I have been out to everyone but my family since I was 16. It was a long process of
discovery: first, I found out that liking guys didn't mean I could only like guys. Then, I
had to admit to myself I really wanted to kiss one of my friends again when I was sober,
even though she was a girl. And then, I had to deconstruct the idea that I could only be
happy with men and learn that relationships between women are just as valid.
When I started college, however, I felt like I was sending myself back to the closet.
And no, it was not because anyone was mean to me. It wasn't because I was scared of
being judged. My experience at Northwestern has been great— only few times have I
wanted to punch someone in their face for being homophobic.
The reason I felt closeted was simply that I had no one to talk to about my sexuality.
For me, being bisexual is a really important part of my identity. It took me a long time to
fully embrace it, so I can't let it go easily. If anyone tries to tell me that "no, sexuality
shouldn't be such an important part of someone's life," I'll answer them that it doesn't
matter if they think it's not a big deal. Every interaction I have with other people shows
me that it is.
We're expected to be into relationships, even if they're not serious. Most of my
conversations with my friends revolve around their new Tinder match, their partners,
whom they had sex with, whom they want to have sex with, who's seeing whom, who's
dating whom. We watch movies of all different genres and see people falling in love,
getting married, even having kids, and wonder if that will ever be us — or hope that that
won't ever be us. My relatives assume that I'm not dating anyone because I don't have
time to spare since I'm such a studious girl.
Tell me: if sexuality isn't so important, why do people bring it up everywhere?
The first time I ever told anyone at Northwestern that I was bisexual was on my second
week here, after the TND where we were all supposed to stand up if we identify with
various personal identities. Not straight, I am not straight. The US is such a liberal
country compared to where I am from, and I was still scared— not that I wouldn't be
accepted, but that I wouldn't be understood. And even though my PA group was
amazingly supportive and listened to me when I was crying and telling them my story, it
still wasn't the same.
Where were other bisexual girls? Where were the people that could fully understand my
So, during my first month at Northwestern, I hid who I am from most people — yes, who
I am, because no one can ever truly get to know me without knowing about my sexuality.
The worst thing is that I wasn't even trying to hide it: everyone simply assumed I was
straight, and I didn't deny it. My friends would joke about long-distance relationships,
and I would pretend it did not affect me at all. I mean, who would be stupid enough to
come to college dating someone, right? Yeah. Haha.
Truth is I had been dating a girl since January of that year. The fact that they asked me if
I had a boyfriend and that I could disguise myself as a straight girl just made things
more difficult. I wanted to say out loud, "Yes, I do like boys. No, I don't have a boyfriend. But if you ask me the right, genderless questions, I will tell you that yes, I am dating. And it might be difficult for you to understand, but there's no contradiction here at all. I like girls too. I am actually dating a girl."
It gets tricky to navigate when we are not open about this. Here, on campus, I find
myself in complicated situations all the time. I know that that girl likes men, but is she
flirting with me now? Even if she is, is she just a straight girl who wants to fetishize me
and then tell me she could never get into a relationship with me? The community is not
strong enough. I mean, it might be for the other letters in the LGBTQ+ community, I'm
not sure. For bisexual girls, it basically doesn't exist.
Writing this article, I realized we're everywhere. Scattered, but everywhere. But even
though we're a big group, we're not strong at all. Bisexual girls exist as isolated pieces,
accommodating their conversations to what people might want to hear — talking about
girls with straight boys, talking about men with straight girls and gays.
Some might not comprehend how important it is to have people that can relate to your
experience. I am not saying it should be the most important think about you: a lot of my
friends say that bisexual is one of the first things that come to their minds when they
think about me, since I'm so passionate about it, but that doesn't need to be anyone's
defining characteristic. I think, however, that the whole "no labels" narrative just means
that other people will assume we are straight. I wish we lived in a utopia where no one
asked me if I have a boyfriend and ignored the possibility that I might actually have… a
girlfriend. But, for now, heteronormativity exists and labels are a big deal. Having a big,
united community is crucial. I feel like I'd have a much easier time during my first
quarter here if bisexual girls existed on this campus like gay men do, with a little bit
more of openness and strength.
I know my experience is unique in its own ways. But it also represents that of many
other bisexual girls who may not be closeted, but only hook up with guys because they're
more accessible, not exploring everything they can be. Part of who we are is… invisible.
Some people call me lucky: they think I could belong to both sides. In fact, I don't belong
to any of them at all.
Keyla Carvalho is a journalism student at Northwestern. Originally from Brazil, she is very passionate about feminism, LGBTQ+ issues, fiction and international politics. You can find her on Twitter (@keyccarvalho), ranting about how female and queer characters never get the treatment they deserve.
(Graphic by Riina Dougherty)