July 15th, 2014

Be Nice or Leave

On being Bisexual in a predominantly binary (Straight/Gay) world

There is a great video out this/last week in which R.J. Aguiar goes on record about his bisexuality, being perceived as half of a gay couple, and facing down biphobia in the LGBT community.

It was especially interesting to me to watch this now in that I had two recent experiences that reminded me how I am default closeted as a bi woman who is married to a man, and has a child.

One of them was just hanging out at a bar with a bunch of my older sister's friends from highschool (and earlier) swapping college stories (e.g. "That story didn't have any sex in it. Where's the sex?") and realizing that I was sort of editing out stories that I might have told because of three reasons, one of which had to do with my sense that nobody in the room except me and my sister knew that I'm bi and I didn't want to derail the conversation to focus on my coming out in that social context. I didn't know if people *would* focus on that or make any sort of deal about it, but I didn't want to go into explaining myself right there, right then, and plus the whole conversation was very heteronormative and I didn't want them to all feel self-conscious about that because old friends, right? Right.

(The other second reason was that the conversation was also about parties and drinking and whether people were physically attractive or not, and my college experience was mostly not like that (I mostly don't drink, for example, and never beer, and we didn't have fraternities) and I'm a geek, and some of the sexiest people I know are not, like, conventionally attractive, and anyway I'm not into bashing people based on looks, so that was not really my sort of discussion anyway. And the third reason? My sister's friends. Not mine. These are, like, my older siblings. You may feel comfortable talking sexy stuff with your older siblings but I usually don't go there, and the couple of times I tried that night, it felt awkward, so I stopped. On the whole, though, it was fun to listen and laugh along...)

And then I went to my awesome Grinnell alumni facebook group Everyday Class Notes and got that off my chest and shared a story I hadn't shared at the bar, and had people relate and that was fine.

But the other experience I wanted to mention was when Rosie and I went to march with the Jim Toy Community Center (the GLBT place on Braun Court) in the fourth of July Parade in Ann Arbor. Everybody was friendly and welcomed us and all, and they liked our rainbow umbrella and "Justice for All" sign on Rosie's wagon, but at one point while we're waiting for the parade to start one of the women there came over to me and said, "I always wonder why people choose to come out and do these things when you're straight."

And there it was - the assumption on the part of a gay person that I'm straight because I'm a mom (I don't think she'd even been there when Brian walked up with us and then headed off to find a place on the parade route to sit and watch and take pictures). I didn't take offense or anything, I just explained that I'm bi and also told her about some of our family who are gay and have kids, so we were also there to march on behalf of their right to marry and have parental rights. But somewhere in there she surprised me by bringing up the notion that "You're just attracted to people's spirits, and it doesn't matter what package they come in." And I was, like, "No, I've heard people who are, like, omni-sexual or whatever describe it as a spiritual thing, but that's not how I am, I'm attracted to people's spirit, and their bodies, both men and women."

And that took me into another assumption some people make, which is that people who are bisexual are attracted to *everybody* or are otherwise hypersexual compared to some other orientation, and I don't think that's true, either. I told her about a pin I have that I used to wear sometimes. It says, "I'm bisexual and I'm not attracted to you." And she got that. "You just don't limit yourself to half the population," she said, and I agreed. Conversation ended amicably.

So, I don't know if I'd describe that as bi-phobia, but still, it was like, as a gay person, she had clearly not really gotten her mind around what it is to be bi, and wanted me to clarify. And there are also a lot of people, gay or straight, who don't really believe bisexuality is a valid orientation.

To go back to the conversation at the bar, there was some point at which we were talking about someone who is now out as a lesbian but dated guys in high school. And someone commented that she "might have been bi-curious" back then. In my mind, I was thinking, "Or maybe she was just bi. Maybe she still is." Because bisexuality or "being bi-curious" is not a stepping stone to being gay. It is its own thing. But it is much easier to be out and Gay than to be out and Bi. Much less explaining, whether to gay people or to straight people. So who knows if she's somewhere on the spectrum but chooses to just be gay, or if she's really just gay, or what. And I don't care. As R.J. says, the label you choose is your own business, and people should not go around policing other peoples labels or telling them what their sexual orientation means as far as how they should behave in order to be Doing it Right. What you do is not sexual orientation anyway, that's sexual conduct.

And on that point, if there's anyone reading this wondering, "But you're married to a man! Doesn't that make you feel unfulfilled, because you won't be sexually involved with any women anymore? Shouldn't you also be with a woman to be complete?" I just have to say, sure, there are a lot of people out there that don't necessarily match my husband's phenotype that I might find attractive, but that I'm not going to have sex with. That's true for anyone in a committed relationship - we see other people we find attractive, that we won't be involved with. In my case, some of them are women, and some are men. But no, I don't feel like I'm missing out because OMG women are sexy! They are. But so is my husband. :)