Finding Self Portraits in Lyrics
Bisexuality is a broad and inclusive term that describes physical attraction, romantic attraction, or sexual behaviour that is not limited to one sex. (bi.org)
When I came out as bi just over a decade ago, my college friends weren’t shocked in the slightest. “We know,” they said, which made it easy, but a little less celebratory too. My excitement about my new badge of honour quickly dwindled, surrounded by straight people in class, at parties and at home. I had nowhere to explore my sexuality and no one to ask questions. It was much easier, over time, to push it to the side and go along with what I heard from others. “You look straight…” The only way I saw to fight sexual profiling from other people was to come out time and time again to people I didn’t always know so well. That didn’t seem as danger-free as it did to my accepting college friends at 17 years old. Besides, experiences over the years had taught me that being straight was safer, even though it really wasn’t, it was just easier, for now.
Skip a few years of blowing in the wind and I studied music at University in London. You’d think that would have been the perfect opportunity to dive into the deep end with my sexuality but oddly, my self-expression became suppressed even more. I started my degree with a boyfriend and so to the outside eye, yet again, I was straight. In our studies, we were taught how to succeed in the industry, not how to be free in our music. I developed the same rigidness in my songwriting that I found in my dress sense and with traumas along the way, I just wanted to blend in. I listened to the same hetronormative music everyone else did and abandoned my roots. Hiding was damaging me and I would come to realise that after graduating.
On my return to Bristol a couple of years ago, I decided I would reimagine myself, or at least, stay true to myself a little more. I declared to new friends and colleagues I was bi with no hesitation, searched for queer club nights and considered moulding into a stereotypically “more queer” version of myself. But my internal battles were in overdrive and I felt very lost, feeling like I had to justify myself was tiring. I found comfort in another relationship with a guy and that was the end of me learning about my sexuality for another year, suppressing myself once again and in turn listening to a very narrow type of music. When we broke up I was ready to give more attention to my healing. With some patience, I discovered that there was no better way to do this than with the therapeutic powers of music.
Before the pandemic hit, I went to see a screening of Janelle Monae’s (who has identified as bisexual and pansexual) visual album, Dirty Computer. It wasn’t new to the world having been released in April 2018, but to me, it was the most innovative and exciting thing I had ever seen in music. The dripping of ice lollies, the pink vulvic trousers, the Afrofuturism. Its coolness brought joy to my sexuality and she wasn’t trying to fit in at all. I realised that there is a place for me in the industry as an audience member and as a creator, I just had to make it.
As much as I wanted to be dancing in the streets with this newfound empowerment, we were soon told to stay at home. Looking back now, I realise this period has given me the space I needed to continue to explore in a safe environment without any external factors dripping in and impacting on understanding myself, such as people’s misconceptions of bisexuality. And with that, I have found myself freely coming out again and again to music. Saying “Yes, I see you! Yes, I am you!” This was most prominent when I first heard ‘Boys and Girls’ by Moonchild Sanelly and Patty Monroe. The words, “I love boys, I nibble on girls now and then,” reminded me there’s a whole spectrum of bisexuality and my history does not define mine. When songs are blatant with their queerness we are taught that love has many faces but we still need more of them amongst the sea of hetro love songs.
Finding self-portraits in lyrics made me more accepting of myself, but could I find a place for me in the outside world? I started using music as a tool to express my sexuality on social media. I have often worried I’m not “queer enough” but it’s like Domo Wilson says, “Better not forget the B in L-G-B-T”. I thought being part of the LGBTQIA+ community meant having a gang to go to queer club nights with and being at every Pride, but with that option being taken away from us this year, I’ve been forced to reassess all of my own perceptions. Now I know it’s really just deciding what you want your part to be in that community and running with that. So when the world reopens again, I’ll be practising claiming my space wherever I want it to be, not just where I think it should be. When people responded to the music I shared online, I learnt I had been guilty of sexually profiling people I know too and that my network of bisexual and pansexual pals is bigger than I knew.
The education didn’t stop there though. Now that I am no longer suppressing my sexuality, I finally have room to reconnect with other parts of me too: the clothes I love and the music I grew up on. I’ve let go of the weight of having to behold my sexuality – mostly! Now it’s about having the confidence in myself to see myself everywhere and anywhere regardless of who I’m into. It’s like Janelle Monae says, “That’s just the way you make me feel.” When I see queer artists showing up in full force I am reminded that my sexuality really is just… by the bi.