I spent seventeen years of my life thinking I was straight. I never really questioned it too much: sometimes I’d have gay thoughts, not that I acknowledged them as such at the time. Sometimes thoughts cross your mind that you don’t actually believe, you know?
That was all. When I was ten, in the early days of my pretentious poetry phase, I wrote a poem about girls. I imagined myself back in India, where I’d been on a family holiday, looking around at girls with flowers in their hair and talking about how pretty they were, totally romanticising them. I looked at the finished product and thought, I must have written this because this is what I see male poets write. It’s a nice poem, but if people see it they might think I’m a lesbian. And then I ripped it up and threw it away, because people would get the ‘wrong’ idea. If I were a guy I could write romantic stuff about girls, I thought, and it didn’t even occur to me that there might be something weird about that. It’s sad to think about now, you know? That I was so repressed I was completely blind to it.
The thing was, I was vaguely aware there were options other than being a straight girl or a lesbian (at the time I still identified as a girl, which is strange to think about now). I knew that bisexuality was a thing, I knew what the word meant – there were characters like Thirteen on House, Alex in The OC (both played by Olivia Wilde who I was, in hindsight, really attracted to), and Captain Jack Harkness of Doctor Who and Torchwood. But somehow my brain was still stuck on the straight/gay binary and didn’t consider an alternative. At ages thirteen to fourteen I had a long-drawn crush on a classmate – at the time I thought I was in love with him and knowingly fed into the obsession, because it felt like a good distraction from all the mental health crap I was going through. So from then on, whenever I’d have a Gay Thought™, I briefly considered it. It went “Am I gay?” “Nah, I was in love with X-dude, and I briefly liked Z-dude. Therefore I am a complete heterosexual!” Rinse and repeat.
I started questioning my sexuality aged sixteen to seventeen. I kept thinking of myself in relationships, or getting somehow involved with someone, and thinking of myself with girls felt just as normal as it did with guys, up until I went but wait, I’m straight! and stopped myself. It finally occurred to me that perhaps that wasn’t the straightest way of thinking. I watched a lot of Queer-YouTube, looked things up online, educating myself to things that life in Greece had utterly kept from me. Ash Hardell (Ashley Mardell at the time), who I still love, was particularly helpful, as they talked a lot about bi/pansexuality and bi-erasure.
Eventually the idea of being bisexual started seeming more normal to me, though not having ever actually, concretely liked a girl, I still doubted it. I didn’t have many friends. The only girls I knew well were the ones in my very small school, and I was barely friends with most of them – and besides, they were all straight. I knew no LBPQ [lesbian/bisexual/pansexual/queer] girls or women; I was wholly alone. When I discussed my long-drawn questioning process with my one gay friend, he blew me off, saying if I hadn’t ever liked a girl I knew I probably wasn’t, and he outed me to my best friend within the next five minutes. “I know you,” she said to me a few days later, “and you’re not bi.” Hearing it be denied was all the confirmation I needed that I was certain after all. I started coming out to people as bisexual shortly after.
Not too long afterwards I chose the label ‘pansexual’ instead – the definition of it as attraction regardless of gender resonated with me more than anything else I’d found. I’ve found that when it comes to how my attraction works, gender truly makes no difference whatsoever. I may sometimes go through phases where I’d rather get involved with women or enbies [non-binary people] rather than men, but it remains pretty universal. I now realise I’m also drawn to label because it has no connection to same-gender attraction, and my relationship with my own gender is tenuous and complicated. Being non-binary, for me, has no ties with who I’m into. I still use bisexual interchangeably if it fits the situation better, I’m talking to less queer-educated people, or I can make a better pun out of it, but pan is what fits best.