Ashwathi was a swipe right on an app. Ashwathi was a selfie of a badass with purple eyeshadow and lipstick, many rings and earrings, and a perfect scowl — balancing feminine and masculine energy that said, “Fuck you.” I wanted to be the chosen one to break through her cool-kid facade.
My impression of her profile was proven wrong when her warm smile welcomed me from across the empty Shakespeare & Co. The bookshop’s cafe was closed due to COVID, so we left the store to grab a coffee around the corner. The rain kept New Yorkers indoors, so the Upper East Side felt like a movie set as we chatted under our umbrellas — mine a rainbow wheel of colors and hers a simple black.
Her Bumble bio promised me a birth chart reading. New to the astrology world myself, I wanted to know what the stars had to say about us. She studied my face carefully as I munched on the lemon cake we were sharing.
“Those freckles just scream Cancer Rising.”
I had no idea what that meant, but I liked that she was looking at me.
Like every queer date, our conversation eventually pivoted to the tale of how we each came out. There’s a thrill to discussing sexuality with another bisexual person. It’s all the tingling sensations of disclosing your latest crush at a sleepover with all the understanding of a shared culture. No further explanation is needed.
“How recent?” she asked.
“I came out a year ago. At the beginning of the pandemic.”
Before COVID, there were two versions of myself. During the week, I was a straight girl who overcompensated with lipstick and pastel dresses. Friday night, I would strip off my business clothes and pull on a pair of leather shorts and enough glitter to last until Monday. This was the other side of me — the half that only came out (quite literally) at night. Until the early hours of Sunday morning, you could find me at the best LGTBQ+ nightlife in NYC. I was the living embodiment of bisexual invisibility, hiding my sexuality from sunlight like a gay vampire.
Then nightlife shut down, and my queer self went with it.
When I lost access to physical LGBTQ+ spaces, I turned to social media to stay grounded with this part of me. I followed accounts dedicated to lesbian fashion and gay memes. Anyone with a rainbow in their bio, I was following. Every day I scrolled and scrolled.
Before, I was happy to remain nameless to cute strangers on the dance floor, but isolation shifted my perspective. I ached to be fully seen and create authentic connections with people like me. Perhaps the internet gave me the illusion of safety — in the sense that I could be visible without being too vulnerable.
On my 24th birthday and 50th day in quarantine, I decided to come out as a gift to myself.
Across the country, my parents and younger sister huddled around FaceTime to watch me blow out birthday candles. Their expectant faces vanished as I hung up in a panic. “I can do this,” I told myself, rocking back and forth on the kitchen stool. The phone rang, and I watched it vibrate before picking it up with sweaty hands.
After some words of affirmation from my parents, I ended the call (barely conscious of their reaction). Then, I pulled up Instagram and selected a photo of me in overalls (shoutout to the lesbian fashion accounts) holding a pair of binoculars. “I spy a queer in quarantine,” I captioned it. Before I could change my mind, I hit the share button.
When I put the phone down, a gust of air released from my lungs. I did it. I shakily poured a glass of cheap red wine as notifications began to buzz in the background.
Unfortunately, I learned coming out wasn’t just something I could cross off a checklist. Quarantine gave me space to consider my bisexuality separately from external validation, but eventually, I’d have to face people IRL. Luckily, I could do this slowly, with COVID limiting the number of people you can see at one time. The pandemic created a buffer that gave me the opportunity to have intimate conversations.
I got vaccinated on the day before my 25th birthday — one year after coming out. To celebrate, a friend and I sat outside Cubbyhole, a lesbian bar in lower Manhattan, to drink Dyke beers. While I wasn’t new to this bar scene, something about being “out” made me fuss with my new bangs and overthink my shade of lipstick.
My attention turned to a table of women in their 50s. Some were dancing while the others teased them from the safety of their seats. In my head, they had been visiting this bar since they were my age — shifting from friends to lovers to everything in between.
We ordered another round, but I kept my eyes on the women as they recounted their Cubbyhole stories to anyone who would listen.
“Someone caught your eye?” my friend said, wiggling his eyebrows.
“I want that,” I said, pointing at the table.
Instead of elaborating further, I opened the bright yellow app on my phone. Before overthinking it, I updated my bio: “Looking for queer friends to flirt and support.”
My thumb swiped right on a selfie of a badass with purple eyeshadow and lipstick, many rings and earrings, and a perfect scowl.
Ashwathi’s gaze rested gently on mine while I told her my story. The rain had stopped, so we walked back to the shop to pick out a book for each other — the only rule being it had to have a queer storyline. We pulled romance novels from the shelves and read from a treatise on the history of gay bars.
Ashwathi passed me a copy of Girl, Woman, Other with its brightly colored cover — her brown eyes watching me over the lip of her face mask. There I was, exposed under the florescent light of this bookstore instead of hiding in a dimly lit bar. I took a moment to recognize how I was participating in my life as a whole person — with a coffee cup in hand rather than a vodka Sprite.
Lidia Yuknavitch, one of my favorite queer writers, once said, “You have to understand that sexuality is omnipresent in your body — your entire life.” Sexuality is more than the physical act of sex itself. It gives us community, love, acceptance, boldness, and a better sense of self-expression. While I've always been bisexual, my queerness continues to be a journey rather than a static identity. There will be days I don't feel "queer enough" and days of pure queer joy.
All I can do is fill my life with people who love me as I am. Someone who understands my queerness without explanation — whether she’s a cool kid or not.