In late August, YA author Becky Albertalli came out as bisexual via a post on Medium. The writer had long been criticised in media for being a straight married woman writing queer stories – her best-known book was adapted to film as 2018’s charming Love, Simon, centring a gay teenage boy, and the sequel, Leah on the Offbeat, focused on Simon’s best friend as she grappled with her bisexuality.
In the heartfelt post, Albertalli shares how writing these stories helped her realise that she was queer – but how the public discourse around her and her sexuality never let up, especially since she called herself straight in early interviews.
The part of her post that resonated most with me was this: “Labels change sometimes. That’s what everyone always says, right? It’s okay if you’re not out. It’s okay if you’re not ready. It’s okay if you don’t fully understand your identity yet. There’s no time limit, no age limit, no one right way to be queer.”
Looking back on my teenage years, a lot of things make sense now that I know I’m queer. Albertalli writes about Twitter threads where people share “the screamingly queer things they did before they knew they were queer”. Mine wasn’t even subtle – writing a 5000-word poetry suite about Emily Dickinson and her secret lesbian lover when I was 17 – but I can honestly say I didn’t have a clue about my sexuality.
Looking back on my teenage years, a lot of things make sense now that I know I’m queer.
All I knew is that some girls made my stomach flip in a way I thought was to do with wanting to be their best friend, but in hindsight wasn’t so different to the way I felt around cute boys. I didn’t even know bisexuality existed until my late teens – everything was black and white through the lens of my conservative upbringing.
I was in a long-term relationship with a man until I was 25, and had never considered that I could be anything but heterosexual. I was often mistaken for queer, but I always laughed it off: “I’m definitely straight!” I’d say. It took a long time for the pieces of my adolescence to form a picture that had been hiding behind the foreground the whole time – kind of like those Magic Eye books from the 90s.
Coming out to myself and the world at age 27 felt like exhaling a breath I didn’t realise I’d been holding, but I wasn’t sure what to do next.
Albertalli writes, “I’ve never kissed a girl. I never even realised I wanted to.” That’s how I felt when I came out – like people would question the validity of my queerness because I didn’t have the stamps on my passport to prove it. I heard it in whispers behind my back about me being a ‘fake’ queer, pretending so that I could fit in with the cool kids – it was like high school all over again. That really hurt, because it made me question myself – was what they were saying true? If I was primarily still dating men, did being bi even matter?
I heard it in whispers behind my back about me being a ‘fake’ queer, pretending so that I could fit in with the cool kids – it was like high school all over again.
In his piece about coming out as queer while in a relationship with a woman, Patrick Lenton writes, “By identifying with my sexuality, I am for the first time actually identifying as myself.”
This is why Albertalli coming out is important – it might inspire so many in a similar situation to be true to themselves, even if it doesn’t visibly change their life to outsiders. This is why it was important for me to put words to the feeling I’d always had but never been able to name, even if I end up in another relationship with a man and I ‘pass’ as straight to the world.
Albertalli’s post is also significant to me because it shows the harm that can be caused by making assumptions about others’ identities. The fear of judgment and ridicule may hold them back from realising, accepting and vocalising who they are. As a public figure she’s in a hyper-visible position, but transferring this to a more everyday scenario, idle gossip and chatter about others can hurt. What bisexuality or queerness looks like to one person might be very different to how it looks to someone else – there’s no checklist you need to tick off before you’re allowed to claim it.
Some people know they’ve been bi from when they are very young. Others, like Albertalli and me, take a little longer; some people might spend their entire lives figuring it out. Giving individuals unconditional space to become wholly themselves is an act of grace – as Albertalli says, there’s no time limit, no age limit, no one right way to be queer.
Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen is a freelance writer.