A clip of Kathryn Hahn staring at Rachel Weisz during a 2019 Hollywood Reporter roundtable is circulating on Twitter again. The video gets rediscovered every so often and dissected for its undeniable sapphic energy.
Hahn leans on her palm and listens with rapt attention, her mouth agape, as Weisz speaks. The intensity of Hahn’s respect radiates from the clip, assisted by laser-focused editing on her hand at the back of Weisz’s chair, her body turned entirely toward her during a side conversation. Hahn nods and beams. She is delighted to be in the other woman’s presence.
Watching Kathryn marvel at Rachel, I recognize the way that I desire women. It is exciting just to be around them. I am speechless, humbled and overwhelmed. I stumble over my words, in awe of their intellect and charm.
My attraction to cis men is different from my attraction to other genders. Men I know how to handle; I can banter and brag as we flirt at dive bars, a little mean, a little aggressive. It is easy to look at them from underneath my eyelashes and provoke them into kissing me. I am not intimidated by the men I want.
Women fill me with warm fear. I do not know how to flirt with them, or even how to formulate complete sentences. A significant moment of sustained eye contact, a hand placed gently on my shoulder, can sustain me for weeks. The prospect of more astonishes me. I am a teenager with a crush all over again.
Sarah sat a few rows ahead of me during “Reproduction in the 21st Century.” Her tank top hung loose in the back, exposing the elegant arches of her shoulder blades. Fluorescent light rippled across her long brown hair. The graceful length of her neck haunted me as I walked back to my dorm after each lecture.
My crush didn’t fit in the framework of college hookups: I didn’t want to fuck her or text her or find out where she lived on campus and stare up at her window as I walked by on my way to class. I wanted to study her long fingers. I wanted to trace the tattoo across the planes of her back.
At one point she invited me to sit with her and her friends, but I demurred. Her friends made me feel small through no fault of their own; they interned with state senators and practiced yoga on top of Foss Hill. Besides, at my vantage point in the back of the classroom, I could appreciate her profile and imagine alternate realities in which she would take an interest in me.
I nearly flunked that class. With the Bud Lite logic of a college freshman, I went dancing at the Bear Hands concert at Eclectic instead of studying for midterms. The next morning I squinted, mystified, at a diagram of an ovary.
“I’m not a science brain,” I sobbed during the professor’s office hours. My D-graded exam sat between us on her desk. She rolled her eyes at my requests for an extra credit assignment. I’d have to redeem myself during finals.
Sarah helped me study. We partnered up for a presentation on emergency birth control and I salvaged a B+ at the end of the semester. She asked me to save her a dance at Queer Prom and my heart sat in my throat as I pieced together the subtext. She knows, she knows, I thought. She knows and she isn’t mad or disgusted or embarrassed.
Queer Prom came and went without me; I got a bad sinus infection and couldn’t go. Once I could breathe through my nose again, I tormented myself with thoughts of inviting Sarah to dinner. It’s what I would have done with a guy—summoned my blustering courage and suggested we celebrate my passing grade. Instead I did nothing. The semester ended and the window of opportunity closed.
Purchases I’ve made to validate my sexual identity: A “queer AF” enamel pin. Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution by Shiri Eisner. Coveralls from Wildfang. Men’s button down shirts from Out of the Closet. Three bolo ties. A “cheers, queers!” sticker and t-shirt. A “switch hitter” baseball long-sleeve shirt. An “I am queer enough” tank top in bisexual colors. A full-sized rainbow pride flag.
Twitter antagonizes my sexual identity on a daily basis. This time someone has tweeted that someone else is “theoretically” bisexual, as if our identities are abstract philosophical concepts. For bisexuals, there is never enough proof to justify our queerness.
In high school I kissed a girl at a party. We were girls, 17, my awkwardness greased by alcohol and the cover of just having fun. I don’t remember who kissed who first. She smiled like she understood something about me that I hadn’t found yet. All of a sudden my friend became her, became more, and I leaned into joy without doubt or fear.
The next morning I wrote in my diary that I didn’t know if I was straight or bisexual or just curious or what, but that I liked it. I wasn’t worried about how to label my identity. My desire and curiosity belonged to me, a private mystery I couldn’t wait to explore.
The girls I kissed in high school and college, those wonderful accidents in some dark nook at parties, do they count? Does the haze of alcohol discredit them? Are those moments enough when no clothing was removed, or when they identified as straight, or when we didn’t tell anyone what we did? Or is my bisexuality still an untested theory? Do I need to offer more data first?
I had a stalker for a time. In one of their first attacks, this person sent a dozen of my co-workers an email with the subject line “ELLA DAWSON IS BISEXUAL.” The message ended with “ASK HER IF SHES EVER EVEN FUCKED A GIRL THOUGH LOL.”
When this missive landed in their inboxes, my colleagues were watching me present an analytics report on BlueJeans, a Zoom knockoff. I would never have known about the email had one of them not forwarded it to me.
Another message arrived, sent directly to me this time. An excerpt: “Happy national coming out day you pathetic fucking cunt of a straightie!”
Two years later, a message on Tumblr: “Here is how you participate in pride as a self deluded straight woman dating a straight man: you stay the fuck home and shut the fuck up.”
I now know that this person was an unwell former colleague with an irrational grudge. Her assaults on my queer identity came from a place of pain. She had no jurisdiction over my queerness. She was not deputized to count my sexual encounters. It was not within her power to reject my application to the baby gay community.
But when I read these messages…
Do I not have enough proof?
Justifying my bisexual identity is an absurd exercise. This became wonderfully clear when my high school sweetheart, my great teenage love, came out as trans. I had dated a woman for many years, I just didn’t know it at the time.
Kate is brash and funny and talented and occasionally petty in a way I deeply respect. She is kin. We have the close friendship of two people who fell in love and fought and cried and grew up woven together, in a category all our own.
A few days after she shared her full self with me, my face lit up with a stupid grin. “You’re my ex-girlfriend,” I understood.
My bisexuality isn’t defined by who I have fucked. It is everything and nothing: how I dress but not necessarily, how I speak but not necessarily, how I sit sprawled all over the place but not necessarily.
Queerness can be a bingo card of stereotypical identifiers or a feeling you honor and treasure within yourself. It can be desire or kinship, crushes or love affairs. It is a family, not a passport full of gold stars.
I am bisexual. That is enough for me. That is enough.
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