Bi Culture is knowing the stinging bite of romantic rejection from both genders. This month, Nia Hampton muses on her own sexual history and finds solace in Janelle Monae’s new album, Dirty Computer.
It took me having sex with my former college roommate and close friend to feel like I could actually claim bi-sexuality as my sexual orientation. Female sexuality is funny like that. I learned quickly that I was expected to prove that I was what I said I said was. Or better yet, that I was having the sex that I claimed to be having. In high school, I sat next to a boy who, for whatever reason, had decided that I was a lesbian. And he needed to let me know that he knew I was into girls at various times during the day. I could be sharpening my pencil and he’d stare at me from across the room and shout it. I could be helping a friend decide an answer to a test and he’d whisper it over said friend’s head. Funny enough, I never felt embarrassed or even angry. I knew he was dumb. Everyone knew he was dumb. And all the coolest girls were lesbians anyway, so sometimes I thought it meant I was cool. One day I took the bait and responded, “I’m not a lesbian. I’m not anything. I’m still a virgin.” He was shocked but intrigued, happy to finally be acknowledged I guess.
The next day, the harassment continued and this time I asked, “why do you keep saying that?”
“Cause you are.”
“No, I’m not.”
“Yes, you are.”
“No, I’m not.”
“Well, prove it then.”
He smirked and my stomach turned and I wondered to myself, shit, maybe I am a lesbian.
Men smirking at what they think my sex life entails became one of the reasons why I never felt it necessary to lead with my sexual orientation when talking to love interests. It’s really only something that comes up when I feel a sexual encounter is on the horizon, and as a child who grew up in the height of “the down low brotha” era, I’m only being the change I want to see in the world.
Lately, I’ve managed to avoid addressing it all together, because I’m getting tired of the impossible to answer follow up question, “which one do you like better?” To which I respond with whatever gender the person who asked the question subscribes to. Leading with queerness has yielded better results, as it allows me to explain that I’m into people for who they are, not which gender or genitalia they have. I told my grandmother that once and she replied, “so you going with whoever treats you good huh?” At first she made me feel kind of easy, but then I realized yes, that’s exactly how my sexuality operates.
There are two paths my sex drives me down. The first is the more primal, “damn they fine.” Which is pretty self-explanatory. I appreciate clear skin, a solid build, bright smiles and an air of confidence in any person. I’m very easy in that way. The second way comes a bit slower, that’s the “fandom/groupie/wow, you’re really good at that thing” lane. In which I’m attracted to competent people who are demonstratively passionate about something, regardless of other external factors like race, or gender. Kind of like I’m hot for my teacher, if that makes sense. Now, these two examples mainly explain pure sexual attraction. Romantic and emotional attraction takes a while to grow on me. I tend to fall for underdogs, people who I think I can help or those who I think can help me. It’s not the healthiest attachment style, but it’s my truth.
This fluidity in my sexual attraction to folks makes for an exhilarating yet nauseating love life, where I’m constantly nursing heartaches inflicted by my various unrequited crushes, or trying to persuade potential suitors that I am not a bi sexual stereotype. The bi sexual stereotype is usually an over sexed “greedy” person who can’t be trusted to not try to fuck everyone. Or someone who is lying about being attracted to both sexes. Interestingly enough, lesbians tend to think a bi sexual woman secretly desires dick more, while straight women assume their bi sexual boyfriend is only using her as a beard. Dick is still the most powerful sex organ in some people’s minds. In dating as a bi sexual, everyone seems to be worried about the sex I’m not having. Which adds to the fear in disclosing my sexual history, because once those pesky pronouns get thrown around, suddenly no one wants to text me back. Bi Culture is being rejected by everyone.
Another strange thing I’ve experienced is this weird self denial to get ahead of the stereotype. Kind of like how black people may be hesitant to eat watermelon around white people, I’ve had moments where I’ve forced myself to focus on one gender to not seem “thirsty/nasty/slutty”. It’s dumb, but it happens. During my brief stint in Cali, Colombia I was at party and found myself magnetically attracted to this tall brown skinned girl. I fumbled my way into a cute interaction with her in which she gave me her number. Later that night, I danced salsa with an equally handsome guy and could not stop myself from cheesing in his face like a dork. Usually I just go for it and ask for contact information but my shitty Spanish coupled with the fact that I just got this girls number less than an hour ago stifled me. I felt hyperaware of how aroused I was in the moment and immediately ashamed and let my chance slip by. I literally said to myself, “don’t be a bi sexual stereotype”. To this day I still regret not getting that guy’s number cause he was fine. But that’s the problem. I think everyone is fine! And then I feel ashamed.
I’m working on my ability to feel pleasure and accept it as my god-given right, and not a byproduct of sin. I was raised in the Church, so it’s an uphill battle. Heteronormative sex is already sinful, so any other carnal thought that falls out of the frame of normalcy feels even more damning. More often than not, I’m trying to persuade myself that I am not a bisexual stereotype, that my feelings for him, her or they are valid, and that even if I don’t say it out loud, it doesn’t make the way I feel any less real. Cue Janelle Monae’s bisexual anthem, Make Me Feel.
I’ve been playing Dirty Computer and watching the emotion picture since it was released, and I’ve never felt so seen. This album is sweet and sexy in a way that I’ve been waiting to see a black woman be in the mainstream since puberty. In the video for Make Me Feel, Monae runs frantically between fine ass Tessa Thompson and her fine ass male lead, and that’s an emotion I’ve felt and been confused by for a while now. But seeing someone else go through it, and sing about it, relieves me. Now when I meet people who aren’t sure what to do with me or how to conceptualize my sexuality, I can refer them to this album. Most of the album is about sex and desire and fighting the oppressive forces that tell us how we feel is unnatural or wrong. It’s sexually liberating pop music, and I’m so here for it. Thank you Janelle Monae for making this music, teenage Nia is so appreciative.