By the time I was 21, I didn't think being bisexual mattered. Which is freaking sad.
I was interviewing to become the editorial assistant at a magazine I had not only read fairly regularly but had written about four months earlier in my undergrad senior thesis: The Advocate. And I said nothing about being queer during the interview.
I knew I wasn't straight, and so did my boyfriend, but by that point in my life, I never thought that being openly bisexual was worth the hassle. And I don't think anyone knew how much of an internal struggle I was ignoring. Besides, my observation was that the B in LGBT was a letter of empty lip service. It was like when big corporations have those stupid posters that trumpet "diversity" plastered all over the break room but don't actually have diversity in the board room.
In college I surrounded myself with like-minded feminists and queer people. In fact, my freshman roommate asked me the day we moved in together whether I was a lesbian. I said no, but her gaydar was sort of on point — I was wearing a rainbow belt and I loved sports. You be the judge.
During the six months that was my junior year identity crisis and nervous breakdown, I was home alone for a few weeks during winter break in big, anonymous New York City. I decided to go on a couple of Craigslist dates with random women. Nothing physical happened because these poor women could sense I was a 20-year-old ball of dumb, confused emotions. Not exactly baby-making music, you know?
So a year later, when the editor in chief at the time asked why I wanted to work at The Advocate, I didn't say anything about being bisexual, but I deeply meant what I said: I'm black, I'm Latina, and I'm female. I get the struggle.
Maybe it was that, or maybe she thought my clips weren't completely abysmal (if I were to look at them now, I'd probably cringe and throw things), but I was hired.
During my first year here, I was just glad to have a job. I pitched dumb articles and prayed I wouldn't screw anything up (I did. A lot). But paired with being at the bottom of the totem pole on the staff, I also felt like my own sexuality was still not valid. I had a boyfriend and barely had any lady experience. I had lived through all kinds of racism and sexism, but the extent of overt homophobia hurled at me involved some stupid girl in eighth grade calling me a dyke, and me replying, "So?" and then she shrugged, and then music class started. Here I was writing articles about people being murdered solely for being transgender, or people being prevented from marrying or serving openly in the military. There were bigger problems in the world than my bi invisibility. So I failed to speak up. Often. I simply didn't feel gay enough.
Then one day, something just happened. A coworker said something in a meeting about how people stop being bisexual once they get married. That set another colleague and me into a wave of rage. It was awesome. Yes, it's kind of terrible that this would even happen at an Advocate meeting, but that was my catalyst. I realized that by simply not being vocal about myself, I had a hand in perpetuating bisexual invisibility.
That's when I made the choice to be visible. I decided to stop pretending my feelings weren't enough.
Before that, people I interviewed for articles or new interns often would assume I was a lesbian, and I didn't really care. Friends and family members thought it was interesting that I was the Straight Woman at The Advocate, and for a while, I rarely ever corrected anyone about that. Now, I'm like, "Oh, no, no, no, I may have a husband, but I'm part of the fam." Like a complete dork, I schooled Lisa Kudrow and Dan Bucatinsky about bi erasure at Outfest (don't worry, I'm cringing at that too).
But here's why I do it: When I was a teenager, I believed the narrative around me. I believed that bisexuality was only a stepping stone to being a lesbian or just a phase or something girls said to get attention. Movies, TV shows, and brainless teen magazines as well as the gay and straight people around me diagnosed the feelings I had as being some phase. At best, I thought I was just a really progressive ally, and this would all go away. But I also feared that I was actually certifiable, because I crushed hard over girls at school, and, as my poor parents could tell you, I also obsessed over boys — the boys didn't really like me back, but that's another story for another publication.
If you know me, it's no shock that I was a very social, boisterous kid. What no one knew, though, was that I actually felt incredibly isolated for the few years we lived out in the suburbs on Long Island during high school. I guess you really can't be what you can't see, and until I got to college (Thank. God.), I knew no queer females of color my age in media or in real life.
But after years of feeling invisible and then allowing myself to remain invisible, I decided I couldn't be quiet anymore. So it angers me when Dear Prudence tells bisexual people (on multiple occasions!) that their sexual orientation is essentially like a fetish, which they should keep closeted. And then bi people are continuously criticized for not coming out. Or they call themselves gay because it's easier. Or they find some reason to rescind their bisexuality. Or they have to endlessly defend it. All of this just makes me want to punch things.
Next month will mark my eighth year at The Advocate. I'll turn 30 this December, so I have spent nearly my entire 20s here, starting October 30, 2006 (my late grandmother's birthday and the day before Halloween, the highest of holidays at a queer company). I've learned an incredible amount, but one of the most important things I've learned has been that visibility is an almighty tool.
There are way more examples out there these days for young women trying to figure themselves out than there were in 1997. Still, I know that some 13-year-old black girl is Googling "Can you like girls and boys?" I want her to know that she can. And it's completely all right. She's not crazy. She's not the only one with a crush on her female best friend and her male lab partner. Her feelings are valid, and no one can take those feelings away from her.
And maybe she'll get with her BFF or her lab partner. Maybe she'll end up with the guy who was once called a "fag" in middle school and then shrugged it off too; the guy who she'll meet in college, help her accept her feelings, and end up being a pretty great husband. But she'll get to have the choice — the freedom to love, and crush, and flirt, and date fearlessly.
So instead of punching things, I choose to be vocal. I'm bisexual. And there is no mistaking it.
MICHELLE GARCIA is the managing editor of Advocate.com. Follow her on Twitter @MzMichGarcia, where she'll wish you a happy Bisexual Visibility Day.