When I was eight or nine years old, I remember having a vivid dream that had an unforgettable effect on me. 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’d have to stay in my wardrobe. Each night, when my parents had gone to bed, he’d come out of the wardrobe and we’d 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 about two young boys showing affection for each other. It was only a dream. However, since waking up from it more than 15 years ago, I’ve constructed a nightmare for myself.
What am I?
Since I had that dream, I’ve always known that I’m bisexual. Before I even knew what bisexuality was, I realized that I saw some members of my own sex in a way that 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 knew of 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 realm of impossibility.
The introverted world of fantasy
Being unable to marry my desire to my external reality, I turned inwards and sought the introverted world of fantasy as a sanctuary in which my sexuality could manifest itself. Hermetically sealed from the world, I felt safe. I felt that no one would find out, and I’d 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 world of online gay pornography, magazines and phone sex lines became more and more frequent. The beast I’d 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 daylight for 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’d ever done and it was all I knew.
My last shot at being straight
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 or date them.
I remember one girl whom I was infatuated with when I was 12 years old. My heart used to beat faster when I saw her, and I’d 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 that made it possible. There were no false confidantes around who might let slip some piece of information that would expose the leviathan secret concealed within. In a way, I was free.
And then I fell for you
When I was 21, 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 with tears rolling down my cheeks, and you lying next to me, knowing that my lies were slowly suffocating everything organic and 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 heartbroken. But I died hundreds of consecutive deaths as I tried desperately to kill the truth that screamed at me throughout every hour of every day: that it was the preceding years of dishonesty that ruined our relationship, and that I’d betrayed you before we’d even met. And so, it ended and I secluded myself once more in the doldrums.
Looking back, I realize that the reason for my self-styled seclusion over the years wasn’t my family, nor was it my friends. It wasn’t the imagined slights, the laughter and meanness or the fear of social isolation. It wasn’t school or society at large. I confused the ‘what’ of my sexuality with the ‘who’ of my being, and as a result, my bisexuality became dehumanized.
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 that would someday reach the end of its course and I’d return to normal. It became a condition to be remedied. 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 anymore.
A prisoner of my own denial
By my early twenties, my 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 that I could never seem to reconcile. I was caught in an ever-constant feedback loop that wouldn’t allow me to be content for long.
I became defined by my neurosis, driven constantly between the two poles of being straight and being gay that I could never seem to reconcile.
Whenever I felt that I’d found an answer, ‘gay’ thoughts nullified my attraction to women. ‘Straight’ thoughts then only made my attraction to men impossible to come to terms with. Several years ensued of combing the shores of my past to find the answers I desperately needed. What I found out was unsettling. I’d constructed a palace of memories configured solely to running from the truth I already knew. I’d 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 can’t recall. After all the searching, in one of life’s ironic twists, the ending was as simple as its beginning.
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, making me feel whole again. The trails of discovery on the journey through adulthood are often bound within the long tracks of youth, but all trails are drawn forwards through time.
This is a sad 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, including our desires and denials, our decisions and our mistakes. A quote by T. S. Eliot 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.”