By Lila Hartelius
When I was six years old, my dad sat down with me and walked me through the creation of an age-contingent “life goals” document. “Age 16: Learn to drive . . . Age 18: Become an adult [whatever that means] . . . Age 30: Get married.” Yikes. I just turned 30. As much as I can say to myself, “Scrap that stupid document – my dad was out of his mind imposing that on a six-year-old,” these societal expectations still ring in my ears even when I’m not looking. It is a ring so close and so imperceptible that sometimes even I don’t hear it – not until I turn around and notice how much of it has taken the liberty of setting up house in my psyche.
I’ve heard some self-identified bisexual people profess that they don’t envision having any problem being in a life-long monogamous relationship – they don’t feel they would miss being with someone of a different gender. I’m not one of those people. I’ve always felt torn between, on the one hand, a desire to find a life-long partner and, on the other hand, a very clear sense that whichever gender such a partner happened to be, I’d always miss being with individuals of other genders. Polyamory is something I’ve considered – and even dabbled in – but I fear my jealous and clingy heart is too fragile for such a multifaceted relationship dynamic.
In the heat of a romantic moment, I sometimes get the notion that marrying the person I happen to be sharing the moment with would be a deeply satisfying thing. But in my everyday-laundry state of mind, I usually feel altogether quite uninterested in the idea of marriage, partly due to its gender-confining partnership nature. This feels strange as I launch out into the uncertain waters of a decade that, according to my culture, is supposed to be defined by holy matrimony and child-rearing. And if the idea of marriage seems at least mildly repulsive to me, the question of children is off the charts.
With respect to my decision not to get married and not to have kids, the only name I’ve found to describe what I am (and intend to continue to become) is “spinster” – not the most complimentary of terms. Add to that the fact that I might want to date people of other genders than male, and I start to disappear completely.
Being bisexual in high school and college was easy – well, as easy as it could be. It was cool to be something that happened to be “outside the box” or “risqué” – especially when nothing more than support for “coming out” was needed or provided. Being bisexual in my 30s – and a bisexual spinster, no less – is downright effacing. Not in a shaming sense, but in the sense that there is no identity I’ve found for someone of my bent who happens to be in this stage of my life with respect not only to my age bracket but also to the progression of my relationship to my bisexuality.
Coming out was easy. There were support groups for that. After that, what was there – a cliff? A sign saying, “We gave you the tools, now go build your own life”? Sorry, the tools you gave me weren’t made for the rough societal waters of my 30s. What’s worse than coming out to people who expect you to rebel because you’re young? Coming out to people who don’t even see you because they don’t have a name for what you are.
In my last weeks of being 29, I was terrified of either being swallowed beyond recognition into the conventional deathgrip of turning 30 or adopting a new-spangled transparent identity. I frantically scoured my memory for women I’ve known in their 30s who embody the unconventional, passionate boldness I want to finally give myself permission to embody in rebellion against the usual “be responsible” mantra of one’s 30s. Looking over the list of women I came up with, I gasped to realize they were all bisexual.
Being this bold, unconventional self, I realized, has a lot to do with embracing my bisexuality. It would be so easy to overlook this aspect of my identity and instead generalize that the unconventionality has to do with embracing the uniqueness of “who I am” (whatever that means). But in a society to which I’ve responded by hiding my bisexuality (in order to avoid naïve comments that are frustrating at best, disheartening at worst), I cannot ignore the role bisexuality plays in my experience of myself. It is essential. It forms a great deal of my sense of myself as someone who has always wanted to be “different,” to “break out of the mold” – someone who feels the most vivacious when she embraces the differentness in her that she relishes.
So, at the end of the day, it’s not about making sure I get enough time in bed with people of a variety of genders (although that would be nice). It’s about holding a vision in my mind and heart of the kind of person I want to be in this phase of my life. Rather than fall prey to the conventional identity that could so easily creep up on me, I’m creating my own identity for my 30s – an identity that’s about loving and celebrating the beautiful, blazing incongruence that I know I am and love to be: bisexual, spinster and downright contrary!
Lila Hartelius, BA (lilahartelius.wordpress.com) is a published writer and editor who has written funded grant and business proposals and served as editorial assistant for the International Journal of Transpersonal Psychology. Her work has been published in Weird Sisters West and Tendrel (Naropa University’s diversity journal), and she has contributed to the efforts of Bennington College’s Queer Student Union, Naropa University’s GLBTQ student group and Boulder Pride.