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Straddling Borders: The Surprising Bond Between Borderline Personality Disorder And Bisexuality

Not understanding the nuances of my sexuality, I concluded that suppressing one side of my identity was enough evidence that you can choose.

Zuva Seven

rowing up in a very strict Christian household, homophobia and ignorance were accepted and seen as armor and weaponry in the fight against an “increasingly sodomist world.”

By 15, not understanding the nuances of bisexuality, I had concluded that suppressing one side of my identity was enough evidence that you could choose who you were attracted to.

Apart from a kiss with my best friend during childhood, my sexuality was never something I could even conceive of exploring beyond the occasional scratch of a psychological itch.

About a year ago, the man I was currently intimate with were watching Always Sunny in Philadelphia S13E10 — Mac Finds His Pride.

For those who haven’t heard of the show, Always Sunny is an American sitcom that follows the exploits of “The Gang,” a group of self-absorbed friends who run the Irish bar Paddy’s Pub in South Philadelphia.

The humor is crude and the characters are horrible people — and it is not the place to find representation — yet Mac (played by Rob McElhenney) has always battled with his sexuality. It is hinted throughout the 10 seasons of the show that he is gay, but due to internal homophobia, toxic masculinity and his Catholic faith, it is something he has always denied until recently.

To cut a long story short, Mac puts on a five-minute interpretive dance for his dad (who’s in prison) and the rest of the prison inmates, under the disguise it’s a Blake Sheldon concert. Through the dance, Mac can express his lifetime of conflict with his sexuality in a two-person ballet to Varúð by Sigur Rós.

Now, it may have been because I was intoxicated, but upon watching this I burst into tears and cried for at least ten minutes straight while my partner at the time did all he could to console me. While I couldn’t complete a coherent sentence at the time to explain to him why I was crying, in retrospect, I realize it was because I saw myself in Mac’s story. Seeing the dance made me face just how much pain I had been putting myself through all these years from denying my bisexuality. Though I had left the church many years ago, I still unknowingly carried that religious guilt and doubt.

Mac’s father rejecting him encapsulates the known rejection I was expecting from my own family. And all the fear I’d been harboring when it came to coming out to my friends. While they’re all extremely tolerant and wonderful people, I was still terrified due to the rejection I expected from my family. The dance sequence, for me, managed to capture the isolation and fear many of us in the LGBTQ+ community go through simply by existing.

It made me realize I had nothing to fear when it came to letting my friends know the real me. Truly a weight had been lifted.

Soon after, I came out to my friends as bisexual and began to embrace myself totally and fully. I was apprehensive at first but it turns out my worries were all for naught as everyone was very accepting and understanding. I also decided that coming out isn’t a rite of passage into the LGBTQ+ community;
I finally accepted that I may never come out to my family and that’s OK.

It doesn’t invalidate my experience or my sexuality — coming out is just a privilege I don’t have.

I have spent the past year trying to work through my very own internalized bi-phobia, which came as a result of both society and my religious upbringing, and now I look unto the world as an observer and see that there is still work to be done.

Bisexual people are highly stigmatized in both the LGBTQ+ and heterosexual community; because of our ability to have heterosexual relationships, we sometimes feel like we are “not gay enough” for one but “too gay” for the other. Even though we reportedly make up 52% of the LGBTQ+ community, our sexuality as a whole is not treated as a serious sexual orientation, but rather a transitional stage.

We are perceived in society and the media as both confused and greedy.

Therefore it is no wonder why many bisexual people often find themselves invalidating their own sexuality after internalizing both biphobia and bi-erasure. We are statistically less likely to come out; a 2013 Pew Research study found that only 28% of bisexual individuals said most or all of the important people in their lives knew about their sexual orientation, compared to 71% of lesbians and 77% of gay men.

These numbers were even smaller for bisexual men, with only 12% saying they were out to that degree, compared to one-third of bisexual women. Bisexuals are also more likely to experience substance abuse issues — in addition to anxiety, depression, suicide ideation and self-harm — when compared to gay or straight people. I feel like this is due to battling constant erasure, from both sides of society.

t the beginning of my journey, I would have days where I would question whether I was queer at all, quickly followed by others where I was certain I was not attracted to men. These seemingly erratic changes were part and parcel of the reason I was concerned about verbalizing something I never seemed entirely clear about. However, through reading multiple texts and accounts from fellow bisexuals, I have come to learn that sexuality isn’t fixed but it is actually extremely fluid.

