Note: The Wild Reed's 2012 Queer Appreciation series continues with a thoughtful reflection on bisexuality by my good friend Phil. (To start at the beginning of this series, click here.)
A little over a year ago I dated a man who joked that bisexuality is “gay-layaway”, e.g., “bi now, gay later.” Normally, I would be able to brush this off, but as I reflected upon it, I realized this “joke” bothered me. Even little remarks like that hint at a subtle prejudice that exists within the GLBT community. There are times when I wonder if there's an invisible line separating the BT in GLBT. (Transgender people may feel the same way, but as I'm not transgender, I cannot speak on the topic.) Bisexual people don't seem to get much attention in mainstream queer media. I can't remember the last time Lavender or Equality reported on someone who's openly bisexual, or a film or TV show portrayed bisexuals as something other than psychopaths, sex-maniacs, or the butt of jokes.
In a way, I'm not surprised. Truthfully, there isn't an easy way in which bisexual people can be visible since we tend to make assumptions about people's relationships based on the sex of their partner. When we see a heterosexual couple we tend to assume they're both heterosexual, just as we assume both partners in a homosexual relationship are homosexual. I do realize that the majority of people in the queer community identify as gay or lesbian, but that doesn't mean everyone is, and if we don't correct people, that assumption persists. People have tried to tell me I'm overreacting, usually dressing it up in language akin to “What does it matter? Gay, lesbian, bisexual, it's all the same essentially.” Therein lies the problem, because bisexuality is not the same thing.
I once tried to explain to someone what it's like being bisexual, but found myself stymied to come up with a better analogy than “some people like the opposite sex, some like the same sex, and I like both.” I feel that promotes a tendency among people to approximate bisexuality as being “half-gay” or “partially straight”, and neither of those is accurate. The best I could come up with was to say that I don't understand what it's like to not be attracted to someone because of his or her sex. If I personally find someone attractive, his or her sex simply doesn't factor in. Bisexuality is not a variation of homosexuality or heterosexuality; it is an entirely unique identity and cannot be abrogated due to the nature of a single relationship. All too often we are fearful of that which cannot easily fit into prescribed categories. It's this fear that ultimately leads to biphobic sentiments, which is a shame since there's a valuable lesson bisexual people can teach.
Sexual orientation is equally a matter of who we're not attracted to as it is who we are attracted to. A person who identifies as heterosexual is expressing both a consistent interest in the opposite sex, as well as a consistent lack of interest in the same sex. Likewise, a person who identifies as homosexual is expressing an interest in the same sex as well as lack of interest in the opposite sex. That being said, why should a single exception to the rule cause people to worry? There's no reason a person cannot identify as heterosexual because he or she had a single, perhaps fleeting, interest in someone of the same sex. Likewise a person who identifies homosexual can still be homosexual even if he or she had an attraction to someone of the opposite sex.
There are good number of people (probably more than are willing to admit) who have had curiosities about members of the sex they thought they weren't attracted to. All too often, people live in fear of these curiosities because of what they feel are the broader implications of having them. Heterosexuals may face anxiety over being perceived as gay, while homosexuals may fear being ostracized from a community they have stridently identified with. The lesson here is that when it comes to matters of sexuality, we should stop worrying what other people think and focus on what things mean to us as individuals. As a bisexual person, I don't worry about the significance of a person's sex, only about the significance of the person to me. Instead of running from these curiosities, we should try understanding them, and perhaps even embracing and exploring them. It may help to remove, or at least lessen, the burden of sexual repression we are so often compelled to carry in our society. In so doing, we can open our minds to the beauty and richness of human sexuality, embracing it for its wondrous ability to uplift and ennoble the human spirit.
NEXT: North America: Perhaps Once the "Queerest Continent on the Planet"
See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Bisexual: "Living Consciously and Continually in the Place Where the Twain Meet"
Alexander's Great Love