Bisexuality vs Compulsory Heterosexuality

As someone who identified as bisexual since middle school, I never felt insecure in my sexuality. I mostly had crushes on girls throughout high school, and I justified my attraction to men almost solely on my celebrity crushes (yes, I’m looking at you, Chris Evans). I didn’t really have a problem with this, though; in my head, I was still attracted to men, it just so happened that all the men I was surrounded by sucked.

It was in university when I felt like everything went into a tailspin because this was when I had my first serious relationship with a man. I had only had girlfriends before, and that was initially why I thought things felt different. I really liked him – he was nice, cute, fun to hang out with, and we got along super well. On paper, everything seemed perfect, and yet I couldn’t quite place why I felt like something was missing, or just felt off.

When we broke up, we stayed close friends, and it felt like nothing changed. We still did the same things we did before, we pretty much acted the same, just without all the “romantic” stuff. And this was when I started to think: did I ever have romantic feelings in the first place? Was I getting romantic and platonic emotions confused? Why had this never happened to me before?

All of these questions led to the most important one: am I a lesbian?

And this was when I thought to myself: of course I can’t be a lesbian – I like male celebrities, right? In hindsight, this is very stupid logic (if straight women can have “girl crushes” why can’t lesbians have “man crushes”?), but this was what made me sweep this self-doubt under the rug for a few more months and continue to not-so-confidently identify as bisexual.

Fast forward a few more months to when I discovered the “Am I A Lesbian?” master doc (which is something I recommend to anyone that is currently struggling to find their own identity). This is a lengthy doc that covers a lot of topics for women questioning their sexuality, but my biggest takeaway from it was the concept of compulsory heterosexuality. This is the idea that heterosexuality is assumed and enforced by a patriarchal and heteronormative society – in other words, heterosexuality is what’s seen as “normal” and it is engraved in our brains regardless of sexual orientation. Though this is something that can impact all genders and sexualities, it has been studied to mostly affect women. This is because compulsory heterosexuality is often tied into the misogynistic ideals that women’s worth is defined by men. Taken from the master doc linked above:

“Women are taught from a very early age that making men happy is our job. We’re supposed to be pretty for men, we’re supposed to change the way we talk so men will take us more seriously, we’re supposed to want a man’s love more than anything else. Our magazines are full of sex tips on how to better please men, our movies are about how we’re supposed to fall in love with men.”

This felt like a game-changer to me, because it made so much sense. It made sense that I would have feelings for men that would go away at the first sign of reciprocation, it made sense that I felt like I only had crushes on unattainable men (i.e. celebrities), it made sense that my first and only boyfriend felt so strange and uncomfortable. But this was also scary because I had gone so much of my life believing I was one thing and was only just beginning to consider the possibility that I was something else.

Of course, not all lesbians may experience compulsory heterosexuality, and bisexual women can still be attracted to men without it being compulsory heterosexuality. Both of these identities are still completely valid. But after doing some research to try and better understand myself and my own feelings, it is amazing how many women have struggled with the very same things I have, and how many lesbians have felt invalid or confused due to compulsory heterosexuality.

I am still not 100% sure who I am. I cannot yet feel completely comfortable identifying as either lesbian or bisexual, but I have come to terms with the fact that that is completely okay. I hated not having a label, not knowing who I was, and feeling confused. I felt like I needed a label to be valid. But after hearing the stories of people struggling with the same thing I have, I know that I’m not alone. Sexuality can be a confusing thing, and you shouldn’t feel the need to rush to figure yourself out.