To be fair, she’s known me in the past few years, when most of the people I’ve dated have been guys, and has only heard me geek out about a few women I’ve been interested in or dated/slept with, so it was an interesting comment.
I’m not writing this column because I feel like I need to justify “how bisexual” I am, but because it made me think about why I value the label, and bristled at being thought of as “straight.” If my sexual identity were based only on the kind of sex acts I was presently engaging in, not only would it be constantly changing, but I fear I’d get mental whiplash from trying to reprocess who I am with every person I fuck. Sexuality, as I understand it and experience it, is so much broader than that, and I’m glad it is. Right now I’m in a monogamous relationship with a man, but that, for me, has no impact on my sexual orientation.
As Sinclair Sexsmith recently wrote in response to a reader query on the topic: “There is more to a queer identity than just who you’re sleeping with, and while many people don’t understand that, many others do, and you’ve got to understand that deeply in order for others to take what you’re saying seriously.” I see identifying as bi and queer as both highly personal acts, and political ones. It’s a rejection of heterosexual privilege, even though I recognize that when I’m walking down the street holding hands with a guy, or making out with him or engaging in other public displays of affection (or any of the myriad ways straight privilege plays out), to anyone watching, I’m the epitome of straightness. That is true, but it doesn’t mean that I have to embrace straightness or pretend that bisexuality begins and ends with who I’m presently sleeping with or dating. For some people, their sexual identity might center around their partner, but not for me.
In the decade plus since I came out as bisexual, I’ve started to care less about what other people think about me and more about trying to be true to myself. My sexuality is not a fixed entity; it changes and grows, sometimes by the day or week. I like that I can’t precisely pin it down, that I might find myself attracted to someone I never would’ve predicted “on paper” that I would be, and not much of that has to do with gender. Whether we’re talking sexuality or anything else, there’s no way we can please all of the people all of the time, and if I were to try to do so, I think I’d doom myself. How I live out and conceive of my sexual needs and desires changes often, sometimes related to who I’m sleeping with, sometimes related to lots of external factors. There have been times when I enjoyed taking my top off and walking in the Dyke March, in screwing my way through San Francisco’s queer men and women in a weekend, times when I’ve engaged in extremely kinky roleplaying, and other times when, frankly, I’d really rather be alone. The through line to all those scenarios is that I’m still me.
In some ways, my embrace of bisexual is also about a rejection of heteronormativity, of all the parts of straightness that feel oppressive to me. Yes, there are privileges accorded to straight people, but I feel there are also burdens; it’s assumed that you want to get married and become a parent and be monogamous. Stepping outside any of those roles messes with the dominant culture’s plans for you. I’d like to think being part of the LGBT community has made me more open and empathetic, and showed me how people are, in fact, so much more than any label.
What’s interesting to me is that this title, bisexual, is important to me, It's something I feel I carry no matter who I’m dating, or not dating, whereas “poly” and “kinky” are not intrinsic parts of my identity. They are things I have been at various times in my life, or rather, my relationships have been. Bisexuality is different for me, perhaps because it feels more primal than either being poly or kinky — not that they need to be pitted against each other. I used to struggle with the word “bisexual” because it implies there are only two sexes or genders, which is not something I believe, but it’s a shorthand that, in general, works for me.
My bisexuality has also played itself out in almost all of my relationships in some form. Often the form it takes is in talking dirty, and sometimes it’s gone beyond that. One girlfriend, who was pretty much exclusively into women, indulged my interest in a male friend of ours with a threesome. With most of the straight men I’ve dated, not surprisingly, they’ve been interested in fantasizing aloud about me with another woman or hearing about my own fantasies. I certainly feel freer when I have a boyfriend sharing my fantasies about women, real or imagined, than I do about other men.
Sadly, there are still some people who don’t understand that “bisexual” can coincide with “monogamous” (if that’s what you’re into). Actress Anna Paquin came out as bisexual in a PSA last year; she also wed True Blood star Stephen Moyer, and there were inevitable tabloid stories wondering how her bisexuality would impact her marriage, as if it would be a hindrance. But it was never a secret; Paquin told him at the start of their relationship, reportedly, that she was attracted to men and women, and Moyer said in an interview, “I condone what she has done 100 percent, and it’s her business to talk about it, not mine. It doesn’t change anything. I’m proud of who she is.”
In researching this column, I found out that Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong, also married (to a woman), identifies as bisexual. I’m pretty sure once you start asking, you’re likely to discover people who fall at least somewhere outside the category of “have never even thought about someone of the same sex” right next door — or in your family. Not that we have to know what our friends, neighbors and relatives are up to behind closed doors, but I bet if we did, it would knock some of that compulsory heterosexuality down off its pedestal.
That doesn’t mean, however, that my bisexuality is only something I think of in terms of how a boyfriend might look at it, though I can safely say that any guy weirded out by the fact that I’m bi would not be someone I’d feel comfortable dating. It’s a part of me that goes deeper than simple lust and certainly has broadened personal definitions of what “sex” is. That’s a far from original thought, but it’s true nonetheless.
At the risk of contradicting everything I’ve just written, I also think that we rely a little too much on labels. I know self-identified lesbians who sleep with men on occasion, straight girls who are up for everything from flings to true relationships with women, and all sorts of in betweens. Sometimes the labels put more pressure on people, because if they don’t feel they fit a certain stereotype of what that label means, they fear they can’t even conceive of being part of that group.
Not everyone cares about labeling themselves, and I’m glad that more people are okay with making statements acknowledging same-sex desire, whether joking or not. It makes it more acceptable to even acknowledge that, yes, men can be attracted to men (and identify as straight, gay, bi or whatever) and the same for women. I love that Khloé Kardashian answered a question about which celebrity has the best hair by saying, “I’m obsessed with JLo and everything about her. She looks so freaking good and I would totally bone her.” Does that make her bisexual? Who cares?