know what to do with that either. Suddenly you are not an ally but part of the rainbow spectrum, and you have your own flag, and you have to figure out your own coming out story and what it looks like and worry about what people will say when they hear it.
Imagine all that, and then shortly afterwards, you’re also given a badge which marks you as one of the straightest of the straight, a perfect figure in white making a life-long commitment to one person, an ideal couple, fulfilling the wishes that, of course, every girl has had since she was five. The ultimate validation from a man, that you are worthy and normal and embarking on that next life stage. Everyone has an opinion on what you should be doing, and wearing, and they’re so excited to know when you’ll be becoming one of these proper grown-ups, these proper people, a princess rescued by the knight on a white horse.
Within a fortnight of getting engaged, the anxiety of being pushed into a perfect straight box when I wasn’t a perfect straight person was making me very uncomfortable, again. Of course, I know that many marriages don’t fit the mould that we see in every film and TV show since childhood – but it’s difficult to imagine being what you can’t see, a bisexual person retaining their queerness in a straight-looking relationship. Especially as people are always happy to erase people’s sexuality in these situations – bi but in a relationship with the opposite gender? You’re straight. Bi but in a relationship with someone of the same gender? You’re gay. It’s so rare to hear people talk about being bisexual – it’s one of the reasons why I didn’t realise it was what I was for so many years. If I liked women, I must be gay, but I liked men, so I must be straight.
As I was negotiating healing from my childhood, figuring out what I wanted, how being bisexual affects my relationship, and what being engaged means for us, I also got braces fitted on my teeth. May as well do this second puberty properly, right? What could make all this self-discovery even more complicated, if not getting a load of crap stuck to my teeth and heightening my self-consciousness to stratospheric levels?
Obviously getting braces isn’t that important, if only because it’s for a finite period, whereas everything else that’s come up in the last eight months will be the work of years, if not decades. But it still affects the way I see myself, and that’s difficult to navigate too.
Where will I end this year? Am I happier, or less happy? What effect does so much discomfort and personal change have? I’m waiting, again, as I was at the end of last year, for a time of stillness and quiet. I feel, as I have done for some time, that I need a period of a week or a month or a year sitting in solitude, working out what the hell is going on and where my life is going.
At the same time, I know I’m in a better place than I have been in my whole life. I have less jealousy, more perspective, more courage, more self-awareness. While coming out is incredibly difficult and painful – and it’s nowhere near over yet, as I haven’t told most of my family – realising more fully who I am and acknowledging that must be a positive step. Mustn’t it?
I’m reminded of a song by Christine and the Queens (a side note: I saw a poster of her last year, testing the boundaries between male and female, and was so attracted I was faintly disturbed – especially as I didn’t know I was a bit gay yet), called ‘Doesn’t matter’. I have a t-shirt with it on now, with ‘It doesn’t matter’ on the front, and the next line, ‘does it’ on the back. It doesn’t matter – does it? I’m bisexual, and it doesn’t matter – does it? I’m engaged, and it doesn’t matter – does it? I have braces, and it doesn’t matter – does it?
It does, and it doesn’t. I’m uncomfortable, but maybe I’ll be more comfortable soon. Or maybe discomfort is where we’re supposed to be anyway.