What I Wasn’t Expecting When I Came Out As Bisexual

Photo by Farhan Monir Hussain/EyeEm
If I’m being honest with myself, I realised that I was queer when I was very young. Or I realised that I like girls when I was very young. The first utterance of “I’m bisexual” came at 17, drunk on cider in a dodgy pub in rural Hertfordshire, but it was a watershed moment nonetheless. 
Seventeen is supposed to be the time for a person’s archetypal coming-of-age moments. Judaism celebrates the coming of age through a bar or bat mitzvah, South American culture through the quinceañera and Catholicism through the confirmation. For a non-religious person like me, however, these moments included first dates, first kisses and first sexual encounters.
Significant though it is, the coming-of-age trope is heavily romanticised. One simple definition labels it “the age or occasion when one formally becomes an adult” but when I was a teenager, it felt much more significant. I grew up during the heyday of Tumblr: GIFs of Emma Watson in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, riding in the back of a pick-up truck with her arms to the sky, dominated my timeline. I spent years chasing that teenage euphoria, wishing I could come into my own as everyone else was doing, but my closeted self held back. 
Before coming out, my inner teenage dialogue told me that I would be ridiculed. The result? I hid my love of pop culture deemed to be 'queer' and experienced a second coming of age after I came out. As a closeted teen, I hid my love of Lady Gaga and Charli XCX, speaking instead of my love of alternative rock bands so as to seem 'quirky' in a cool way, rather than 'quirky' in a gay way. I created a Tumblr account to write queer Harry Potter fan fiction under a pseudonym and silently joined other Sherlock stans to hypothesise about the show’s outward themes of queerness and asexuality. The thought of someone from school finding out that I wasn’t fangirling over One Direction like everyone else terrified me, and I hid every genuine interest I had. 
Being bisexual, I fall in love with any gender but my closeted self wasn’t able to experience the truly authentic coming of age I felt entitled to, despite my innate attraction to boys. The dates I went on felt empty, as though I wasn’t being honest with myself, let alone with anyone else. I fantasised about girls for most of my teenage years but, living in a rural area, I couldn’t explore queer spaces because there were no queer spaces. This was before the days of Tinder, too. 
I didn’t come out to my mum until I was 20 and this relatively late happening was fundamental in my second coming-of-age experience. I returned to Tumblr and for the first time I felt like I was part of a community, although I couldn’t help but notice I was one of the eldest. My fanfic peers were closer to 15 than 20 and I found myself wondering whether I should be engaging in more highbrow queer pop culture.
It’s not just me that has experienced a second coming of age: other LGBTQ+ adults are enjoying the queer interests they neglected to enjoy as closeted teenagers. Aditya, 23, is a queer activist from India. Coming out at 13, he too felt that he had to hide his pop culture interests deemed to be ‘queer’. “Growing up, I was obsessed with Lady Gaga and Kesha. I was bullied for it, so I had to hide my interest to minimise humiliation and [through] the fear of being labelled ‘gay’,” he tells me.
Aditya adds that this impacted his dating life, too. “Dating has never been a concept in India and Section 377, a colonial-era law that outlawed gay sex, was only abolished in 2018,” he explains. 

I didn't come out to my mum until I was 20. I returned to Tumblr and for the first time I felt like I was part of a community, although I couldn't help but notice I was one of the eldest.

For Aditya, the watershed moment came when he moved to New York City, funnily enough also at the age of 17. “I could be my authentic self but I also got a sense of a much larger, global community.” Now, he can embrace the elements of queer culture he desperately wanted to declare his love for as a teenager. “The first queer show that I was obsessed with was RuPaul’s Drag Race. It gave me a sense of belonging but nobody knew I watched it at the time. Now, I’ve found groups where we can discuss our favourite queens, and drag culture is slowly catapulting in India.” 
Dawood, 22, is a marine biologist and journalist. They were similarly rendered completely unaware of LGBTQ+ existence while growing up in a conservative Muslim family. So, they tell me, when they initially came out they weren’t properly able to explore their identity. “Being Muslim, we were raised with the idea that we would get married and that was it.” Coming out at 18, Dawood says: “I began to understand what it meant to be happy in my body, and I rediscovered music, clothing and fashion.” 
Critically, Dawood believes that society gatekeeps what LGBTQ+ adults are allowed to enioy. “We are told what to watch based on our age but I think that younger generations are breaking down those boundaries by creating cartoons that both children and adults can watch, such as Adventure Time. Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts also introduces queer characters and holds the attention of all ages.” 
Though Gen Z are, on average, coming out earlier than their millennial counterparts, the general trend is that people who are bisexual aren’t coming out until they’re 20. As a result, LGBTQ+ people who are no longer teenagers are enjoying queer TV shows intended for this demographic, either because they have no other options for queer viewing or feel that they never experienced an authentic coming of age the first time around. 
LGBTQ+ cultural tastes are closely policed and when TV shows, in particular, enjoy a cult teen following, LGBTQ+ adults are instructed not to touch these inferior forms of cultural expression. Freshly out of the closet, I wasn’t interested in engaging in queer pop culture that was too highbrow or too serious, choosing Skam and Atypical over more 'serious' shows like Pose. The latter's hard-hitting (albeit important) themes of HIV, transphobia and youth homelessness were too much for my newly out self to bear, and I felt almost uncultured as a result. I worried this made me a 'bad' queer person because I wasn't watching what others would expect me to be watching. 
This gatekeeping happens just as much with music, with a clear divide between queer women in particular who like 'serious', boundary-pushing music and those who don’t. The divide between Kate Bush gays and Kim Petras gays is especially stark, with Bush’s experimental sonic style implicitly labelled more highbrow than Petras singing about Malibu. 

I was afraid that if I admitted my love of queer pop icons, I would be deemed a 'bad' teenage girl because it wasn't 'cool' and a 'bad' queer because I was denying my true self.

Similarly, my closeted teenage self felt ashamed of admitting that she liked Lady Gaga because society likes to dictate to teenage girls what is acceptable to enjoy and what isn’t. I was afraid that if I admitted my love of queer pop icons, I would be deemed a 'bad' teenage girl because Gaga wasn’t 'cool' and a 'bad' queer because I was denying my true self. Even when LGBTQ+ people come out, sometimes we can’t win.
As Dawood highlights, the boundaries between child and adult viewing are slowly dissipating, rendering gatekeeping of LGBTQ+ culture less likely for those experiencing a second, queer coming of age. When I came out, it felt like I was playing catch-up but this wasn’t necessarily negative. For years I hadn’t felt myself, and I finally understood why. I found clarity and hit the restart button. It was beautiful. Not only did I no longer have to hide but I was uncovering a whole new world of LGBTQ+ culture that I either never knew existed or had pretended not to know existed. I found my community. That second coming of age might just have been the making of me.

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