Sexual identity is already something that many women struggle with early in life. According to TheBody.com, a national survey found that only six percent of women realize that they are gay or bisexual in college and eleven percent know their identity in high school, compared with twenty percent of men who realize this in junior high school, and seventeen percent in grade school.
It is not surprising that this truth is so hard to realize for women. When almost every aspect of female sexuality is shamed or repressed, it is hard to draw any objective conclusions about sexual desire. Growing up, many women experience feelings of attraction towards other women, but this is often categorized as a “phase” or the type of experimentation that all women do in college.
Even among more liberal circles, the idea prevails that women are more comfortable with their sexualities and bodies, and therefore may “experiment” even though they are straight. This is also the subject of many dramatic stories, from erotica and porn to coming-of-age tales.
What’s worse is that it’s tricky to gauge your sexuality without some of the “red flags” that you hear about from the gay community. Waking up and realizing you just aren’t into men and you’re a cis-gendered female who likes women is pretty cut-and-dry — even if it is hard to accept. But being attracted to both genders just feels confusing, and for some, downright wrong.
Then, of course, there is the bi erasure in the media.
It is extremely hard to lock down a solid bisexual role model. In Orange is the New Black, Piper’s bisexual tendencies make her a confused slut to her girlfriend just as much as to her boyfriend. Strong female characters like Alice in The L Word go 100 percent gay through their story arches, and write off bisexual behavior as gross and wishy-washy.
No wonder so many bisexual teens grow up thinking there is something inherently wrong with their feelings, or deciding that they are just confused. Compound this if the teenage girl in question was born male-bodied and identifies as female, or vice versa, or is unsure about their identity. Being trans can cause people to wrongly identify you as straight or lesbian based on your preferences, and if you do not identify as a gender and are pansexual bisexual, this can mean navigating a lot of new and uncertain waters.
Of course, raging hormones and the desire to experiment with or discover one’s sexuality are certainly real things. I’m not saying that there aren’t women out there who just want to test the waters and understand themselves and come to the realization that they are simply gay or straight. But the hard truth is, if you find yourself just about equally attracted to men and women then you are probably bisexual.
Bisexual teenage girls get one of the worst raps out there as a herd of promiscuous and confused women, and unfortunately in our current political climate, it is probably only going to get worse. We can help by really listening to women, regardless of if they are young and seemingly naïve. Ending bi erasure, which contributes to the already established hell of female puberty, is a task the queer community should not hesitate to tackle head-on.