Bye-bi: Troubles in Sexuality Identification, or ‘what the hell is bisexual anyway?’


I almost always introduce myself as gay.

The response of men to expressed bisexuality is generally (and tragically) attraction. I am not suggesting that it isn’t also true of reactions to ‘I’m gay’, but it’s slightly less pronounced when you describe yourself as an outright lesbian. Due to some obvious but completely absurd conceptual conflation, a lot of men hear bisexual and think threesome.

This, from the obscene horror-show of a website Return of Kings, basically sums up the issue. Number 11 on their list of ‘Ways to tell she’s a slut’.

The response from the lesbian community to bisexuality I find equally disconcerting. It is usually somewhere between hostile and dismissive. They’ve seen too many drunken straight girls in the club who are hooking up for the pleasure of sweaty men to have much time for girls who describe themselves as ‘bi’.

Which leaves those of us who might otherwise feel that the best label for them is bisexual in a bit of a quandary.

I’ve been in love with two women, and two men. I’ve slept with a fair cross-section of both. Getting attached to women has always been easier for me, and the sex generally has been more fulfilling, so I don’t feel uncomfortable saying that I’m ‘gay’. It is, however, a departure from what other gay women mean, and so in that sense surely I am no better than the girl who kisses girls when she is drunk and describes herself as bisexual.

I’m part of the school of thought that holds that sexuality is quintessentially indefinable, and we use these words — gay, bisexual — as shorthand to express a worldview of which there are as many kinds as there are people on the planet.

So how on earth do I get to make value judgements on the ‘correct’ use of language like ‘bisexual’? Don’t I think that words cannot capture anything ‘correctly’?

There is another side to this debate as well; sure, the relationship between language and reality, but also people’s political struggle and real-world emotions.

When I raise an eyebrow at the drunk make-out girl describing herself as ‘bisexual’ aren’t I sticking a middle finger up at freedom of self-identification? People have protested, been persecuted, physically and emotionally abused and even killed to be able to stand up and say that they are attracted to the same sex, that they want to touch them. For me to deny people that right on the basis that they are using the word differently to me seems pretty contemptuous.

In terms of that word — bisexuality — too, I am doing a lot of people a disservice. Bisexual people need to be vocal about the legitimacy of their sexuality, because there is so much nonsense out there. We are not confused. We are not greedy. It is valid to like people of both genders, or regardless of their gender, or however else you choose to express your desires and their foundations.

A distinction I used to use is bisexual vs bi-romantic. That distinction was important to me — I wasn’t just attracted to women; I fell in love with them.

I think we have to be careful about this burgeoning increase in language though, because it can be so tied up with intellectual ghettoization.

Ghettoisation — the making of more groups — can be a seemingly endless spiral. When a person’s views are attacked it is tempting to fall back on ‘I am this and you are this so you don’t understand my point.’ It is a natural and negative tendency of humans to define themselves against an ‘other’ in order to self-legitimate and defend.

However given the very nature of identity there are as many categories as there are people. The sizes of the categories are continually shrinking so that now five adjectives go before the word ‘feminist’ in a forum. My concern is that as we increasingly both reject the right of people who ‘aren’t like us’ to engage in dialogue, and define more and more people as ‘not like us’, we risk losing the ability to have meaningful conversations.

So next time somebody asks, I want to say that I’m bisexual. By the time I’m done ranting about identity politics, I should have filtered out the creepy ones anyway.

No reproduction without the express consent of Ella Mae Lewis. Originally published by Consented Magazine.

The Voidist is a publication devoted to sexuality, personal experiences, politics, and technology.

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