Since it’s Pride month, I thought it would be nice to write a bit about queerness. It is the season for it, after all. Before I go any further, however, I have a confession to make. You see, I wrote some notes the other day about things I’d like to say in this post. It was very organised. I wrote them in a notebook which I take with me almost everywhere I go.
Today, I wrote a shopping list in this notebook. Then I took a Luas into town and bought some groceries and a very pretty crochet hook. It is now a couple of hours later, and I can’t find my notebook anywhere. I think it may be at the checkout.
So I’ll do my best, but if this post isn’t quite as organised as it could be, don’t blame my writing skills. It’s entirely my absent-mindedness’s fault.
And now, back to your (ir)regularly scheduled topic.
Don’t call me bisexual.
Seriously, don’t. I don’t like it. Call me bi, call me queer, you can even call me by my name if you really want to. But I don’t like being called bisexual.
You see, here’s the thing. I’m happy to be open about my orientation. As long as I’m in a relatively safe situation- nobody actually going to physically harm me- my preference is to be open. It’s good for people to be out in general, it prevents some misunderstandings and misconceptions, and it’s an important part of my self and my history. Being out is also a very handy asshole filtration system, which spares hours and even months of wasted time spent with people to turn out to be small minded bigots. Not to mention the fact that, if I happen to be interested in meeting someone or getting to know them a little better, having the orientation thing worked out as early as possible makes things run a lot smoother than they otherwise would. I recommend it to practically everyone, really I do.
Being ‘out’ has nothing to do with anyone’s sex life
One of the profoundly irritating things about being open about one’s orientation, as I’m sure some of you know all too well, is the assumption that coming out involves a revelation about one’s sex life, that if I come out I’ve shared something personal, even intimate. And that coming out opens a window to all sorts of juicy conversations and details.
It really doesn’t. Think about it this way: if you and I are strangers, and then we meet, it is likely that you’ll* assume that I’m straight. We live in a heteronormative society. Most people assume that most other people are straight. So we’ve met, and you have, consciously or unconsciously, assumed that I am only interested in sexual or romantic relationships with men.
If I tell you that I’m bi, you know about what (who?) I do, or may be doing, than you did before. You’ve lost the only point of information you thought you had. I tell you that I’m bi, then you know absolutely nothing about my sex life*. And that is just fine by me.
You see, I don’t want to talk about my sex life in public. I really don’t. Maybe someday I’ll change my mind about this one, but right now it would feel highly unpleasant, a violation of something very personal and important, which I want to keep between me and Relevant Others**. I like to keep my private life private.
Being ‘out’ doesn’t tell you about my personal life. It doesn’t tell you about who I am or am not involved with, it doesn’t tell you anything about my likes or dislikes. It doesn’t tell you anything about kinks and turn-ons. It doesn’t tell you anything about the kinds of relationships I like to be in. It doesn’t even tell you anything particularly meaningful about the type of people I’m attracted to. All it says anything about is that if you do find out about any of that stuff in the future, or even if I happen to mention someone I’m involved with, you can’t be guaranteed a ‘he’.
Have you ever noticed that whenever homophobes are talking about LGBT people, that can’t stop referring to us as ‘homosexuals’? You’d rarely hear an ‘LGBT people’, or even a ‘gay and lesbian’***. You might hear a ‘queer’, but you can bet it has nothing to do with queer theory. You might also have noticed that homophobic types tend to be rather preoccupied with queer people’s sex lives. And lives in general, for that matter. It’s always all ‘sodomy’ this and ‘lifestyle’ that.
This isn’t, necessarily, a coincidence. I read an article from the New York Times last week which touched on this topic. This article references a February CBS/New York Times news poll, where
half of the respondents were asked if they favored letting “gay men and lesbians” serve in the military (which is still more than 85 percent male), and the other half were asked if they favored letting “homosexuals” serve. Those who got the “homosexual” question favored it at a rate that was 11 percentage points lower than those who got the “gay men and lesbians” question.
Part of the difference may be that “homosexual” is a bigger, more clinical word freighted with a lot of historical baggage. But just as likely is that the inclusion of the root word “sex” still raises an aversive response to the idea of, how shall I say, the architectural issues between two men. It is the point at which support for basic human rights cleaves from endorsement of behavior.
This makes sense, if you think about it. Just like I don’t want everybody knowing details about my sex life, I don’t want to know the details of theirs. I’m quite profoundly lacking in attraction to the vast majority of people. While on a theoretical level I hope that everyone’s having a marvellous time with people who are having a marvellous time back at them, I don’t want to know the details. It’s disturbing that a difference in language could have such a profound impact on something so important, but it also makes sense. If we don’t want to know about the sex lives of strangers- particularly strangers whose sex lives are personally unappealing to ourselves- then we are less likely to feel positively towards them if every time we refer to them, the word we use to do so is, quite literally, full of sex. I’d like to get away from that.
Would you like a stereotype?
All of this is, for me, closely related to prevailing stereotypes about those of us who are attracted to people of more than one gender. There’s the ones where you’re confused and can’t make up your mind, the ones where you’re flighty and immature. There’s the ones where you’ll sleep with anything that moves. The ones where you’re untrustworthy and bound to cheat on your partner with someone of another gender. Where you can’t be trusted.
A lot of this is about our sex lives- or, to be more specific, about the preconceptions that people have about our sex lives. It’s assumed (by some!) that any bi person, in a relationship with another person, will be tortured with desires and fantasies about people of the ‘opposite’ sex until we just can’t help ourselves. That, despite this, we don’t know our desires and that we’ll eventually settle down into one ‘side’ or the other. Even that our orientation as a whole can be determined from a quick glance at our most recent, or current, partner(s).
I know that no single word can completely eradicate biphobia and stereotyping. I also know that it is not my responsibility to single-handedly change the minds of every biphobe and homophobe out there- that’s up to them. And I know that I could be seen to be coming perilously close to blaming members of an oppressed group for the actions of oppressors. This is not what I mean to do. I do not blame anyone for choosing to identify themselves as ‘bisexual’. It’s a legitimate word, and identifying that way in no way absolves anyone from acting in a discriminatory way.
However, I do retain the right to want to make my life just that little bit more smoothly.
Back to me. Because that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?
So say ‘bi’, if you like. It’s not ideal- it implies that I have two sexualities, for one thing, which is a bit bizarre. But it gets the point across, it’s a word everyone knows the meaning of, and it’s far less likely to get you thinking about my sex life. Or you can say ‘queer’. I like ‘queer’, but I’m well aware that it’s quite the loaded term for many people, so I prefer to use it only when I’m sure people will understand my meaning, and not find it offensive or triggering. Or you can say that I’m not too picky when it comes to gender****. I don’t mind, I’m not fussy. Just don’t call me bisexual.
*Bar the fact that I most certainly hope that you are assuming that it includes consenting adults.
**And whoever I happen to be talking to after a few margaritas. Random drunk people are relevant, right? Right?
***Not that I’d know anything about that. Nothing to do with me, them Gays And Lesbians. Entirely different category over here. Although I do have quite a similar lifestyle to many of my gay friends, so it is possible that all of us, straight people included, are Living A Homosexual Lifestyle.
****I am, actually. In my own way. But if you want to find out more about that, you’d best start making up the margaritas.