When *Helen, 43, from London, came out to her husband as bisexual, she thought he’d leave her, but instead, to her amazement, he agreed to let her have a relationship with a woman. Here she shares her fascinating story...
I met my husband at work when I was 24. I was attracted to his physique – he’s tall and slim – and I loved how clever and funny he was. I’d only dated men before and had no idea I liked women.
Saying that, at university I had pictures of Jodie Kidd and Kate Moss pinned up inside my wardrobe and I remember once thinking, ‘Why do I have these? Do I like women?’
I’d had fantasies about women and thought, ‘Is there a part of me that wants those fantasies to become reality?’ The answer was ‘no’ so I dismissed it.
Fast-forward to 2016 and my husband Jason* and I had been married 11 years and had two children. He was – still is – my best friend and we had a healthy sex life.
I decided to have counselling because I thought I was unhappy at work. There was no issue whatsoever with my relationship. During counselling it became clear however that all through my life I’d struggled with worthlessness and been suppressing negative feelings.
Shortly after that breakthrough, I went on a hen do and was surprised to find myself feeling jealous when one of the bride-to-be’s friends I met there was talking about a man she fancied.
I couldn’t stop thinking about her and eventually brought her up in counselling. The counsellor said it was probably just escapism. ‘Unless,’ he said, ‘You’re unhappy?’
I loved my husband and children and yet here I was every Monday… That’s when I realised, ‘Yeah, I’m unhappy.’
The next day I was looking for something among the piles of magazines I’ve kept, remembering how I had wanted to kiss this woman and how I probably fancied girls generally and then – bang! – everything clicked.
All the moments when I’d had those feelings, all my childhood crushes… suddenly hit me.
I looked down and realised that what I was looking at was a stack of magazine pictures of women. It was undeniable.
Shaking with emotion
I was so shocked, I was shaking. It was like my whole life rewrote itself with this lesbian subtext and a huge weight lifted. It was like being reborn. At the same time I felt like, ‘Oh my God, but I love my husband – does this make him irrelevant?’
I spent a week feeling hysterical and telling nobody. When I finally plucked up the courage to say to Jason, ‘I’ve realised I like girls too, he just said calmly, ‘Oh ok, that’s ok’ and I stopped being hysterical.
But, how do you then restructure life to accommodate those feelings? Was it enough to just know about those feelings and not act on them? The answer was very quickly 'no'.
Jason said he still loved me and wanted to be with me and that it was ok if I was gay or if we needed to talk about being in an open relationship – I nearly fell off my chair.
He understood before I did, that I would want to live out my bisexuality. There was no desire from him to have an open relationship – he offered it because he knew I needed it – and obviously, it was only because it was with another woman. If I’d wanted to have another relationship with a man, that would not have been tolerated.
I told my sister because I thought if my marriage broke down, everyone in the family would need her support.
I told friends and although happy for me, everyone was expecting me to leave Jason. I still didn’t know if I’d have to. It felt profound that I was attracted to women and that’s absolutely who I’d always been and yet I still loved Jason – it was so confusing.
Still, everyone I’d ever heard of who had come out had left their partners and I didn’t want that automatically to be my path.
Facing the truth together
In the end, because he was so willing to stand by me, we felt we would do the journey together. However, I couldn’t give him any guarantees. I didn’t know what lay ahead of us.
Read more: Coming out as LGBTQ+: How to support someone
When I eventually met someone at a support group for not just bisexual women but ones who were married, it was very hard for him. He hadn’t asked for it. His feelings towards me hadn’t changed.
It helped that the woman I met was in a committed relationship with a man, like me. I was terrified the first time we kissed for two reasons: one, that it wouldn’t feel right and two that it would be so incredible it would blow my whole hetero life out of the water.
A life-changing lesbian kiss
That first kiss was incredible. The world changed. But it didn’t undermine my life with Jason and the children either. I was so lucky.
That relationship lasted a few months then I met *Hannah at a lesbian club night. We met up for a drink the next week. I told her I was married with children and what did she think of that? She said, ‘Let’s just see how it goes.’
Things started to get more serious. I’d see her twice a week, once at her flat (coming home on the late train because I wanted to be there for the school run in the morning) and once staying over at her house at the weekend.
I was having sex with both my husband and my girlfriend and that wasn’t easy.
Hannah was so kind and generous and we fell in love. It’s strange to think you can love two people but it was completely possible.
Read more: A lesbian woman's guide to sexual health
It was very hard for Jason. There was jealousy and he still loved me just as much as before. I kept reassuring him that my feelings for him hadn’t changed either but we still didn’t know if our relationship could withstand this set-up.
My feeling was just I can’t be anyone other than who I am – there’s no going back to living a life that wasn’t fully authentic.
In the end, he met my sister for support because he needed to air his vulnerability too, and she was brilliant.
I think what helped is that Hannah was so accepting. Even her parents knew I was married with kids but welcomed me. I needed to be fully ‘out’ to feel that emotional belonging as a bisexual woman and I was so lucky I was able to be that.
Hannah and Jason even started to become friends, meeting for a drink after two months without me to get to know each other. After about two years, they went to the rugby together more than once, and he met her friends. It all started to feel very normal.
Her whole network supported her choice to be with me and that really helped. I didn’t have to apologise for myself or feel like I was doing anything wrong.
It turned out that several women in the support group I went to have additional relationships. It’s fairly common for bisexual women to have a relationship with a man and with a woman.
Still, trying to take everyone’s feelings into consideration and make everyone feel valued gets tiring. I had to pay more attention to my husband than I probably wouldn’t have done normally.
I was with Hannah for four years. We could have gone on forever (she wanted to), but I’m married to someone else at the end of the day, and Hannah wasn’t.
I needed to commit to be her life partner but I already had one. I couldn’t grow our relationship, and for her to keep growing as a person it was clear to me she needed more.
Accepting my true identity
It took me those four years I was with Hannah to properly accept I was bisexual. I had a lot of internalised homophobia which shocked me.
I’d never understood why people found it hard to come out – I’d helped other people through it, even. And then it was me and I was disgusted with myself. I felt a lot of shame.
Now, I’m so happy with who I am that if I were to meet another woman, I’d not need as much emotional support. It would be the relationship I needed without the ‘coming out’ journey.
It will happen and Jason would be happy if it did, because ultimately, we discovered we could make it work. I just feel so lucky I’m surrounded by such understanding people that I can explore all my sexuality.
*Names have been changed
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