Maybe you think of yourself as straight but what happens if you have feelings for someone of the same gender as you? What does it mean to be bi-curious?
What is bi-curiosity?
Everyone's got a type. Some people go for blondes, and some people go for redheads. But then, every now and then, you crush on somebody who doesn't conform to the sort of person you usually go for. You fall for someone not because of their hair colour, or height, but because of who they are - and sometimes their gender might come as a surprise.
"It's certainly not unusual to have feelings for people of a different gender from the one you normally fancy, whether it's someone you know in person or someone you see on TV or in a film," says Phil Nicol, Co-Chair of the London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard. "Gender isn't always the defining factor in why people find others emotionally or sexually attractive. But it can sometimes be confusing or upsetting to have these feelings when you always thought that you could clearly define your sexual orientation."
Facing up to your feelings
While it's totally normal to experience bi-curiosity, though, it's not always easy to know what to do about it - especially if you've got a crush on a friend, or you're surrounded by people who might not understand. "After having been brought up in a conservative background, I was very reluctant to think that I was anything but straight," says James Harrison, 22. James dated girls at school, but gradually began to realise that he fancied guys as well. "I used to rationalise being attracted to men to myself by claiming that I was 'admiring their style, clothes, etc'," he explains. But it wasn't until university that James felt able to explore his sexuality further in a safe environment. Now, he's set up Bisexual Butterfly, a charitable organisation that helps change perceptions about bisexuality.
It's OK to be curious
It's important to remember that there's no rush to define your sexuality. We're so used to putting tags on people that sometimes it's tempting to jump to conclusions. But our sexuality is our own business, and if things don't feel clear cut, there's no need to try and define. "Terms like 'gay' and 'bi' can be quite limiting," explains Phil Nicol. "For many people, their sexuality may change over time and may depend on the particular people they meet, and so plenty of people don't look to put themselves in a box by defining their sexuality in simple terms like 'gay', 'straight' or 'bisexual' - and there's no reason why you need to."
About coming out
Unfortunately, exploring your sexuality can still be a difficult thing, particularly in the wrong environment. "Particularly for young people, coming out can be really risky and when it goes badly can lead to bullying, ostracism, domestic abuse and homelessness," says Petra Davis, a Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgendered (LGBT) sex and relationships advice columnist. "Even when it goes well in terms of getting support from friends and family, that doesn't mean the rest of the world will agree, particularly if you're still at school." One way you can talk about your sexuality safely is by contacting an LGBT youth group. Most areas now have LGBT youth groups that have either drop in or telephone services, and many run youth events or activities that allow you to talk to others in a risk-free space.
Treat others with respect
It's not just straight society that you need to worry about, though. Just because you're experiencing these feelings doesn't mean that the gay community will welcome you with open arms. Bisexuality has a negative reputation in some sections of the gay community, and so-called 'bi-try' types may be stereotyped as untrustworthy, confused or slutty, out to sate their own lust before flitting off.
"None of these views are true," says James Harrison. "I can't deny that they may be correct in some circumstances, but in the main a bisexual is no more promiscuous or confused than the next person." But don't reinforce negative stereotypes. If you're out to explore your sexuality, beware of treating people as experiments. It might be a learning experience or just a bit of fun for you, but don't lead people on, and be aware that gay relationships can be just as complicated and emotionally charged as straight ones.
Be your own person
Maybe you're bisexual. Maybe you're gay. Maybe you're straight. But the important thing to remember is that it's your decision how you label yourself, if at all - and you have the right to decide in your own time. "It's OK not to know what's going on," says Petra Davis. "No-one needs to be buying the rainbow knickers straightaway."
Written by Louis Pattison
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