Well, it must have had to do with my subversive feminist upbringing, or perhaps a quirk of the DNA, or maybe was just the radon in the basements of New Jersey… no, don’t worry, I have no interest in explaining my queerness. I’m interested in exploring why I have chosen to label my queerness with the word “bisexual,” despite my serious problems with this label. I really dislike how the the very structure of the word assumes a rigid gender binary and ignores the actual diversity of genders and presentations out there. I don’t like its place on the hetero/homo/bi system of identities that leaves out every other possibility. I don’t like how it places the focus squarely on the genders of one’s partners and leaves out the tradition of sexual transgression and liberation implied by “queer.” Identifying as queer would be so much closer to my politics, so why am I so enamored of the imperfect “bi?”
“Bisexual” was actually the first label I ever claimed, and what I first came out as when I was sixteen. (Years later, I still find myself highlighting this fact, as if proof of my “consistency” would somehow prove the authenticity of my label. Never mind that I think it’s ultimately futile and obnoxious to debate if someone is “really” a given sexual identity or not.) The bisexual label simply made sense at the time; I was clearly attracted to girls, but I couldn’t explain away my attractions to boys, either, and I had never been exposed to the larger world of queer politics or of genders beyond male or female, so I had no reservations about it whatsoever.
At least, not until I started coming out. Most of my friends were wonderful and supportive, which I wasn’t sure I could expect in my rather homophobic high school, but I still remember hearing from one friend that another had said she simply didn’t believe me, that she thought I must be a straight girl just trying to shock people or be trendy. Well, shit. That was the first time I’d even heard that stereotype! Did I mention I grew up pretty sheltered?
So anyway, after high school, I followed a pretty typical trajectory for my generation and spent my freshman year of college being Very, Very Queer. I went to every single meeting of the campus queer group, even though the group never really did much of anything. I mentioned my queer identity in one of my very first papers I wrote in college (I sort of cringe when I remember this, but on the other hand, I went to a women’s college, and I can’t imagine my paper was the first of its kind that my professor had seen.) I came out to my roommates, put up a rainbow flag in my dorm room, and stopped shaving my legs (well, I still don’t shave- at least some things never change!), but throughout all of this, the queer identity that I was so loudly espousing was no longer what it had been before; all the sudden, I was saying I was a lesbian. How did that happen?
I don’t remember much of a conscious thought process behind this shift, and I certainly never came up with a good explanation for my very real attractions to men, but I remember thinking that “bisexual” didn’t feel radical or visible or queer enough. I wanted a queer gender presentation and a visibly full-time queer identity, and I wanted a sexuality that was consciously informed by queer thought and practice and experience. Now, of course, when I think of these things, I cannot for the life of me imagine how they could be incompatible with bisexuality, but I now understand what was going on in my head at the time: the vast majority of images of bisexual women that I had seen in popular culture were of women who presented as traditionally feminine, who didn’t have a political dimension to their identity, and who kissed girls for a transgressive thrill but saved real intimacy for men. I looked at this image, and I thought, “Well, that’s not me,” and I concluded that I couldn’t possibly be bisexual.
This is, in short, why I identify so loudly as bisexual these days. After about two years of identifying as a lesbian, I adopted “queer” or just “I don’t like labels” and returned to talking freely about attractions to people of all sorts of genders, and then, finally, I decided that someone out there needs to hear a hairy-legged queer feminist say she’s bisexual and counter all of those stereotypes that don’t seem to have changed much since I was in high school (Katy Perry, anyone?)
Politically, I still vastly prefer “queer,” but I have found in practice that if I don’t provide more explanation, “queer” is still often read as “politicized lesbian,” and I no longer want to pass as such. I think another huge reason behind this shift has been my relationship with my boyfriend. I don’t want this relationship to be seen as some sort of hiatus from queerness, and I respect my friends too much to think they would look at me this way, but ultimately, I wanted some assurance that I could say to the world, “This relationship doesn’t contradict or complicate my queerness. This is PART OF my queerness.” And this identity also provides me a way, in less radical or queer social spaces, to counteract the near-instant assumption that my relationship means I am straight.
And you know, finally, claiming this label allows me to simply believe my kind of sexuality exists, and demand that others take it seriously. It allows me to finally believe that I’m not a straight girl trying to show off or a lesbian clinging to straight privilege. Those stereotypes go deep, I’m afraid.
I still don’t have a solution to the problems posed by the word itself. I wonder if it can take on new and less binary meanings if more people claim it while simultaneously challenging its more problematic implications. That’s certainly one of my many hopes for this blog.