The Bisexual Checklist

When I was twelve, I had my first kiss. I was at a sleepover—my friend’s birthday. Sometime in the course of the night, as tweens do, we decided to practice kissing. I turned nervously to my friend, sitting on her bedroom floor. Something felt off… I had only ever seen a boy and a girl kissing on T.V. Was this wrong? I looked down, not brave enough to make eye contact. My hands were sweating. I took a deep breath, and leaned in.  

It was nice, actually. She was a good kisser. But I couldn’t shake this sense of guilt and foreboding. I liked boys. So I couldn’t like girls, right? Spoiler alert: we’re both bisexual now. 

It took a long time for me to consider bisexuality a valid identity, despite knowing that I was attracted to women my whole life. Even at the ripe old age of seven, I would bounce onto the couch before school, eager to get my weekly fix of Raven from Teen Titans. As we all know, if you had an obsession with Shego, Velma, or Raven as a kid—you’re gay now. I don’t make the rules, sorry.

But even as I stared up at these powerful, strong women, lying across my living room carpet, it seemed impossible my attraction to women was real—it was easier to dismiss them as childhood crushes. My whole life, I had been told that I was to marry a man and have children. It was obvious that I had to ignore my feelings for people of other genders. 

So, in high school, I put this attraction aside. Ok sure, maybe I was bicurious, in the way college girls in movies kissed other girls because boys thought it was hot… but I could never date a girl. When pressed, I told all my friends that I was bisexual—but heteroromantic. How much of my attraction to women was genuine, and how much of it was being trained to look at women through the male gaze? 

Obviously I was straight—my high school boyfriend and I went through all the tropes of toxic heterosexuality. In my teenage brain, it was impossible to tell if I really liked genders other than the one I was supposed to: men. I told myself to ignore the constant sex dreams I had about other girls. I quashed those feelings down. I would deal with them later, maybe—when I had kissed enough women to tell.

Fast forward two years, and I had yet to kiss someone who was not a man. My settings on Tinder ping-ponged between men and women, and just men. Then, after class one day, another girl approached me. 

“Hey, are you headed this way too?” I nodded. We started chatting. Over the next two weeks, our developing friendship became a confusing blur of mixed signals. On the way home from class one day, she asked me how big my hands were. We compared palms, and then she locked her fingers into mine, and we walked across the street holding hands. I asked my flatmates later what it meant. Was she into me? Was I into her? Maybe I was. I didn’t hate it. I invited her around for some drinks with my flatmates. My ex-boyfriend was in attendance. She vehemently told me that he wasn’t good for me, that he was getting in the way of our friendship. We were best friends, she emphasised. She repeated this a week later, when a man hit on me in town. She got between us, telling him that I was her girl. Eventually, I just asked her. 

“Do you like me?” She balked. Later, my flatmate would tell me that she had said I was just confused, that she could never bring herself to sleep with a girl. ‘Vaginas were yucky,’ was the connotation. My flatmates and I looked at each other. Uh, okay. 

We stayed friends after that, but it wasn’t the same. In less than two months, I had gone through the trope of having a crush on a straight best friend. Maybe I was bisexual. But how could I be sure? Maybe it was time to start ticking things off my checklist—the one I had been compiling in my head for years. It was time to prove I was A Real Bisexual. I pulled up Tinder. I set my preferences to both men and women. 

Within a month, I had a message. It was a PhD student in her late 20s, who had an open relationship with her husband. We set up a date. I asked my flatmates which outfit I should wear. Did I look queer enough? Did the pants or the jumpsuit look more bisexual? I shouldn’t have worried. At dinner, she told me she had never been with a girl before. Relieved, I said the same. Granted, the dates were weird. On the second date, she showed me her wedding photos in Amsterdam, where she had eloped with her husband a few months ago. She commended me on living with boys—girls were petty, she said. I stared at her. Right. 

It didn’t matter, though. I was on a mission. The dates were low stakes—she made it clear it was never going to get serious. I invited her back to mine for a drink.

Sitting on my bed, she shyly asked if we could kiss. I had a flashback to the sleepover I had in Year 8. I leaned in. 

Honestly, it was anticlimactic. Not literally (wink wink), but in that I had sex with a girl, and that was that. It was a nice time. In fact, it felt much like losing my virginity. Everyone tells you it’s a big deal—that virginity defines who you are. It’s only on reflection that one realises it doesn’t mean anything: virginity is something people made up to reinforce heteronormative ideas of gender and self-worth. Without realising it, I had assigned the same value systems to sleeping with someone of the same gender. When we finished, I expected to feel different. I expected a seismic shift in my worldview, or a change in the way others looked at me. Maybe there would be an earthquake, or a thunderstorm. After all, I was A Real Bisexual now. But nothing of the sort occurred. In fact, she simply called her husband for a ride home, and kissed me goodnight. I was beginning to suspect that there was no such thing as A Real Bisexual. 

