I Didn't Know I Was Bi Until After Marriage, And I'm Allowed To Mourn The Chances I Missed

by Elizabeth Broadbent
Scary Mommy and Peter Dazeley/Getty

I’m forty years old. I’m bi. Many people who know me don’t know, but if it bothers them, they aren’t worth my time. They’d have no reason to know, anyway. I’m in a happy hetero marriage of almost fifteen years. I have three adorable kids, a house, and a minivan. Outwardly, my only quirks look like my dog, a giant-ass bear of a German Shepherd, and my elaborate memorial sticker for The Magicians character Quentin Coldwater (also bi!). But all is not what it seems in suburbia. I like guys. But I also like girls.

Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that until my mid-thirties.

As a teen, I didn’t understand what “bisexual” meant. Of course I knew the word. But in the late ’90s, when I was in high school, I was bullied mercilessly. And when my tormentors called me “lezzy,” it lent me an aura of something worse than loserdom, something dangerous and ugly and gross. It was too… much. Too awful. It was simply not a possibility to imagine a sexual interest in girls. I’d internalized so much homophobia that I couldn’t possibly be bi. Even when I went to college, even when I kissed other girls as a joke, I shoved away any real feeling I might have had.

I sublimated everything. I wanted someone to be my older sister. I wanted to be her best friend.

I didn’t want to be her girlfriend. That never pinged on my radar.

I look back and choke.

I Had Crushes on Women

I choke because of course I was bisexual, and I can look at so many interactions, so many relationships, and see what I really wanted and couldn’t understand or name. I see the older girl who took so much time to help me learn how to ride horses. I was infatuated with her. Everyone I knew was totally sick of hearing her name. “Will you shut up about her?” my best friend at the time once said. I told myself: I want her to be my big sister. I want to be just like her. I want her to pay more attention to me.

We all knew she’d had sex. She carried a strange burden of awe and the forbidden, of our parents’ scorn and our wide-eyed desire to know more.

She probably wasn’t bi. It didn’t matter, because I didn’t think I was, either.

That, in retrospect, was called a crush. I can say this now. I had a crush on her. And it’s sweet, like the crush I had on my boss when I was sixteen, a gorgeous woman with wild curly hair who trained racehorses. She was one of the first adults to show me my family life was fucked up, and to talk to me like someone who mattered. She gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten. She was kind and fun and wild and God, now that I’m forty, I hope I’m something like her. I had a crush on her.

But Being Bi Meant I Also Had Crushes On Friends

In retrospect, I had a giant crush on one of my high school best friends. We’ve never talked about it and lost touch a long time ago. She’s not even on Facebook. I had a desperate crush on a college roommate. I had a huge crush on a gorgeous redhead who might have taken me up on it. But a list isn’t the point. I didn’t understand what I was feeling. I thought I wanted to be better friends with those girls. I thought I wanted to hang out with them more. I didn’t think I wanted to kiss them.

Which I actually did.

And when I look back on it, I’m sad. Maybe I’m not sad for those particular relationships — who knows if that high school friend would have kissed me? I don’t, and I can’t ask her. I don’t miss an imaginary relationship. But I miss chances. I’m sad I never knew if that super-cool English girl was totally straight. I’m brokenhearted that I never found out if that redhead would have said yes. All those pretty girls I could have kissed. All gone.

Most of all, I never found out what it was like to have a relationship with a woman. I’m bi, but I will never know what it’s like to wake up next to someone of the same sex. I imagine sharing makeup and clothes (I tend to like girly-girls about the same size as me); I wonder what we’d argue about. Would I make a good same-sex girlfriend?

I’ll never know.

I’m Allowed to Be Sad

This isn’t to say that I could have been hooking up with a ton of girls, and I didn’t, and I’m bummed. It’s not about quantity. Realizing I’m bi late in life has led to a sadness that I’ll never fully know myself. I never will know if I make a decent same-sex girlfriend. I’ll never know if I could be as happy with a woman as I am with a man. I hate that not-knowing as much as I hate the lost chances.

But some days, though I know I’m bi, though I know bisexuals are the B in LGBTQIA+, I feel erased. I’m in a hetero marriage. I have kids. I pass, and I made my choices. What right do I have to sadness?

But those choices resulted from internalized homophobia. Maybe, if I had known I was bi, I’d have made different choices. Maybe I would have made the same ones. But I remind myself: I count. We always say it’s never too late to come out. I can come out when I’m forty. I can be in a het marriage and say: I’m bi. If bisexuals like both men and women, why should my marriage erase me?

I can be sad for what came before, but I can move forward from it.

I can start here.