Wikipedia Thinks I’m a Lesbian — And This Bisexual Is Okay With That
a single box can’t say everything there is to say about sex
“Not sure how you identify, but wasn't sure if you knew you were listed as a lesbian on Wikipedia,” a friend emailed me, with this link to a list of gay, lesbian or bisexual people. Based on something I wrote almost ten years ago for a lesbian website, I scored an “L.” I wrote back: “I ID as bi, thank you for passing this on.” But both my shorthand response and the lone letter don’t tell the whole story — in fact, I’d argue, no single label will ever be enough to detail someone’s entire sexual self.
What we do or say about ourselves online may only be part of that story. I’m sure you know (or perhaps are) someone whose public online sexual identity doesn’t necessarily match what you do — or think about — in private. For people who identify anywhere outside the categories of 100% gay or straight, there’s a lot of room for gray areas. We may not want to label ourselves, or at various times may feel we fall on different points on the spectrum of sexual orientation. We may claim both/and rather than either/or. All of those (or none of these) are okay.
That’s the beauty of being able to try on identities — and I don’t mean “pretending” to be something you’re not, but rather that by living our lives, many of us, at some point or another, may slip out of these very neat, tidy labels, whether they pertain to sexual orientation, monogamy, kink or any other category. For example, Christian Domestic Discipline, in which a husband might spank his wife for an infraction like texting while driving. Kinky? Religion? Abuse? It’s hard to say from the outside — which is precisely my point. Identity may very well change as we grow and learn about ourselves; it may take our online personas and their archives a long time — if ever — to catch up.
Furthermore, those gray areas are often where we can be free to explore; if you don’t attach a label, you don’t have to worry that you aren’t fitting precisely into that label’s confines. I’ve heard plenty of sex stories that don’t fit neatly into categories — someone “vanilla” who enjoys a kinky encounters, a one-time fantasy, flirtation or affair with someone of a different gender than your previous partners. Any of these and more can topple our pre-conceived ideas about our own labels. The nuances of erotic attraction can’t be summed up into a Wikipedia category, unless it’s a “list of people who may at some point have questioned their sexual orientation.”
When I first joined kinky social networking site FetLife, I admit that I was a little taken aback by the abundant options offered for self-description. For instance, when asked how active you are (meaning how actively involved in BDSM), you can pick amongst “I Live It 24/7,” “I Live The Lifestyle When I Can,” Just In The Bedroom,” “Once In a While to Spice Things Up,” “Curious and Want to Try,” or “Just Curious Right Now.” For sexual orientation, your options are straight, heteroflexible, bisexual, homoflexible, gay, lesbian, queer, pansexual, fluctuating/evolving, asexual, unsure and not applicable. That’s a mouthful, for sure, but a good one, and certainly a more genuine one than “gay, straight or bi.” I particularly like that you can select “A Princess By Day, Slut By Night” when asked what you’re looking for.
That being said, I still don’t think you can reveal everything about yourself simply by checking a box. Right now my profile says I’m a female, bisexual switch “just in the bedroom,” but in reality, the only part of that I am quite firm about is being female. All those other labels are ones of convenience, easy shorthand for broader concepts. When asked in person, I’ve never identified as a “switch,” even though at various times I’ve given and taken orders, topped and bottomed. Given its non-kinky meaning, I can’t help internalizing “switch” as meaning someone who is just as easily a dominant one moment and a submissive the next, as easily as, yes, the flick of a switch. BDSM isn’t as simple as that for me. I’d far rather embrace the catchall term “kinky” than either dominant, submissive or switch. But is it an easy shorthand? Yes.
Even the phrase “sex writer” is not necessarily one I want permanently attached to me. Like “bisexual” or “switch,” it’s not untrue, but as an identity, it feels constricting and ill-fitting. There’s a switch (pardon the pun) that happens when a label goes from being self-created to other-imposed, and it’s the latter that can feel awkward. No, I don’t care if Wikipedia or anyone else thinks I’m a lesbian…as long as they don’t get annoyed when they realize that, in fact, I’m actually bisexual.
If you want to know what I’m really like in bed, you have to sleep with me. I don’t mean that as an invitation, but simply a fact. Whatever label I or others apply is always going to be just that: a label, a word that may be accurate at a given moment but will never encompass all the things that make up my sexuality, which is an ever-changing thing. That’s not true for everyone, but I imagine it’s true for many of us, especially over the course of our lives. There’s too much nuance to sex for one word to cover all our bases.
Does that mean labels don’t matter? Not at all, and I’m not suggesting we do away with them. En masse, they’re important to show that political, cultural and social solidarity. Often simply taking on a label, sexual or otherwise, can usher in a change in the way we see ourselves and consequently our actions. s.e. smith, who identifies as genderqueer, recently started a public pondering of the use of gender-neutral pronouns when Gawker made a point of mocking smith’s request for a pronoun change to the gender-neutral ou. smith has written, “sometimes I think about buying www.sesmithisnotalady.com, seriously.” smith’s situation is different than mine, and I respect that—ou’s is a very firm, clear identity. In this case, labels do matter immensely, and by essentially claiming they don’t, such as with Gawker’s strikethroughs to correct smith’s pronoun preference, we’re saying that we know what’s best for someone else when it comes to their public presence. Those who don’t identify as male or female in fact pose a great challenge to both our language and our binary gender system.
So labels do matter — but not in the same way all the time. What can at first feel freeing can later feel the opposite. Labels have the potential to take on too much meaning, to the point where you feel as if you’ve become your label, rather than a label being one of many terms used to describe a fully realized human being. In Bill Konigsberg’s YA novel Openly Straight, a gay teenager, Rafe, refashions himself as straight when he heads to a new school, tired of being seen only as gay. “Where had Rafe gone? Where was I? The image I saw was so two-dimensional that I couldn’t recognize myself in it,” he reflects.
I don’t consider myself an activist around the topic of sexual identity, but I greatly appreciate this query Robyn Ochs puts forward in her article “What’s In a Name? Why Women Embrace or Resist Bisexual Identity:” “I am left with the question: is my bisexual activism about making it safe for these women to identify as bisexual? Or is it about making it safe for all of us to identify, or not identify, however we choose, and to be respected as we are.” Clearly, I’m far more in favor of the latter — and think the same could be said of the label “feminist,” but that’s a whole other topic. Sexual identity, attraction and fantasy are both personal and political, and I think it would be shame to sacrifice the complexity of the former for the expediency of the latter. So call me whatever you want in the sexual orientation category, Wikipedia — I’d rather spend my time exploring my own gray areas.