Sarah has already posted here about how she came to identify as bisexual, and introduced herself some in the process. I guess it’s my turn now.
Unlike many of the bisexual-identified women I know, I never identified as a lesbian. I always assumed I was straight, since the culture around me assumed so. I had crushes on boys, and there were other things I could point to to explain why I’d always felt different. It was only when I was 14 or 15 and my crushes started to be more serious and have more of an explicitly sexual component that I noticed some of my “friend crushes” on other girls were sexual in nature, too. This bypassing a lesbian identity and going directly to a bisexual one might explain why, even to this day, I sometimes feel not queer enough and therefore not cool enough to hang out with the dykes. (And oh, the people who know me are laughing incredulously to themselves right now. “Aviva,” they’re thinking, “you’re so much queerer than most of the dykes.”) Of course, there’s a healthy dollop of internalized biphobia in that as well, a lot of not taking myself seriously, but that’s another post entirely.
I don’t remember the timeline exactly, but by 16 I was definitely identifying as bisexual. I wondered if I could be straight after all for about a week before I started dating my first girlfriend; I wondered if I was really a lesbian for about another week when I was ambivalent about the man I was seeing and the sex we were having. But those things happened right after each other, and I figured out that my basic sexuality doesn’t change because I’m attracted to a particular person in a particular moment. Even being the kind of bisexual who goes through phases (which I am) doesn’t mean I’m gay some days or months or years and straight others.
My queer consciousness took longer to develop. I didn’t spend my adolescence reading all of the 20-years-out-of-date books on lesbianism I could find in my local library, like most of those aforementioned friends who identified as lesbian in high school. I think that evolving a queer identity was at least partly a response to the popular images of bisexuals in our culture. I knew that I wasn’t blond and tan and slim, that my attraction to women wasn’t primarily about arousing men, that I didn’t want to have threesomes with couples and didn’t need both a boyfriend and a girlfriend to be fulfilled. But I never went to college, and so I didn’t take the path of women’s and queer studies courses. When I was 19 I moved into a vegetarian, eco-friendly lefty wack-job intentional community (and I say that affectionately, and certainly include myself) where most of my housemates were queer. I encountered articulated queer identities probably for the first time and recognized myself in them. At least, that seems like how it must have happened. I don’t remember any “Aha! that’s what I am, I’m a queer!” moment, and by now queerness and queer identity and ideology are so much a part of my psyche that I find it difficult to remember that it hasn’t always been this way, let alone remember when it happened. But I made out with another girl in front of my boyfriend when I was 17 and was too busy performing to really enjoy it, so clearly there’s been a fundamental change somewhere along the line.
So I moved in with a bunch of queers; got to know the professional dominatrix down the hall (and started borrowing her books); befriended and then began dating the legally married lesbian couple upstairs; met my current roommate, who’s now one of my best friends and with whom I’ve since had hundreds of hours of conversation about queer identity; and let’s say I encoutered queerness in a way I hadn’t heard it articulated before, and started learning about it and making it my own. That feels right.
These days, when I can get three words instead of one (but am not invested enough to give the whole paragraph), I say I’m a queer-identified bisexual. I was thinking about this the other day, because of Sarah saying she never identifies as queer anymore without specifying bisexual. I come at it from the opposite direction – I rarely identify as bisexual without specifying queer. This is partly about there being other aspects of my sexuality that fall under the heading of “queer” that “bisexual” doesn’t cover. For me, it’s a more complete description. And it’s probably also about that lingering fear of being seen as too straight for the cool kids. But I think it also might be about presentation. Sarah has said that she likes for people to hear a hairy-legged feminist identify as bisexual, that that in and of itself queers the label. My gender presentation is much more typically feminine, and I feel as I move through the world like I’m usually read as straight. (A few friends have told me that they would absolutely read me as queer if didn’t know me, that straight people don’t only because they don’t really get it about femmes – and I’m grateful to them for saying it, true or not. Being femme feels very much like a queer gender to me, and it warms my heart when others agree.) It’s important to me for people to see a girl with shaved legs and dangly earrings — who admits to sometimes liking boys, no less — identifying as queer. Both because it expands what “queer” can mean and, more selfishly, to keep from being mistaken for one of those mythical hot bi babes who lives to be your girlfriend’s first time with a girl and let you watch. I like for people to think “queer” and “bisexual” in the same thought, to link them in their minds rather than considering them mutually exclusive.
But the “bisexual” part of “queer-identified bisexual” is as important to me as the “queer.” I won’t pretend the word is perfect. While the people I know who identify as bisexual also embrace gender in all of its non-binary permutations and possibilities, the word itself does imply that there are two genders — or, I suppose, that I’m only attracted to two of them. Either way, not true. The word “pansexual” would perhaps be a more accurate description of the range of my attractions and the way I see the world, but it’s never felt right to me. There are a lot of other associations that seem to go with it that just don’t describe me, and at this point I’m invested in “bisexual,” flaws and all
I avoided identifying as bisexual for a long time, sometime in the years between 16 and now. Not because it didn’t accurately describe me, but because all of the negative associations that came with it. And it’s important to me to do something about that. Not to let stereotypes scare me off my own identity because I don’t want to be berceived as shallow or because I don’t want people assuming I’m nothing burt a sex toy to help liven up their relationship. I think it’s important to be out in the world identifying as bisexual, being a complex human being, and obviously not fitting the stereotypes. With respect for gender variance; with the ability to have meaningful relationships and to commit; with genuine sexual and romantic attraction to other women even when there are no boys around to see; with a conscious, articulated queer identity and a place in the queer community. These are all things I want people to think of as possibilities when they hear the word “bisexual.” And that won’t happen if I’m too afraid to use it and be misinterpreted. If everyone who does bisexuality this way takes refuge in “queer” and no one speaks out against the way bisexuals are represented in our culture, those images will never change. There would be nothing to replace them.
So I’ve come back to the bisexual identity I’ve started with. Along the way I’ve developed analyses of queerness, gender, and biphobia, and become committed enough to the identity to decide it’s where I want my activism to center. Maybe in ten years or so I’ll even write a book. As far as I can tell, no one has yet written the book I want to read about bisexuality. Someone has to.