By Marie Shanley
Growing up in Russia during the height of musical duo t.A.T.u.’s popularity was both the luckiest and unluckiest thing that could’ve happened to me as I started to explore my sexuality. In a time when music videos hypersexualized women, I had an example of sexuality that wasn’t heteronormative but was still oversexualized and presented with a “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” twist.
t.A.T.u’s fame came after their music video for “All the Things She Said,” caused a stir because the girls kissed behind a fence. The Russian title of the song was literally “I’ve Lost My Mind,” while the lyrics described how the girls were suffering because it was not acceptable for them to be together.
My best friend and I listened to the 200 kmph in The Wrong Lane album on repeat. We’d pause their videos to see if we could catch a glimpse of the girls’ bodies as they caressed each other. Then, we’d kiss. At the time, I tried to dismiss our experience as teen girls doing teen girl things, but I also knew deep down it was definitely more than that. When my friend told me that we couldn’t do this anymore, I was absolutely heartbroken, but I pulled myself back together by thinking, “well I shouldn’t care anyway, right? I like boys just like she does.”
So, it took me almost 20 years to accept myself.
Russia is rather draconian when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights, even before any official laws were implemented in 2013. Additionally, I grew up in a big Greek family. I was expected to marry a man and make lots of babies. My uncles would often comment on whether my hips were conducive to producing boys. I was always told to watch my waist because “no one wants a chubby girl.” The same people would comment on the fact that what t.A.T.u. was doing was disgusting and a bad example for youth (while I recall no comments about the barely clothed oversexualized women who were with men).
I moved to the US in 2005, around the height of the popularity of Mean Girls, where a central plot point involved one of the characters being chastised and pushed away from others due to a rumor that she was a lesbian. Once again, the message I internalized was that if I ever entertained that I may like anyone other than a boy, I’d be an outsider. Slowly, for this and other reasons, depression started to crush down upon me.
High school brought more confusing and angry moments as I supported others in the LGBTQ+ space, while also making snide, unkind remarks to let others know it wasn’t one of them. To learn more about American culture, I watched quite a bit of Seinfeld and thought the “Not that there’s anything wrong with that” line to be exceptionally hilarious, repeating it whenever anyone would get close to questioning me.
In the following years, my mental health rapidly declined, but I also found a partner in a wonderful man. Him being the love of my life, us getting married, all felt right to me. But it was also a way I could, justify that I was straight, all while hating myself. Being loved was enough, even if it wasn’t all of who I was. I knew my husband accepted all of me that either of us knew me to be in the moment.
In 2017, I started streaming to discuss mental health and help reduce stigma. My goal was to make these discussions more commonplace by bridging the gap between those living with mental health challenges and mental health professionals.
In the process, I learned quite a bit about my own needs and how my undeniable, deep-seated self-loathing was behind almost every one of my illnesses. As I set out to learn and teach others, I became more vocal about the importance of accepting your full self… with that, my community slowly grew to include a lot of LGBTQ+ folks.
Over the years I’ve interviewed over 200 guests. Naturally as LGBTQ+ guests came on, I’d find myself asking them about how and when they knew they were not straight. I also focused on whether they were accepted once they came to terms with their sexuality.
I watched and cheered on Twitch as streamer after streamer discussed their sexuality openly. I was glued to Twitter, as they talked about the stigma people faced for being openly bisexual. Then, streamer ThatNerdViolet spoke up about being bisexual after she’d recently been married. That was the floodgate. That was the permission I needed. If she could be in a hetero-facing relationship and still be bisexual, maybe I didn’t have to hate myself for that same thing.
In 2020, knowing I would turn 30 in July, I was evaluating if I’d been happy with my life up until that point. And while I was so proud of who I had become, it crushed me to admit that I was absolutely also pushing away a HUGE part of me in fear that the loud self-loathing voice in my mind was right.
How many people would say my orientation didn’t really count because I was in a hetero-presenting relationship? How many would say I was jumping on some bandwagon?
So, I started by telling my husband, who accepted all of me as he always had. That emboldened me to tell my best friend. Then another friend, and then, having an amazing support system, I felt confident enough to tweet about it.
Without Twitch, this would still be an aspect of me I hated. It would still continue to eat away at me while I supported others from the sidelines.
To folks wondering about the right time to explore and accept themselves, here’s what helped me:
- Opening up to the idea that just learning more about other’s journeys would not hurt me.
- Understanding that even if I became certain I was not straight, I still didn’t owe it to anyone to discuss it.
However, once I did admit it to myself, all I wanted was to talk about it. I wanted to be as loud as I could with the support that I had to hopefully help others the way so many have helped me.
Thank you to all of those who love themselves loudly. Without you accepting yourself, I don’t think I would’ve ever accepted me.
– Marie Shanley, aka Mxiety, is a bisexual content creator passionate about social impact issues, especially mental health. She hopes to use her personal experience living with Depression, Anxiety, and ADHD to teach others to be kinder to themselves and be the light to others. She’s a public speaker, particularly on topics relating to mental health, community, and gaming, and a live show host on Twitch with a community full of welcoming, warm, smart, curious folks from all walks of life.