The joyful chaos of coming out as queer, nonbinary & bisexual in my late 20s 

Keegan Williams
Photo: Jamie Biver

I remember the palpable relief of recognizing at age 13 that I was attracted to other boys. It was as if I could finally see clearly for the first time, like a monumental weight was freed from my chest, a sneeze that teased my sinuses for years finally coming out.

But if only I could warn that kid about the complicated journey that would ultimately lead to their bisexual awakening later in life.

I use bisexual, pansexual and queer to varying degrees, but my coming out as these identities didn’t happen in a single moment. It was gradual and took years. I noticed it in those same teen years and in my 20s and often buried it deep. I truly owned my attraction to all genders around the time that I came out as nonbinary at 27 years old, in January 2021. 

I’m happy I took my time. Even today, this journey can feel intimidating to navigate, despite my relief in finally allowing myself to do so.

Lost in labels

I’ve found that “queer” feels the most comfortable for me, as it covers all facets of my identity: my nonbinary gender, my sexuality, myself as a whole. I’ve exuded “queer” most of my adult life. Think bell hooks, “Queer not as being about who you’re having sex with (that can be a dimension of it); but queer as being about the self that is at odds with everything around it and has to invent and create and find a place to speak and to thrive and to live.”

It’s a broad blanket that, ideally, doesn’t demand further explanation. Ironically, I’ve found that the opposite is often true as it pertains to my sexuality, often clarifying: “Yeah, I mean, I’m essentially pan or bi.”

I don’t often identify as bisexual, though in the way I understand it — attraction to two or more genders — it applies. Years ago, I got caught up in the idea that bisexuality is somehow trans-exclusionary,  a false notion I have since abandoned. 

Battling sexual imposter syndrome 

One of my friends recently came out to me as bisexual and questioned what word she “should” use. I told her that it was up to her, and it was something that could very well shift as she continued on her journey, finding her place and people in the LGBTQ+ community.

I’ve written countless stories on LGBTQ+ topics and have spoken with folks across the spectrum. I’ve been out for 16 years and considered myself a fairly fluid person even before coming out as nonbinary and queer. And yet, I almost felt fraudulent acting as though I was some kind of expert source on the subject of bisexuality.

I simply have yet to fully explore the breadth of my sexuality. I’m infatuated with people of all genders on a daily basis, and I’ve shared a number of intimate experiences with non-men and folks with vulvas — affirming that those signs I ignored for years were indeed correct. 

However, I can count these experiences on one hand. I’ve never been with a woman, cis or trans, and while I’m surely a sexual person, I find myself craving a more well-rounded, emotionally intimate experience with non-men. Navigating this new part of myself as I look ahead to my 30th birthday next month often feels fully confounding, to put it lightly. 

I’m nonbinary, but I understand that I’m often perceived as a slightly femme-leaning, cis gay man, even in queer spaces. I can’t speak for anyone of course, but I assume that the bulk of non-men simply assume I’m not attracted to them. 

When I (try to) flirt with women and nonbinary folks, it feels completely different. I love being with gay and queer men, but I’m well-versed in navigating sex and relationships with them. I was raised as a boy and intimately understand masculinity, as eager as I was to break that tether.

I heard someone once describe bisexual attraction as an “ooh” vs. “ahh” feeling, referencing different genders. For me, my attraction to non-men feels much softer, like I simply don’t have to (or want to) approach it as aggressively. I want to hang out in bed and talk, watch a movie while cuddling, hold hands, confide in one another, share anything and everything.

Sexual intimacy obviously factors in, but after years of conforming to what most of the men wanted out of me in our relationships (essentially just sex, with few exceptions), I see these other components as part of a broader equation of connection and intimacy. 

Finding my sapphic energy

I don’t align with being a man or a woman. My gender feels fluid, sometimes nonexistent, sometimes a strange enigma that encompasses all of it or transcends the idea of gender entirely — though I relate more to women and femininity over anything else. I’ve always felt more aligned with my girl friends, and I see my potential intimate relationships with non-men as sapphic to some degree. 

To me, it makes complete sense, but I’m not sure it does to others.

I recall the recent speed-dating event I went to at Honey’s, a new-ish queer bar in Los Angeles. The night was dominated by women, lesbians and other femme-presenting folks. 

We were presented with two wristband options, one color indicating that we were looking for friends and another that we were looking for something more. I opted to wear both. When I went into the back room for my round, I found myself attracted to many of the people I talked to, and while everyone was friendly and engaged, it was clear I wasn’t going to make a more spicy connection that night.

And I get it. I’m entitled to my preferences, and everyone else is entitled to theirs. 

I embody my nonbinary gender, but my gender expression is all over the place — sometimes more butch, sometimes very femme, often an androgynous blend. I’m not a woman; I’m not transfeminine. I understand that many sapphic folks may not be attracted to me. I still had a great night. Once I adjusted my expectations to a more platonic level, I met a lot of great people — some of whom I’m still talking to.

It doesn’t feel like something you can just bring up casually. I don’t know how to explain that I feel more feminine than anything else, despite how I may appear on a given day, or that I recognize that I still carry male privilege in how I show up in the world and own it, even though it doesn’t reflect my experience.

Though, I’ve had a few wins this summer, too.

Embracing relationship anarchy

A couple cute girls came up to me at a rave in August to ask me for a light. One called me hot. I thought about it for days after. I’m used to compliments from guys, but hearing one from a girl hit me hard. Part of me wanted to ask her to dance, but I was ever-conscious of my body, my perceived gender — I didn’t want to cross a boundary because she extended a compliment.

Maybe she would have danced? I should have asked. Maybe I just have no idea how to flirt with women, especially since most of the hetero messaging I internalized as a kid came from a place of aggression, of dominance, of maleness. 

Just a few weeks ago, a woman made the first move. I saw her making consistent eyes with me as I danced. It was that special type of look, a visible glimmer in her eyes. She called me sexy, and then we started dancing together. She touched my chest and hips and I draped my arms around her shoulders before they eventually made their way to her hips. 

I’ll admit, I felt pretty awkward and wasn’t always sure where to go next, but it was a blast. She was cute and super friendly, and we danced off and on most of the night.

I don’t think this general experience is unique, nor does it have to do with my gender explicitly. Being nonbinary may add another dimension, but this feels more like it would when exploring any big identity realization later in life that you already thought you’d conquered in adolescence.

I talked to another friend over the summer who’s in the midst of a divorce from her husband, in part because she’s found she may be more attracted to women. Our chat was like a ping-pong table, rallying different points of how exciting and confusing it is to actualize this element of ourselves after letting it lay latent for so long.

So many of us bury elements of our identities simply due to the crushing nature of cisheteronormativity and the incredibly limiting shackles that come with it, keeping us from realizing our full selves and our full potential.

I feel incredibly grateful to be alive in this time — albeit a very challenging moment for LGBTQ+ folks – that allows us to explore and pursue whatever fits our own narratives. I have so much gratitude for the Gen X’ers and Boomers I saw coming out as bi and trans on TikTok during the pandemic who helped me to do the same.

If the last few years exploring my gender, sexuality, polyamory, and relationship anarchy have taught me anything, it’s that these things are far more fluid than we are often taught, and we need to give ourselves grace as we explore uncharted territory. We simply need to roll with what feels right, knowing that we’ll find our people and paths when we’re meant to.

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