There’s a woman out there who I owe an apology.
I met her on Tinder when I was 20 years old and while I don’t remember a lot about her, not even her name, I do recall that she deserved better. In the process of figuring out what bisexuality meant for me, I hurt her. I think a lot of LGBTQ people struggle with the same thing. We deal with so much internalized homophobia, biphobia, and overall shame that sometimes it spills out onto others.
The short of it is: I stood her — let’s call her Keisha* — up.
For some people, my actions reinforce the worst stereotypes about bisexual women — that we’re fickle, confused, and don’t know what we want. And perhaps I was confused about what my sexual identity meant for my life at the time. Did falling for a woman feel different than falling for a man? Who was responsible for making the first move? There wasn’t really a template for me to follow beyond an episode or two of “Degrassi” and the entire problematic Girls Gone Wild franchise.
I asked my lesbian friend for help, and she rolled her eyes at me. She said, “You’re just like every other girl who thinks she’s gay for attention.”
She thought I was wearing bisexuality like a party hat — but I wasn’t. I was never confused about my same-sex attractions. They’d always been there, right next to the opposite-sex ones, but strapped to the misconceptions other people had taught me. I spent years thinking that dating women would feel less real or less satisfying than dating men. I had learned that only penetrative sex counted. I suppressed my desires for same-sex experiences until I absolutely couldn’t anymore, until it was eating at me. Finally, I turned to Tinder.
While I’ll be the first to say that dating apps can do better to support the LGBTQ community, they have undeniably changed our dating experience. According to a study conducted by Clue and the Kinsey Institute, twice as many LGBTQ people use dating apps as cisgender heterosexual people. I suspect this is because apps eliminate so many of our fears, like hitting on a heterosexual person and offending them, or worse, hitting on a homophobe and experiencing violence in response.
As I created my account, I remember how aggressively my heart was beating. But I was comforted to know that there was space for me to safely take this step. Keisha and I spoke for days before she asked me out. We had so much in common that I quickly agreed to meet up with her; I didn’t want my sexuality to exist solely within the app.
But when it came down to it, I was sitting with my friends at the restaurant where she and I had agreed to meet, and I panicked. I realized that this was a human being with her own desires and expectations, and I wasn’t sure if I would satisfy them. I was new and scared.
I tried to explain who she was to the people I was with, but I couldn’t fully articulate what I was doing. “There’s this girl on the way. I met her on Tinder…”
“Is this a date?” someone asked.
“I mean, kinda.”
“Do you like women now? Are you bisexual?”
“No! Who said that? I don’t know.”
“But this is a date, you said.”
“No! Never mind. I was just kidding! Can we get out of here?”
My date texted me saying she was nearby, but my group was already leaving, suddenly and hurriedly.
I blocked Keisha’s phone number. I unmatched her on Tinder. I deleted the app.
Even though “bisexual” was a word I had used to privately describe myself for years, it was terrifying to hear it from my friends. I didn’t feel like the label openly belonged to me. I had also incorrectly learned that experimentation needed to precede bisexuality; you were supposed to be bi-curious first. So I envisioned the possibility that I was mistaken about every same-sex attraction I had ever felt. I mean, what if it was just a phase? It’d been about 10 years since I’d realized I was bisexual, but a phase still seemed like a possibility. What if it wasn’t until my head was hovering in between another woman’s legs that I realized I was actually a straight person? I thought it would be like trying a new food where only my tongue could recognize whether or not bisexuality was for me. I felt like I might be taking up a space that wasn’t mine.
In retrospect, I know that nobody has to “explore” heterosexuality first — it’s assumed and enforced. LGBTQ youth, especially girls, are told that we’re too young or inexperienced to claim an identity yet. We hear that we might just want attention or that our desires could be temporary. The acceptance of our sexuality is contingent on us having sexual experiences to back it up. Meanwhile, heterosexual people can wait until marriage to have sex and nobody doubts their attractions.
Bisexuality doesn’t speak to someone’s behaviors. It isn’t something we choose when we reach maturity. Instead, it describes the potential for attraction to many genders. If I’d known that, I would’ve relaxed a little. I would’ve had better answers for my friends. I would’ve said, “Yes, it’s a date. I’ve always liked women, but I’ve never pursued one romantically. I don’t have a label yet, but give me time to find one.” And then I would have gone on that date.
I let internalized biphobia and a culture that centers heterosexuality ruin my first Tinder date. But recognizing that was the first step in learning to be brave. I reinstalled the app. I went on actual dates. I have slowly unlearned the myths and misconceptions that once held me back. And now I am so openly and proudly rooted in my identity that my experiences are shaped by self-love rather than stereotypes.
*Names have been changed.