I looked in the mirror a bit longer than usual. Squinting to see past a thin layer of dust and scattered, smudged fingerprints, I angled my chin for a better view.
“I love it,” I told the employee at a tattoo parlor on 4th and South Street.
Admiring my most recent act of teenage rebellion, I couldn’t stop thinking about how great my new eyebrow piercing looked. I fiddled with it excitedly, even though the piercer told me not to touch it for eight weeks.
But staring at myself in the mirror, I saw past my excitement. I understood that I didn’t just get the piercing because I thought it would look cool, but also because I thought it would make me look more like a lesbian.
I took a step back from the mirror, and I admitted to myself that wasn’t the case. I am not a lesbian.
Why did I want to look like a lesbian? And for that matter, what does a lesbian even look like? I felt guilty for giving into the idea that being queer has one specific face, style or piercing.
To clarify, I am attracted to women. I’m also attracted to men, and to people who don’t fit into the gender binary.
In my experience, people get it when you tell them you’re gay. Bisexuality, however, makes much less sense. Aren’t bisexuals just confused, or experimenting? Isn’t bisexuality more of a waiting room for people who haven’t yet committed to the inevitable gay or straight endpoint?
But I’m not living in a waiting room. I’m not gay, and I’m not straight either. I’m bisexual—and trust me, I’m sure of it. Still, I feel uncomfortable assigning myself that label. It feels immature. It feels invalid. Because of the societal perceptions of bisexuality, which I’ll admit I’ve internalized, it feels like it doesn’t capture the depth of my relationships, the people I’ve loved and the people I’ll love in the future.
Rather than accepting myself for who I am, I push myself to be someone else, someone whose label feels more legitimate.
Earlier this semester, I mentioned a girl I had dated to a boy I was flirting with. Almost as soon I spoke the words “ex-girlfriend,” I watched his interest in me vanish.
This happens all the time. When I talk about my ex-girlfriend to strangers, or even friends, I’m a lesbian. When I swoon over the cute guy that smiled at me in my history class, I’m straight. As a bisexual woman, I have two choices: mold to one of these stereotypes, or come out over and over again.
Normally, I acquiesce. ‘Fine,’ I think. I’m gay. I’m straight. I’m whatever they want me to be.
As I walked home from the piercing place that night with my friends, I realized I was guilty of trying to fit into the social binary of sexuality, the stereotypes of what it means to be gay or straight, despite knowing with complete certainty that neither of those terms actually fit me.
When I look in the mirror, I admire my eyebrow piercing for a few reasons. I love it because it’s different. I love it because it looks great with eyeliner. I love it because even when I wear sweatpants to class, it still looks like I put effort into my appearance.
I don’t love it because it defines my sexuality. Only I can do that.
Michaela Winberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.