This was confirmed in my third year of university, when I hooked up with a girl in my class. She was bisexual too, but dated women exclusively. It was a quiet weekday night. The streets were empty and cold. My hands shook as I walked to her house. She would be the second girl I’d ever slept with. What if she could tell I had next to no experience? What if she could tell—even if I couldn’t—that I was just pretending to like girls? She couldn’t. In fact, afterward, she told me that I was the first Real Bisexual she’d ever met. I should have been relieved to hear her say that—here was A Real Queer, telling me I was also A Real Queer. But again, it felt wrong. Why did I have to sleep with women to prove I liked them? I never felt that way about my hetero relationships. 

Evidently, being a bisexual woman has very different connotations to being a bisexual man. In my second year, my best friend came out as bisexual, too. It dawned on me that he was being treated very differently to me. He had no problem convincing others of his attraction to men. But everyone was surprised when he hooked up with my friend from Christchurch—a woman. It was like people had trouble with the idea that our sexualities weren’t exclusively orientated toward male pleasure.

Another friend also struggled with her sexuality. She was in a hetero relationship. In the end, she went to a counsellor. The next day, she told me she was bisexual, too. I felt like a twist villain in a Hollywood blockbuster. She hadn’t gone through the checklist. She hadn’t been with another girl. I don’t think she had even kissed one. She hadn’t proved herself. In truth, a part of me was jealous. If only I could have gone to a counsellor and figured it all out in one go. But her experience with her sexual orientation was no less valid than mine. Claiming the label gave her a more secure sense of self—and I had to admit I was happy for her.

I began having more conversations about sexuality. It wasn’t always easy—once, my straight partner told me he’d heard being bisexual was transphobic. Panicked, I asked some fellow bisexuals and was quickly corrected. 

In the past, the term ‘bi’ has been weaponised against gender-nonconforming folx using the argument that ‘bi’ means two: reinforcing the idea that gender is binary. It isn’t. Gender is a spectrum, and as our understanding of this spectrum evolved, the term ‘bisexual’ came to encompass all non-monosexual identities. This is why ‘bisexual’ and ‘pansexual’ often come under the same umbrella: it recognises that a person has the potential to be attracted to those of their own and other genders. The difference between bi- and pansexuality usually comes down to the individuals’ personal identification—a bisexual person may experience gender attraction unequally, whereas a pansexual person may not consider gender a factor of attraction. It bears repeating. In the words of bisexual activist Robyn Ochs:

“I call myself bisexual because I acknowledge that I have... the potential to be attracted—romantically and/or sexually—to people of more than one gender, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree.”

Like many others, I still struggle with terminology, with the idea of being labeled. As a cis woman, it felt like claiming space within the LGBTQIA+ Takatāpui community was infringing on the spaces of Real Queer people. I’m still unlearning this internalised biphobia. It’s a confusing space to navigate, but the rainbow community has always fought for inclusivity—for acceptance and security for anyone who doesn’t identify with the cishet mainstream. And that includes me.

It used to feel easier to ignore the part of myself that was attracted to other genders. But exploring and coming to understand my sexuality has allowed me to become my most secure and truest self. It’s not always a simple journey—sexuality is fluid after all, so this is by no means the end. But I have finally come to a place where I can call myself a bisexual without guilt. Over time, the term evolved to become less about the pressure for others to identify me, and more of a tool to understand myself. 

I still feel invalid, at times. Who am I to write an essay about bisexuality? But that’s the point, isn’t it—your experiences will always be unique to you, and no one else can decide how you identify. If that’s no label, then that should be ok too. Getting involved with the rainbow community meant a lot of self-reflection, and doubt—but it also meant building relationships with others that understood my experiences. Let’s be clear: the rainbow community can sometimes be a minefield. There will always be people who try to invalidate you—and being queer doesn’t come with clear boundaries. But no matter what being queer looks like for you, there is a space here, in the rainbow community. 

So this year, for the first time, I will participate in Auckland Pride. It’s scary, definitely. But everyone deserves a space to feel safe, to feel included. It took a long time to realise that there was no checklist, no code, no secret password that would finally make me feel queer enough. Expanding my sexual and romantic experience with people of my own, and other genders didn’t make me feel any more valid. In truth, I had known the whole time that I had that capacity. 

I didn’t need validating. No one does. So here is the only item on the checklist:

I am bisexual. Check. 

Naomii Seah

Naomii Seah

Naomii Seah is a writer and poet from Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland. Her work has previously been published in Critic, Starling, takahē and Mayhem, with upcoming work on The Pantograph Punch.

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