Don’t Call Me Bisexual: another oldie


This was originally posted back in 2010. I came across it as I was looking for my old civil partnerships video, and figured I’d give it an airing. Enjoy!

 

Don’t call me bisexual.

Seriously, don’t. 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.

I’m happy to be open about my orientation. As long as I’m in a relatively safe situation- nobody going to actually harm me- my preference is to be out. It prevents some misunderstandings and misconceptions, it’s an important part of my self and my history, and it’s good for people to know that they know someone who’s queer. Being out is also a very handy asshole filtration system, sparing hours to 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.

Sexuality ≠ sex

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 less about what (who?) I do 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’.

Language and homophobes

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 (feverishly) imagined sex lives. 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 really don’t want to know the details. 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 another 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.

 

What do you think? Do you think that the 2010 version of me was on the mark with this one? How’d you feel about the oversexualisation of queer identities? If you’re someone who fancies people of more than one gender (high five!), how do you prefer to identify and why?

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9 thoughts on “Don’t Call Me Bisexual: another oldie

  1. I think you’re totally right that the oversexualization of queer identities is one of the main tactics used by the anti-LGBTQ folk (see any conversation where concerned parents worry about they will talk to their kids about gay marriage, since they are too young to know about teh sex – and yet the kids seem perfectly comfortable understanding their straight bigot parents’ marriage and all).

    So, yeah, I guess you’ve pointed out the main problem with the bisexual label that I’d never noticed before. Because heterosexuals aren’t generally called heterosexuals; they’re called straight. And homosexual are either gay or lesbian identified in most cases. And these labels eschew that whole “sexual” thing, but I’d never realized how this is important before. Bisexuality doesn’t really have a similar analog, other than queer, which I tend to take as a broader term in general. And that’s really interesting, and quite possibly does contribute to the extreme over-sexed-ness (see “greedy”) of bisexuals in the public imagination.

    That said, I think my approach to labels for my own sexual orientation (which encompasses people of many genders) is often very contextual. Where I figure queer will just confuse people, or set off a conversation I don’t feel like having, I identify as bi, even though as a non-binary person, the idea of identifying my orientation based on the binary gender system seems extra silly. In general, I prefer ‘queer’, for sure, since the pansexual and omnisexual options just seem to amp up the promiscuous “I’ll sleep with anybody!” message that the mainstream already applies to bisexuality. I’d like to identify as polysexual, but “poly” has been co-opted by polyamory, and since I am polyamorous as well (in theory, anyway), that would just be extra-confusing :/

    Bleh.

    Thanks for this perspective!

    • I get the contextual thing- I do the same. I’m queer to people who get what queerness is, bi to everyone else. I figure that comprehensibility is more important than precision, y’know?

  2. I really like what you’ve put forth here – and I think a lot of it is right on the money.

    I’ve mostly identified myself as bi or bisexual… though I really think pansexual is closer to the mark (I’m not actively UNattracted to, say, trans folks – but I fall into the fallacy of “Well, if you’ve never slept with [xyz], how do you know you’re into them?”)… and for the reasons you’ve laid out and several others, I’m trying to re-tune my mental lexicon to replace “bisexual” with “queer” as my descriptor of choice. Which, honestly, feels more comfortable and true anyway.

    I know I’ve quoted this quote before – though I don’t remember where – but as a friend of mine puts it, “I’m queer. And queer just means ‘Don’t assume I’m straight.'”

  3. When I was growing up in Ireland, I was confused about the stereotype that black men had larger than average penises, because most stereotypes are negative but that particular stereotype seemed to be positive. However, a few years ago I read the excellent book “Black Like Me” by John Howard Griffin, and it suddenly became clear that the “black men have big penises” stereotype was just part of a set of negative stereotypes that portrayed black people as being promiscuous. (That set of stereotypes was common in America a few decades back, and apparently only one or two subparts of the promiscuity stereotype made its way over the Atlantic to Ireland, and, when taken out of context, the parts that reached Ireland could be interpreted as a positive stereotype). Another negative, sex-related stereotype of black people in America was that they were rapists.

    So, it seems to me that the oversexualisation is not restricted to of queer identities; rather it is sometimes applied to other minority/oppressed groups. As another example, I vaguely recall reading that in past centuries, sexually transmitted dieseases were blamed on particular foreign nationalities (I read that the French called VD the “English disease” while the English called it the “Fench disease”).

  4. This has been a bit of a struggle for me too. I’m not sure if I’m with you on oversexualisation; or rather, queer identities are definitely oversexualised, but I’m not sure how much difference avoiding words with “sex” in them might actually make. But every little helps, I guess.

    Queer is a bit vague for my liking. I like it as an umbrella term for not-straight, but if I’m coming out to someone for whatever reason, I usually want to be more specific than not-straight – if only to avoid further questions.

    I dislike the fact that “bisexual” implies only two genders (or worse still, that I wouldn’t be attracted to anyone who’s genderqueer).

    But… “pansexual” has biphobic connotations for me; I’ve heard too many people claim that they identify as pansexual because they’re attracted to “hearts not parts” or some nonsense like that. Well, me too. And every bisexual I’ve ever met.

    Ultimately, I identify as bisexual because that’s the term most people I know would be most familiar with, but I’m not 100% happy with it.

  5. Reblogged this on girlbehindthescissors and commented:
    I’m one of them bi types, in a long term relationship with my lovely boyfriend and don’t intend changing that at any point. A friend of mine asked “how it works?”, as in. Am I allowed to sleep with girls as long as I don’t run off with one of them!!! Yeah, my bf totally gives me a hall-pass to bone girls when I’m out because I’m a promiscuous bisexual who can’t live with out lady gardens! Seriously?! I love my boyfriend and am 100% committed to him but that has 0% to do with his gender. I love the person, not the dangly

  6. Pingback: Bisexuality: Thinking in Opposites | Consider the Tea Cosy

  7. Pingback: Bisexuality: Thinking in Opposites

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