I identify with being bisexual, as opposed to pansexual, as I see being bi as being sexually and romantically attracted both to people of a different gender to you and to people of the same gender. If I’m honest, it’s also because it’s easier to explain to people that you’re bisexual when you are attracted to different genders – I have a lot of shit going on in my life, and to explain to unknowing people what pansexuality is is just a bit too tiring.
I have always been attracted to boys, girls and genderqueer people growing up, even if I never fully comprehended it as a ‘thing’ for me to comprehend. Let me first say that I am very privileged to have parents who provided an atmosphere of acceptance and freedom whilst I was growing up, so I never feared a big cataclysmic ‘coming out’. I also come from a privileged background of being Western, white and middle-class. I am only, and can only, speak of my experience, specifically as a survivor, of living in my queerness. For a long time, until recently, I didn’t see my sexuality or queerness as something that other people really needed to know. It was my business, and I had the privilege of being straight passing – I had gotten far enough in life with my unspoken longings for girls in my class or women I saw on television, so I didn’t see much need in ruminating on it or sharing it with others.
Then, last year, I was sexually assaulted by a man I knew. Something in me snapped after that last assault – there seemed to be a final ‘fuck it’ to anything that had tried to hold me back in my past. So, I fully realised my bisexuality and embraced the queerness I had always known within myself. I had been with both men, women and non-binary people before the assault, but I had never really fully attached myself to labels of ‘bisexual’ or ‘queer’. Perhaps, in part, it was because of my own internal bi/queer-phobia, or the fear of it being seen as a ‘phase’ (it’s really fine if your fluctuating sexuality is a ‘phase’ btw). I also believe I had never labelled myself out loud before because I didn’t realise how much I needed the support, the community and the affirmation that comes when one fully acknowledges their queer identity.
After the assault, the first person I was sexually intimate with was a woman. The experience was drunken and exciting, but, most importantly, it was kind and soft. It was everything I needed after the brutality of what someone had done to me a month before. The safeness and the warmth of a kind person, woman or otherwise, was a large step in my recovery to accepting what had happened, and accepting that I was going to be okay.
Now, I’m sure some (bi/homophobic) people would declare that sexual encounter, and my newly-embraced sexuality in general, as a symptom of the ‘man-hating’ feminism I live my life by. Furthermore, other less obvious biphobes, could see my sexuality as a response to the sexual assaults that have been committed against me exclusively by (masculine) men. They could see my now much-loved identity as a facade I created to ‘protect myself’. But my identity, my bisexuality, is myself. After that first intimacy following my assault, I felt calm and I felt like I had overcome a hurdle that is impossible for many. I don’t just mean being gay – I also mean the common impossibility of sex after sexual assault. Don’t get me wrong, I have had and still have issues when it comes to intimacy and sex. But that first sex after the assault was not one of those issues, and I am extremely grateful for that.
Whilst I have only ever had positive intimacies with other women, and with gender-non-conforming people, it also needs to be said that sexual assault and rape within the LGBTQ+ community happens, and all survivors are equally valid. The stigma around rape and survival is already so big, and when it is committed by someone else in the queer community, it becomes so much bigger, because of the various tropes that ‘women can’t rape women’ etc. If you add the stigma of rape to the stigma of being gay, the reality becomes a cruel and silencing world that invalidates you from every angle. Moving and heart-wrenching essays on the topic of sexual assault and rape within the LGBTQ+ community can be found in Roxane Gay’s anthology Not That Bad – especially the pieces by AJ McKenna, Brandon Taylor, V.L. Seek and Anthony Frame.
After last year’s assault, I became louder about everything. I became loud about what happened, I became loud about shitty men I knew, I became loud about victim-blaming, about cat-calling, about rape jokes. I became loud about loving myself. I became loud about loving women, about loving anyone I was attracted to, because I’d seen what it meant to lose myself, to have someone take my body and my mind from me, and I wasn’t going to let that happen ever again, especially if I could control it. I found hope and I found light in the LGBTQ+ community, especially the online community, of queer people who were healing and finding themselves, just as I was. People like Munroe Bergdorf, like Chella Man, Tilly Lawless, Alok Vaid-Menon and countless others, who use their platforms to let people in the community know they are seen, they are heard and they are loved exactly as they are. Many of the people closest to me in my life are queer, and the sense of understanding and love is unmeasurable between us. There’s an unspoken understanding and knowing throughout the community. Most of the queer people I know personally, and the people present online, have been through some real shit. I strongly believe that queer people become their truest selves exactly because of that real shit. We’ve been in darkness, we may still be in it, but we’re going to be loud and proud in our identities because we know what losing ourselves can feel like. I used to think it wasn’t important to come out, that it was for me and my partners to know, but I now realise if I have a platform, and if I have the privilege to express myself in my truest form, I should do so without reproach. It turns out, a lot of people in my life knew I was queer/bi before I had even told them, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop shouting for everyone to hear.
Catriona is a young, queer woman living and writing in London. She runs an online space for survivors of sexual assault called Life Continues After, and loves sharks.
Julia Lama (also known as Julipy) is a cartoonist, illustrator, comic passionate and animator. Julia lives for everything related to creativity and storytelling, no matter the media. You can find more of her work on her Instagram.