On one of these knowledge excursions, I came across a forum for bisexuals with borderline personality disorder (BPD) which changed everything. I discovered that a factor of my intensity of questioning and haste to “choose a side” may have been influenced by the disorder.

BPD is a type of personality disorder. It is a very broad diagnosis but is characterized by unstable relationships with other people, unstable emotions, and an unstable sense of self. (The latter being one of the most difficult symptoms of the disorder.)

Much like with my sexuality I have never had a strong sense of who I am. My opinions, personality, and identity fluctuate depending on who I’m surrounded by.

The analogy I like to use is thinking of a bowl of water: it can’t transform into a bowl of rocks, but it can, however, turn into a gas, liquify or freeze depending on its environment. Of course, mercurial identity issues are not exclusive to people with BPD, but they are more profound in people with the diagnosis.

And this is precisely why it is theorized that some people with BPD can also have trouble forming a sexual identity.

In Angela Theresa’s essay Forming An Identity When You’re Bisexual And Borderline, she outlines how sexuality for bisexual individuals with borderline personality disorder may be more complex than for those who identify as gay or lesbian.

“You see, because borderline emotions and identities change so rapidly, people with BPD often question whether or not feelings they had for someone — or fashion they were fond of, music they listened to, movies they liked, anything period in their life, really — sprouted from genuine like or love of those people and things, or if those people and things were just phases of BPD-induced identity change. Maybe the gay was just a phase, she’ll think. Maybe the gay part of me was never real.”

The more I read into the topic, and the more stories I read from people who like me questioned their sexuality, the more I realized that I wasn’t alone in my constantly fluctuating sense of self and identity.

This comorbidity—however seemingly common—is not well-documented or studied —although one study found that BPD patients were over 75% more likely to report being homosexual/bisexual when compared to other subjects with other personality disorders. A different study found that homosexuality was six times more common among the women and ten times more common among the men with borderline personality disorder than in the general population or in a depressed control group.

It’s crucial for people like myself to know that the constant questioning of our sexuality is likely tied to the nature of our disorder, not internalized self-hatred or greediness.

This dynamic is further complicated by the fact that BPD is extremely stigmatized in both society and the medical community. Studies find that psychiatrists were more prejudicial (due to internalizing a lot of the stigma surrounding the disorder) toward patients with BPD, in comparison to other types of mental health patients.

n the research paper, The bisexual condition? A critique of Borderline Personality Disorder and Bisexual Stereotypes, Dr Caroline Walters explores how these bisexual stereotypes and the diagnostic criteria for BPD can intersect, causing harm to bisexual patients. They found that all aspects of a patient’s life were vulnerable to being viewed as symptoms versus life choices. This was mostly to be especially true for female patients (75% of BPD patients are thought to be women).

So I can not stress enough the importance of trusting yourself above all else seeing as medical professionals frequently misunderstand the disorder. It is also important to remember that there are 9 points on the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) checklist you can hit (you need at least 5 to get the diagnosis).

This means that there are over 200 combinations and different ways the disorder can present itself. As Angela Theresa said, “the real issue borderlines have is not forming, but keeping their bisexual identities and trusting that the gay feelings they have are genuine.”

Don’t be discouraged if your symptoms don’t match up with other people’s; remember that our sexuality isn’t a symptom.

n the days where I feel insecure, I label switch and use queer instead. I have found that the broadness and inclusivity of the term brings me comfort. However, there are days I feel that by doing this, I am not participating in trying to banish the stigma of around bisexuality with all I have. But I also can’t fight a battle if I am putting my mental health at risk.

There is a feeling of a lack of support by therapists and mental health practitioners when it comes to bisexuality as well as BPD and for individuals like myself whose identities intersect, we may feel like we are fighting a losing battle. I still have days where my attraction will be different to those of different genders, but I’ve come to see that it’s very normal.

“Bisexuality as a label is much more accepting and fluid than society is,” Angela Theresa writes. “Fluidity is the key that allows borderline bisexuals to continuously question, experiment, reform, and reaffirm their queer identities in an otherwise rigid world.”

To those who like me are still uncertain, just know that I see you. We exist. Remember: If you feel queer, you are queer.

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