I was talking with my girlfriend the other day while she and her wife Lee drove through West Virginia, and we were speculating as to why a guy in a pick-up truck had given them the finger. The relevant information here, which I’m sure you all were about to figure out for yourselves, is that my girlfriend is a lesbian and her wife is bisexual.
Me: Maybe they were like, “Fucking lesbians, wasting it on each other.”
GF: We weren’t smooching or anything.
Me: But you were being gay, weren’t you? Well, you were, anyway; Lee wasn’t.
GF: Yes, it’s true, I was being gay. And Lee was, too, she was just half-assing it.
Me: Oh! You’d better watch it! I have a blog now!
GF: A blog! Now I’m scared. I’ll never have dinner on the internet again?
Hmph. Half-assing it indeed. At first I just thought I’d share the giggle, but this also reminds me of something I’ve been meaning to write about.
Every once in a while GF refers to ours as a lesbian relationship – which, what with it being between two girls, makes a certain amount of sense. And it’s a phrasing Lee doesn’t have a problem with, so of course GF used it with me without thinking it might be problematic for me. But I can’t quite figure out how I feel about it.
(Note: this entry is not to be interpreted at “My girlfriend does this thing I hate, and I’m airing it on the internet because I can do that now.” I really haven’t figured out how I feel about it. I’m thinking it out here, where I can get feedback and opinions from other bisexuals and queers of various flavors.)
The thing is, obviously, that I’m not a lesbian. And yet, does that necessarily mean that what I’m in is not a lesbian relationship? It is a relationship made up entirely of women, which seems to fit the definition. I understand why it doesn’t bother Lee; it seems accurate. Hell, even I defaulted to the phrasings “fucking lesbians” (even if I was speaking for a most likely straight dude who most likely wouldn’t know any better) and “you [collectively] were being gay” before I specified. And I’m not coming up with anything when I try to brainstorm other things it could be called – while I always refer to “same sex marriage” rather than “gay marriage,” to say I’m in a “same sex relationship” seems awfully cold and detached. But I manage to get by somehow not only never referring to it as a lesbian relationship but also never thinking “This would be so much easier if I could just give in and refer to it as a lesbian relationship!” I refer to my girlfriend, or say “relationship with a woman,” and I can’t remember it ever coming up in such a way that my vocabulary seemed lacking. Possibly I’ve even referred to it as a queer relationship, which is true on so many levels. And I tend to think that referring to relationships that contain at least one bisexual as “gay” or “straight” erases bisexuals in a way I’m not comfortable with. Bisexuals are so invisible already that it never crosses anyone’s mind unless you say it straight out. You hear someone say “lesbian relationship” and you think, “Aha! Two lesbians!” I’m not willing to play into that. It reminds me of the commentary on all of the straight allies at Pride, which misses the possibility that many of those supposed straight allies are actually queers in different-sex relationships.
And there’s another particularly awkward construction for you – “different-sex relationships.” And yet all of this is complicated by the fact that I would never, in a million years, refer to (or let anyone else refer to) a relationship I was in with a boy as straight. (And I’m not going to refer to an opposite-sex relationship, since that assumes that there are only two sexes and they’re, um, opposites.) There’s just nothing straight about me, including my relationships with boys. I used to walk around with my cock-sucking faggot boyfriend and think with frustration that, if the people around us thought anything disapproving, it was probably that he seemed a bit old for me. And yet we were as queer an item as it’s possible for a (mostly) cisgender man and a cisgender woman to be, and the sex we had was completely unrecognizable as straight. And that’s pretty typical, really, of my past relationships with men; I don’t think I’ve had anything that could be recognized as straight sex since I was 19, and I’ve been with precious few straight boys. I want that to be reflected in the language I use to discuss those relationships. I don’t want to tuck it away into “straight” because it was with a boy.
“Lesbian” at least recognizes my queerness, seems less to erase my identity than “straight” would. But it still seems to overlook not only my bisexuality, but all of the other ways I’m subversive and queer. Perhaps I could fold all of those into “lesbian,” or use it in conjunction with other words, if I only dug chicks. But that’s not the case, and it just doesn’t feel like the kind of word that speaks about me. I don’t know if the way it leaves so much out as a description of me also leaves a lot out in its description of my relationship. I just can’t tell.
And can you imagine the reaction if someone referred to their “bisexual relationship”? I imagine a lot of confusion, and I wonder if all of it is due to the way that the name doesn’t tell you anything about the gender of any of the participants. That is the kind of thing many people are uncomfortable with, and I think that’s worth challenging. I also imagine the non-bisexual partner (if there is one) objecting (although that seems less likely from my particular non-bisexual partner), and that in and of itself tells me that I’m not crazy to object myself. I think your average non-bisexual person would not only have a problem with the way “bisexual” in regards to their relationship failed to describe their identity, but would also strenuously object to the possibility of being mistaken for a bisexual. And whether something could be turned around is a great litmus test for whether it’s acceptable.
So what do you all think? Do you have a better way to refer to a relationship between two girls than the cold “same sex” or the sometimes inaccurate “lesbian”? Is this one of those things I should just let go, accepting that a description of my relationship is not the same as a description of myself and we’ll never have all of the language we need to represent our varied, uncategorizable selves? What terms do you use, and how well do they work for you?
(PS: reading this, GF suggested both “queer relationship” and “sapphic relationship.” I use the former, and am absolutely delighted with the latter. I want to go out and use it right now. But I still want your opinions and suggestions.)