“Cowardice was undoubtedly one of the most terrible vices – thus spoke Yeshua Ha-Nozri. ‘No, philosopher, I disagree with you: it is the most terrible vice!’”Mikhail Bulgakov
On the 23rd of September, we celebrate Bi Visibility Day in order to help raise awareness for bisexual people who are marginalized and to fight against the stereotypes that are attached to bisexuality. In this article I will express my conflicting feelings about how being bisexual has affected my life. Hopefully, this will help people who are going through the same struggles and will help me overcome my fear and become more comfortable with expressing myself.
Ever since I was 16, I knew I wanted to move away from home. It stemmed both from a need to become more independent and responsible for myself which I had since childhood, but also because of the harsh reaction I received from my family when they found out I am bisexual. In 2018, my dream came true as I moved away from home to the ecstatically progressive city of Amsterdam. This change was a chance for me to explore my sexuality freely and to break free from past criticism, but I did not take it. I, instead, let my past experiences swarm around my mind, unaddressed, and stir me in the direction they pleased. I let them mix with my insecurities and with the need of validation from others, and, without noticing, I started repressing my attraction for girls.
Is it possible that I have conditioned myself to be straight because of the possible consequences of being bisexual? Before starting to answer this question, we must first look at my background and how the way I grew up affected my perception of myself regarding my sexuality.
2. What is it like being bisexual in Romania?
Let’s go back in time. It’s the early 2000s, and homosexuality, bisexuality, transgenderism or anything that strays from the norm is not acknowledged as valid or, for some, even existent. It’s something you never mention to children and there is no space for these concepts to be spoken about if they are not associated with genocide or made fun of. I’m around the age of 5 and there is a news article on TV that shows the 2005 Gay Parade in Bucharest. My mother is making dinner and my father exits the room saying something under his breath that I cannot hear, but I can feel the tension building up around me. I now learn that that was one of the first Pride parades to be officially organized in Bucharest. The public’s reaction to it is an anti-gay pride parade, which sadly lives to this day as a tradition following the yearly Pride festival.
I have these recurring memories when I think of this subject. For example, having an internal dialogue while staring out of the window as a child, pensive, and analyzing how relationships work and who I would like to marry when I grow up. Suddenly, the question posed itself: “Could I be with a girl?” Resolved as easily as it appeared, the answer was “Yes, I don’t see why not.” I see this memory as the perfect argument against those who consider that children would be confused or disturbed by an open conversation about homosexuality or issues as such. Children do not complicate things like adults do.
Almost a decade later, I fell in love with a girl and tried the best I could to hide the relationship from my parents. Unfortunately, I was unsuccessful in hiding a letter which fell into my mother’s hands and exposed me. This ended up in a hurtful first reaction in which she expressed her disgust towards me and started doing everything in her power to stop the relationship and kill my feelings. Looking back, I am surprised to find that I denied being affected by the reaction, as I was more focused, or rather obsessed with, keeping my relationship alive and preparing myself to move out. I repressed most of the pain caused by my parents not accepting me for who I am because I kept telling myself that it does not matter and that as a teenager I was not so close to them anyway. However, now I realize the importance of being close to my family and the fact that I do not want to be separated from them, so I find it hard to reconcile the anger with the need to be close to them. It’s causing me to put a lot of pressure on myself in order to validate myself to them and this is reflected in the fact that right now, girls feel “off-limit” for me.
3. What now?
Bisexual people still face stigma both from straight people and the LGBT community. One of the main unsolicited pieces of advice we get is to just pick a side and stick with it.
But what happens when you choose to do so? What happens when you give up fighting and succumb to the stigma?
I made a joke about my repressed lesbianism with one of my groupmates a week back, and her reaction surprised me. She made it clear to me that the underlying pattern of thought I was talking about was quite problematic. So I started asking myself: So what if I stick to one gender? I can find the right person within a man or have meaningless sex with a man, it doesn’t have to be sad. But then, is the only purpose of love to get what you want from someone? Have I also started to numb myself out because of my bad experience? Am I just accepting and adopting an overly-simplified and categorical view of the world which does not resonate with my own? How relevant are these labels anyway? If the consequence of being with women is catastrophic in my eyes, what about the consequence of disowning that part of myself?
Well, it resulted in a lot of anger and disdain.
Since the break-up, I have been exclusively dating guys and again and again I encountered the question of “So, what do you like more in bed, men or women?” While I understand that they were just curious, I feel misunderstood whenever I hear this because I do not prefer penises over vaginas or vice versa, I just care about what the other person makes me feel. A part of me also started to hate the fact that potentially, there is a part of them that would be afraid of my bisexuality and that there would be less trust between us. This is caused by the fact that I am aware that in the eyes of many people, bisexuals are oversexualized, or just seen as half-closeted lesbians. Which is why for a long period of my life I went with the euphemism of “I like people in general, I can fall in love with both men and women.” But that rules out sexuality completely, doesn’t it? So in a way I would be hiding my sexuality and the fact that I can also have purely sexual thoughts in order to prove that the stereotype does not apply to me.
