Can I reclaim a bisexual identity by painting over the world’s assumptions with the brush of my own truth?
Let’s talk — some more — about the B word.
If you’ll recall from last week, the comments section of an AfterEllen roundtable discussion about bisexuality got me thinking. I haven’t identified as bisexual in years and years — but is that truly because the label doesn’t fit? Or was the rejection of ‘bisexual’ just an attempt to avoid the stereotypes and misinformation I knew I would be saddled with?
Let’s back up. There are all sorts of claims — ranging from reasonable to ridiculous — that make the bisexual label problematic. All of these claims were raised by AE readers in the comment section last week. I’d like to address a few of them here today.
(Please note that I am not trying to alienate any of my amazing, sweet, open-minded monosexual readers. I have so many wonderful lesbian and straight friends who are wholly supportive of my journey and have absolutely no issues with the concepts of bisexuality and sexual fluidity. The last thing I would want to do is to reinforce an us vs. them dynamic as I explore these issues. Please feel free to weigh in — with your support, your dissension, anything you would like to contribute from your lovely, lovely brain — in the comments below. You are all my friends.)
So, here we go…
Claim: Bisexuality reinforces the gender binary.
Verdict: Reasonable, but just one interpretation.
This is something I always assumed as well. But googling this question with an open mind brought me to a possible solution. What if the “bi” in bisexual actually refers to same/different, instead of male/female?
Let’s go to an article from Bi Any Means for more information from Youtuber Verity Richie:
Heterosexual comes from the word hetros, which means “different.” Homosexual comes from the word homo, which means “the same.” So if you were to apply the word bi — which means “two”– if we apply this in the same way we apply hetro-and homosexuality, then we’ve got “different” and “the same.” So bisexuals are attracted to people who are different and people who are the same.
I would never say that everyone must adopt this interpretation of the term (and stop using pansexual, for instance), but it works for me.
Claim: Stating that “all sexuality is fluid,” bisexuals and bisexual activists participate in gay/lesbian/monosexual erasure.
Verdict: My sexuality is fluid. That doesn’t mean yours is.
When I say “sexuality is fluid and boundaries are artificial,” I’m just speaking about my own experience as a queer woman. That experience is never going to be 100% analogous to that of a lesbian woman’s (if it were, I would probably identify as a lesbian).
I have met many wonderful women (and dated some of them) who are, without a doubt, a Kinsey 6. When they describe their experiences to me, I don’t second guess whether they are telling me their truth.
In return, I always have the hope that I will receive the same courtesy and validation from them when I describe my own experiences…but honestly, that happens far less often than I would like.
Claim: As long as someone identifies as bisexual, they are “keeping their options open.” A bisexual person will never be satisfied with one person. And finally, a person in a monogamous committed relationship’s bisexual identity is totally irrelevant.
Verdict: Ridiculous. I realize this myth has been perpetuated by years of stereotypes in literature and on television, but anyone who thinks as such is misunderstanding the basic principals of sexual identity.
This three-part myth about bisexuality is as old as the hills, and about as pervasive as bacteria. I’ve heard it parroted back to me from people across the spectrum.
I used to have a closeted bisexual friend with whom I talked about everything. All of our deepest fears about our sexuality were out in the open with each other. One day, he confided that he would be reluctant to disclose his sexual identity in a relationship, and he wouldn’t want to date a bisexual person himself. “Because you’d never really be sure,” he said. “You couldn’t be.”
We’ve all spent the past few years leaning that gender and sexuality are not the same thing. So why is it that people still don’t seem to understand that sexual identity and whether you are monogamous or polyamorous are two separate issues?
Let me be very clear: I am bisexual. I am also monogamous. I only date one person at a time. The person I am dating fulfills me sexually. For heaven’s sakes, a person who likes both chocolate and vanilla ice cream can eat a chocolate cone without wishing halfway through that it was vanilla!
Where does it come from, this idea that a woman could never be enough as the sexual partner of a bisexual person — that she could never fulfill her sexually, in the end? As a Kinsey 4-5, my most fulfilling sexual relationships have been with either women or my current sweet, attractive, wonderful boyfriend, who is trans. And yet the lesbians in my life seem to ascribe to this notion (which must certainly have been invented by a cis man) that eventually all bi women are going to need a dick. I don’t even like dicks! Dicks are kind of gross!
My first girlfriend, for instance, said she “broke her rule” about not dating bi women to date me. “You’re different,” she said. “I can tell you really want it.”
Anyway, I asked her once about her fear of dating a bi women and she told me that she had dated two bi women in the past, and after she broke up with each of them, they had each gone on to subsequently date a man.
“But they didn’t leave you for a man,” I said. “You broke up with them first.”
“But still,” she said. Just the thought that she had dated a woman who later dated a man was too much for her. Where does that come from?
As far as bisexual identity being moot once you commit to a person, whether that commitment looks like marriage or something else, let me explain something. It’s true for Anna Paquin, it’s true for Evan Rachel Wood, and it’s true for me:
Being queer (bi/pan) is part of my personality. It helps to make me who I am.
It’s not all that I am, of course. I am blue-eyed and blonde-haired. I grew up playing piano. I have some issues with my family. I grew up swimming every day all summer. I cry every time I watch the Lion King when Simba’s dad dies. And I’m queer.
Every part of me is…part of me. Including my attraction to/appreciation of people of all genders. And a person who loves me will know and love all of those different parts of me, because combined, they make up the person that they love most in the world. If I should be so lucky.
