Amrita Marino/Courtesy of Anna Akana
hen I was 11, I had my first crush on a girl. Ellen had short hair that she styled in a side-swept fohawk, she knew how to kickflip and ollie on a skateboard, and and she wore Zumiez flannel shirts with folded cuffs at her elbows. Ellen was the embodiment of cool. The idea of anyone—girl or boy—not liking her seemed absurd to me.
As a kid, crushes are currency. So when I told my friend that I like-liked Ellen (fully expecting her to divulge her crush for Ellen as well, thereby cementing our summer camp friendship status), I was shocked to hear her say, “Anna, you’re just trying to be interesting.”
From that moment forward, I internalized the message that I was a straight girl trying to be interesting by liking other girls.
As a teenager, when I kissed other girls, I always viewed it as harmless fun. When I would start feeling something more for friends, I assumed that was a natural product of knowing someone intimately. “Bisexual” was an identity that was so far removed from myself that I never gave it any further thought.
This was easy given that, for the most part, I was attracted to men. Didn’t bisexual mean that one had to be attracted to both sexes equally?
My attraction to women was something I wrote off as an appreciation for the female body. Couple all this with the societal message that bisexuality is just an in-between, a bridge to gay or a phase during straight, and it’s no wonder that it took me nearly three decades to even admit to myself that I was bisexual.
In my mid-twenties, I started falling in love with a woman who I was close friends with. My feelings escalated to the point where I was often daydreaming about her the way I’d shamelessly fantasized about men in the past. I imagined us together sexually. And often, I’d catch myself in a spiral of shame and guilt for having thoughts about her like this. It felt like a violation of our friendship. And again, I’d hear the words, “You’re just trying to be interesting,” echo in my head.
Coming to terms with my sexual identity took years. There was no single magical moment of revelation. It was a slow, dawning acceptance that maybe that accusation I heard so long ago wasn’t my truth. Maybe I didn’t like Ellen because I wanted to be interesting, but because Ellen herself was undeniably interesting to me. Maybe the limits of who I was awed by, attracted to, and wanted to get to know better shouldn’t be confined to just one gender pool.
But I still had decades of internalized homophobia telling me that bisexuality was just that bridge. My bisexuality wasn’t real. I was the typical straight girl that lesbians often lamented over wasting their time with because I was just in the middle of a phase. Hell, I’d never even been with a woman beyond kissing at that point.
I reached out to Ashly Perez, a fellow writer I’d known for years and out-and-proud LGBTQ+ woman. I confessed my fears of the label, of what it possibly meant, of how I didn’t feel right to claim it.
Ashly reassured me, “I’m mostly attracted to women, but I still am bisexual even though I’ve only been attracted to a handful of guys.” Hearing it in the reverse somehow clicked for me.
Did I dismiss Ashly’s sexuality because of her pie chart? Did I write off her bisexuality as really a lesbian in transition? Of course not. Ashly is the one who really crystalized for me that sexuality is a fluid spectrum, that its nature could include change at any point.
She encouraged me to own it. To give myself the gift of not feeling confined to a label or a definition that was created by anyone but myself.
I came out to a few friends shortly after that. To my surprise, no one was surprised. In fact, a ton of close friends had already assumed I was bisexual. “But why didn’t you tell me?” I asked, genuinely confused as to why no one had clarified my own sexuality for me.
In 2018, I ended up coming out to my parents by engraving an award I received with “Hi, I’m bi!” I hoped that the achievement would soften the blow. My parents were beyond accepting and loving. My mom said that as long as I found someone who truly loved me for me, she didn’t care about gender. My dad immediately accepted it as a realm in which he could make more dad jokes.
I came out publicly at the Streamy Awards in late 2018, in an inebriated impulsive effort to get young people to vote, as well as to own a part of myself that I had denied for so long, and to cement my friendship status with the internet by using my crush currency.
Though I still consider myself a baby queer, I want to lend my voice to the issues that have been in the dark for so long in my own life, the same way I’m vocal about being a woman in film or being Asian-American in the entertainment industry. I’m more aware of how I cast my own projects, how my characters, when queer, are being portrayed and written. I want to ensure that they’re three-dimensional and be mindful of compassionate representation for this part of who I am.
Anna Akana is a Japanese-American actress, musician, and comedian.