Love

I Grew Up Biromantic In A Heteronormative World

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2 women cuddling

When I was a teenager I expected only to be romantically attracted to girls. I fell in love with girls a couple of times in adolescence. However, I was never physically or sexually attracted to them. It was a tad mystifying at the time.

Eventually, I realized I was attracted both sexually and emotionally to the older guys at my school, an all-male boarding school that had been founded by James 1st in 1603. Steeped in history and religious tradition, any whisper of alternative orientations would have spelled disaster.

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Back then the term coming out hadn't even been coined yet and to fess up to being anything other than heterosexual would have been completely out of the question.

Gayness, for example, simply didn't exist except as a curse word or a slur  the worst insult you could throw at a guy in those days. How times have changed, thankfully.

There was no name for my orientation at the time. I didn't really have a romantic or sexual identity until a couple of decades later when I found out what I was by reading about it in a magazine. It was a revelation.

I discovered that I had grown up biromantic and at the time I didn't know it. Romantic attraction does not necessarily correlate with one's sexual orientation as I was to find out.

Nowadays we exist in a society that embraces and accepts sexual and romantic diversity. Only a short time ago we lived in a much more heteronormative world. Alternatives were not tolerated or even acknowledged.

I started dating girls round about the age of thirteen. Romances happened. I was, however,  flummoxed when slow dancing, kissing, cuddling, and holding hands as we walked around the town, was as far as it went. I think a couple of my girlfriends were a tad confused:

"Other boys don't like to ... talk .. as much as you," one of my girlfriends, Nicola, remarked one day in a cafe when we were fifteen. She was so pretty and such a great person and I did love her. I just never wanted to try it on in the way the other boys bragged about at my school.

It was mystifying to me  and her  at the time! I didn't understand why the other guys, my friends, at school wanted to do that.

I had my heart broken so many times by girls that I didn't think I could be anything but straight. Fiona broke my heart. So did Trudy. I was in love with Suzie for a while. I pined for her! She was my girlfriend when I was fourteen but she ditched me for Phil who was older, very masculine, and handsome and I secretly had the hots for him. I was jealous of him, too — he was with Suzie! Very confusing!

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I convinced myself that my psyche switched my jealousy of Phil to attraction due to my discomfort with hostility towards him. Perhaps hostility and sexual attraction were linked? 

I became quite the armchair psychologist at such a young age; this processing was a convoluted way of rationalizing my sexual attraction to guys.

The 'bisexual' label seemed palatable to me, though it wasn't accurate. 

I planned to fly off to university in London and join the trendy set. Male pop stars embraced androgyny and bisexuality: David Bowie, Marc Bolan, Mick Jagger — there were stories about them all, and bisexuality had become de rigeur in pop culture — it was even a selling point.

Maybe I could become fashionably bi?  Furthermore being bisexual didn't rule out marriage to a woman with all the trimmings: the house with the white picket fence some children and a dog. Looking back it seems strange now how the pressure to conform was so very strong. Things have lightened up, these days and that's a good thing.

Bisexuality and biromanticism are completely different: there is a difference between sexual and romantic attraction. Some are romantically attracted to one gender and sexually attracted to another. There is a lot of mixing and matching, too.

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When I eventually found myself at university studying performing arts, the atmosphere was welcoming, diverse, and liberal. There were a few 'out' gay, lesbian and bisexual students, and finally, I felt safe. Pippa, a dance student, walked into a rehearsal one day and I fell in love at first sight. Apparently, she did, too.

Violins played and cupid's arrows struck and I was instantly besotted. I wanted to be with her all the time: kissing, cuddling, sleeping together. She loved me, too. We were inseparable. We didn't have sex. There was lots of kissing and affection and romance but no hanky-panky. I didn't want it. She was more experienced in that department and was surprised when I never made a move. 

One night she turned to me at the campus disco: “You aren't gay, are you?” she quizzed. I could tell she was dreading my response.

I defaulted to saying “I think I might be bisexual” in a coy and guarded way. "That'll do," she replied. Of course, this wasn't exactly true but we didn't have the vocabulary for what I actually was back then. The ensuing months were interesting.

Pippa was waiting it out. She put it down to my lack of confidence. She predicted things would happen eventually. We were blinded by romantic love. We just lived day by day. We couldn't get enough of each other. Nobody mentioned one of our names without mentioning the other. We were an item. "Bonded" was how she described it.

I had no interest in sexual intimacy but the romance was fine and from the outside, everyone at college considered us boyfriend and girlfriend. Many also knew I was gay before I even confirmed it. I was somewhere between the two. We slept together and nothing really happened.

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She lived at home with her parents just a mile from college and I met her family and they adopted me into their happy, rambunctious Jewish family. Their home was full of laughter and her mum informed me she was my “London mum”.

A year later the summer ball loomed at college. The campus was centered around a huge old mansion with acres of green grass and in the summer fields of daffodils bloomed, tens of thousands of them, and an enormous marquis was placed on the grounds and the event attracted excited students from all over London.

That night I got very tipsy and Pippa and I danced and laughed with all of our friends. We sat in the corner kissing when I suddenly decided tonight was the night and it happened. We seemed quite pleased with ourselves.

After that, no alcohol was needed. Our relationship continued as both sexual and romantic. A regular relationship. Our affection meant that the romantic attraction transcended my core sexual orientation which was a physical attraction to guys and a romantic inclination for both girls and guys. Irrespective of my gay orientation, my intense romantic feelings led to sexual intimacy with Pippa.

Pippa and I were together for a couple of years but I knew I had to explore my other side. The split was friendly and we continued as best friends as we both moved on to other romances. I now identify as gay. I would occasionally have crushes on women but I felt it wouldn't be fair to navigate this again with a woman who would be better off with a fully heterosexual guy.

After graduation, Pippa and I remained friends and even lived together in shared houses with former college friends until she met the one she was to marry. In fact, he moved into our house. The guy was so handsome I found myself attracted to him but we were overtly jealous and hostile to each other because of my history with Pippa, I think. One day he growled a homophobic slur at me and I moved out post-haste.

I did, however, keep in touch with Pippa for a long time until I emigrated to the USA.

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Heteronormativity is all well and good but today we realize that the world is made up of so many different permutations of romantic and sexual orientations and gender identities.

Maybe it's more accurate to accept that the majority is made up of many different minorities so, really, the world isn't heteronormative at all!

Trevor Martin is a freelance writer and his work appears in the Guardian, BBC, The Advocate, Huffington Post, and more. He is also an aspiring playwright.

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