Whether I am dating a guy or a woman, I want to be able to be who I am completely. I don’t want to hold back or hide an entire aspect of my personality. If I’m watching the X-Files with my boyfriend, I want to geek out with him over the fact that Gillian Anderson is hot. It’s something that we can share. And I want to tell him about my experiences growing up, coming out, and I want him to know my friends who are LGBTQ+, and I want to share things with him that will help him to better understand my experience because that will not only help him to be a good ally, it will make us closer.
Continuing to identify as queer is not a matter of keeping my options open. It’s a matter of being honest about the person that I am.
I denied who I am for too many years when I was in the closet. Now that I’m out, no one can put me back in there — not even if I were to marry a man. I know what it’s like to pretend the queer part of me doesn’t exist. It just doesn’t work. It only lasts so long, and then the closet collapses. Love wins. My struggle is the struggle to be my true and complete self, and to be seen and loved as that person. That is a point on which I will not compromise. I can’t. Not if I want real love in my life.
Claim: bisexual people only want to date lesbians. They don’t want to date each other, so they’re missing out on a huge pool of available women.
Verdict: Ridiculous. I (and most people, I would venture) don’t stop in the middle of hitting on a woman to say “oh wait, I’m sorry, are you gay?” and walk away if they say they’re bi or queer. In the end, it’s all just people loving people.
Many readers who commented on the AE article didn’t understand why bisexual people are trying to date lesbians in the first place. “I wouldn’t date a bisexual woman because we would have nothing in common,” one reader said. A thread emerged, a kind of “gee, bisexual people, if lesbians are so unwelcoming, have you considered dating other bisexuals? Or WOULD you even, since they’re so…ya know…bisexual?”
First of all, I would date a woman who identified pretty much any way except straight.
And secondly, how do we even know? I don’t stop in the middle of getting to know a girl to interrogate her sexuality. If she’s interested, she’s interested.
The thing is, people put so much stock into these arbitrary boundaries. Let’s all classify each other ALL THE TIME. Let’s all keep each other in our assigned boxes. Straight people and LGBTQ+ people alike spend so much time classifying people and policing “acceptable” sexuality. But the thing is, those boundaries between people, those “norms,” they don’t really exist. They’re constructs. (That is not the same as saying that all sexuality is fluid. I mean the things that divide us are constructs, not that our sexual identities are).
It’s the same thing I would say to a homophobic religious conservative or to a biphobic lesbian: we are all different. We are all the same. The shit that keeps us apart? It’s all smoke and mirrors. The first time I kissed another woman, I knew it, I could really feel it, for the very first time. And I literally laughed with joy. Because the weight of all of that bullshit had lifted off of my shoulders with an audible clunk.
People love people, as someone told me once. Consenting adults seek out other consenting adults to spend their lives with. Finding love is hard enough without the policing. Please, let’s celebrate love however we’re lucky enough to come to it, and celebrate each other as well.
Claim: The bisexual label is irredeemable. It’s simply got too much baggage attached to it. Why not go forward with ‘queer,’ ‘pansexual,’ and other more modern labels?
Verdict: Reasonable — but for those of us who feel it applies, it may be our duty to reclaim it and make it out own despite the public flack, much like today’s feminists have to work to defend the term feminism.
In the years that I privately identified as bisexual, I really struggled. I mean, I struggled anyway–I was closeted–but the word “bisexual” was so fraught. First of all, it had the word “sexual” in it, which made it feel like a very private, dirty thing that was nobody else’s business.
But I’m a sex-positive person, so why is it so dirty to have the word “sexual” in an identity? After all, the word “heterosexual” doesn’t sound private or dirty to me. I think that the sexual in the bisexual label scared me for the same reasons that coming out in general did: because no matter how many times I told myself the contrary, it felt like having a romantic relationship with a woman was somehow dirty and wrong. It took me so long to shift that, but once I did the work, it lifted all in an instant. There is nothing wrong with me, there is nothing wrong with my dating women, and there is nothing wrong with the sex in bisexual.
The second issue was the stigma from gays and lesbians, as addressed all through this article. If I was bi, I figured I would pretty much be a pariah in both the straight and the lesbian communities. So for the most part, I just kept my mouth shut. Eventually, as I came out, I embraced ‘queer.’ After all, on any given day I figured I might be 60-95% gay; queer offered me a way to opt out of the bisexual stigma machine, and to opt out of an identity that sounded at the time like half gay, half straight.
But calling myself queer didn’t keep all of the haters at bay. Even though I never lead with my label (always letting lesbians get to know me before they learned my history), the fact that I had dated guys got me some flack. As a result, I had to create my community pretty intentionally, reaching out to like-minded people who didn’t identify in monosexual ways.
So if the problem is the deed and not the word, then why not stand up for what I am? Haters gonna hate, right? I am a woman who dates other women (and sometimes men). If that’s bisexual, than I’m bisexual. Here I am. And this — all of this you have been indulgent enough to read — is what that all means for me, in my experience, in my thirty years of life.
Queer, bi, pan, gay, lesbian, trans people of all sexualities: We all share a history of examining our identities and interrogating our desires, of consciously rejecting what the world has tried to put upon us, more intensely than most straight-identifying people I know. No one group of people is uniform in all ways. But given that we have shared similar experiences, given that much the rest of the world has historically frowned on us, can’t we find a way to band together and celebrate our differences as well as our similarities?
Anyway, that’s it from me. Now I’d like to hear from you. Do you identify as bisexual? Why or why not? What does the label mean to you, and how has it affected your life? I can’t wait to hear from you.
❤, Queer Girl