When I was eight or nine years old, I remember having a vivid dream which had such an effect on me that I was never able to forget it. A friend of a friend had run away from home and needed somewhere to stay. I said that he could stay with me in my bedroom, but to avoid him being found by my parents he would have to stay in my wardrobe. Each night, when my parents had gone to bed he would come out of the wardrobe and we would embrace lying on my bed. This was my first sex dream. There was no overt or explicit sexual character to it. It originated in love, compassion, and tenderness. There was nothing wrong with it. It felt pure, exciting, and intimate. It was two young boys showing affection for each other. It was only a dream. Since waking up from it over fifteen years ago, I have constructed a nightmare for myself.
Since that dream, I have always known that I am bisexual. Before I even knew what bisexuality was, I realised that I saw some members of my own sex in a way which was saturated with emotion and involved physical attraction. This has always excluded me from the trenchant heterosexual camp. Growing up in the 1990s, attending an all-boys independent school, I never came out. I never knew how to come out. I didn’t know what to come out as. Was I straight or was I gay? What were the alternatives?
I hid away my true feelings for the sake of what I thought was pragmatism, before I even knew what pragmatism really was or the legacy of damage false pragmatism can create. Throughout secondary school, I developed feelings for certain friends. I never told them. I never acted on them. I watched from a distance in the changing rooms as everyone changed for rugby, finding it difficult to avert my gaze from the physiques of some of the better looking boys. I watched from a distance as the authenticity I yearned for receded into the realms of impossibility.
Being unable to marry my desire to my external reality, I turned inwards and sought the introverted world of fantasy as a sanctuary for my sexuality to manifest itself. Hermetically sealed from the world, I felt safe. I felt that no one would find out and I would therefore be protected from their derogations, safe from the slings and arrows of their imagined ignorance and their perceived prejudice. The result is that what was initially dreamlike was diluted and stained by the ink of shame.
In my late teens, the safe sanctuary of my sexual denial became tense and arthritic with anxiety. I was finding it more and more difficult to keep it hidden. My secretive forays into the online world of gay pornography, magazines, and phone calls to sex lines became more and more frequent. The beast I had imagined into being was rearing its ugly head. It felt as if all these traces of my biology, braying against the paper-thin edges of my safe teenage persona, would soon catch up with me; a dark trail through the forest of denial leading to a cave untouched by the daylight in many years. I continued to run. It was all I knew. I ran from myself. I ran from the imagined dismissal of others. I ran and ran and ran because it was all I had ever done and it was all I knew.
All this time, I still had the same lusts and desires that any heterosexual male in adolescence has for members of the opposite sex. I never castigated myself for indulging this part of my sexuality, however. After all, it was the norm. Like a lot of pubescent males, I struggled to talk to girls, let alone ask them out, let alone date them. I remember one girl who I was infatuated with when I was twelve years old. My heart used to beat faster when I saw her. I would lose my words completely. My mind was filled with the possibilities of discovering what a relationship with a girl would be like. I asked her out after six months of texting her and furtively avoiding her gaze on the bus to and from school every day. But another boy had already asked her out. It crushed me. I remember standing in the shower that night thinking, ‘That was my last shot at being straight. Now I might as well be gay’. I didn’t have a girlfriend until I reached university. I think it was the freedom of nobody knowing who I really was which made it possible. There were no false confidantes around who might let slip some piece of information which would expose the leviathan secret concealed within. In a way, I was free.
When I was twenty one, I fell in love with a girl and finally understood what it was to be one with another. You are that girl. I fell for you without reason, care, or concern and I gave everything to build a citadel for our young love. But I was still running from what I hadn’t come to terms with. Soon its mercurial winds blew through our citadel and rocked its foundations. I used to lie awake at night as tears rolled down my cheeks, you lying next to me, knowing that my lies were slowly suffocating everything organic and that it could only be this way until I stopped running and confronted my beast of burden. Each morning, I awoke in a nightmare knowing that the only thing that could save me from the angst-ridden prison of my circumstances was the thoughtless void of another night of dreamless sleep. The love I felt for you only made me feel more guilt. In the end, I left you heart-broken. But I died hundreds of consecutive deaths as I tried desperately to kill the truth which screamed at me every hour of every day: that it was the preceding years of dishonesty that ruined our relationship, that I betrayed you before we had even met. So it ended and I secluded myself once more in the doldrums.
Looking back, I realise that the reason for my self-styled seclusion over the years wasn’t my family or my friends. It wasn’t the imagined sleights, the laughter and meanness, or the fear of social isolation. It wasn’t school or society at large. I confused that ‘what’ of my sexuality with the ‘who’ of my being. As a result, my bisexuality became dehumanised. I was never able to come to terms with it as a part of myself. I always felt that it was somehow foreign, an invader, something finite and limited which would someday reach the end of its course and I would return to normal. It became a condition to be remedied. So I built it into a teenage phase, a proclivity, a perversion, a ‘gay phase’. I didn’t understand it, so I always ran from the light of truth into the shadows of excuse.
But the phase never ended. The contradictions continued unabated. I couldn’t go on any more. By my early twenties, the internal narrative had broken and had left me beached on the inhospitable shores of perennial uncertainty. I became defined by my neurosis, driven constantly between the two poles of being straight and being gay which I could never seem to reconcile. I was caught in an ever-constant feedback loop which would not allow me to be content for long. Whenever I felt that I had found an answer, ‘gay’ thoughts nullified my attraction to women. ‘Straight’ thoughts then would only made my attraction to men impossible to come to terms with. So ensued several years of combing the shores of my past to find the answers I desperately needed. What I found out was unsettling. I had constructed a palace of memories configured solely to running from the truth I already knew. I had become lost in this palace, trapped in my own game, a prisoner of my own denial.
I remember standing in front of the mirror looking into the same expressionless vacancy that had stared back at me for the painful eternity of my becoming, imploring me to find an answer that would end the wretched suffering and make it all worth something. How many hours I spent questioning my reflection I cannot recall. After all the searching, the ending was as simple as its beginning; one of life’s ironic twists. I spoke to myself, the three simplest words of my life: ‘I am bisexual’. There was no tightening in the pit of my stomach, no shortness of breath. I said it again: ‘I am bisexual’. And the refreshing winds of relief blew across the scorched sands of my exhausted spirit and I felt whole again. The trails of discovery on our journey through adulthood are often bound within the long tracks of youth, but all trails are drawn forwards through time.
This is sad a story I ran from telling you for so long. Yet the ending isn’t how I imagined it. Maybe we all need a narrative to make sense of our lives, our desires and denials, our decisions and our mistakes. A T. S. Elliot quote springs to mind:
“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.“