As a result of my past experiences, I also have a lot of pent up anger towards my parents. Having to walk on eggshells in every conversation with my mother about the past creates a lot of anxiety in my life. I have to add that my relationship with my mother is great right now, everything is open for discussion… but the girls thing. I can express my sexual thoughts, but only about men. And again, why should I care so much? Why can’t I just stop worrying about it and accept that I cannot tell her? Or just tell her and accept the consequences? Because I know that it would hurt her and it would cause havoc in my family. And that does not seem worth it right now because I am not in love with a woman and I don’t feel the need to discuss my attraction for girls with my mother. But why do I still feel like this is hindering me from being fully myself?
I choose to open up to my LGBT friends and talk about my sexuality freely, considering it a safe space, but I do not feel part of the group because I am painfully aware of the fact that outside of this safe space I let internalized homophobia win. I thus end up in an Impostor Syndrome situation where I do not feel comfortable in the straight world, but I also feel excluded from the LGBT community.
4. What does the future look like?
Our generation is fighting to heal the wounds of years of discrimination during communism and the silence and marginalization that followed it. This means that, if you are planning to visit Romania as a queer person, there are many LGBT friendly places ready to welcome you, along with associations that are fighting discrimination, such as ACCEPT Romania and many gay clubs.
While a part of the new generation is actively fighting for equality, there are major threats in sight. The government is fueling hate to mask corruption. The negative effect of the church’s discrimination could be clearly seen following the 2018 referendum that was aimed at limiting the definition of the “traditional family” to clearly state man and woman. Priests were going through villages to inform people of the incoming homosexual plague, urging them to vote for the passing of the law. One of my closeted friends living in a village in Romania said he had to pretend he was on board in order not to raise suspicions in his family. The education system is not doing enough for the cause, and most teachers try to stray away from this topic to avoid controversy. This is the kind of world the next generation is entering now.
In this village where we grew up, where priests warn against a gay-pocalypse, we could be seen as the lucky ones. It seems paradoxical, but it’s true. When we joke about being burnt alive while crucified in front of the church, we are privileged. We have the privilege to feel safe enough to joke about it. What about people who don’t have this privilege? It is currently punishable by death to be gay in 13 countries. 72 countries currently criminalize same-sex sexual activity. These people have to flee their own country to survive. They have no allies to support them. They are afraid to speak up about their sexuality and to form a community because it would be easier to expose them. They are not able to joke about their painful reality.
It is important to understand the different layers of homophobia and keep in mind that the urgency of a problem can differ from place to place. The future is reflected in the way we teach children and unfortunately, too many children grow up among toxic narratives.
So how do you deal with children who are raised in a homophobic environment?
Whenever my younger cousin tries to start a conversation about homosexuality, I can sense the discriminatory narrative he is raised with and my own insecurities arise. Should I try to change his path or do I let him live comfortably without crossing the line that would get him bullied or cause repercussions from his parents? When you are aware that what is generally acknowledged as “right” is filled with hate and discrimination, respecting that pattern is not an answer anymore. What is your role as a parent, family member or teacher? To let them live blindly or to try to open their eyes?
The harsh criticism I received in my past sometimes made it hard to welcome the positive and open-minded attitude of allies, which felt like it’s just not meant for me. I concluded that acceptance and resistance to unfair treatment should firstly come from within, and I used this article as one of the steps I take towards achieving that. If there is any wisdom at all to take from this article, it’s that if you choose to walk the path of seeking validation from the outside, your trial will never end. You will be hit by judgement after judgement and in your attempts to fit yourself into that box of expectations, you will lose sight of what YOU want from life, and who you want to be.
I have the tendency to entertain the past a lot. I glorify the good times and strong connections because it’s easy to categorize things that are not present, the complexity is not staring you in the face like in the case of the present. In the same time, my inner masochist continuously picks at old scabs until they bleed again and again, so the healing process is postponed for years. Maybe it’s not the love for my family as much as it is the hate for myself. I could say the past haunts me, but at the same time I am the one who inflicts pain on myself. The opinions I so highly regard from other people are not their actual views, they are merely projections of my own views of myself. In order to change something in the future I will need to start healing and stop tripping myself up, otherwise I will not be able to control my own toxicity and will make others suffer. Maybe it’s time to stop turning the knife; maybe it’s time to sober up from this addiction.