One of the myths used against bisexuals is one of instability, specifically that bisexuality is always nothing more than a transitional identity where a person begins with other-gender attractions and then works their way toward their true and exclusively homosexual self – a homosexuality that excludes everyone not clearly of the same gender.
Some people like to use the word “fluid” as an “Anything-But-Bisexual” construction. If they genuinely feel that their attractions are best characterized as in flux, then they are adopting an accurate label. I don’t feel “fluid” describes me, even though I have attractions to multiple genders, and some days my attractions to one is stronger than other days, because on the average, over time, it’s quite stable. Analogy time: sometimes I want spaghetti, sometimes I want pizza, sometimes I want General Tso’s tofu, sometimes I just gotta have a burrito. But I don’t feel like I need to describe my taste in food as fluid or constantly in flux, rather, that there is a broad set of foods from multiple cultural traditions that I enjoy. If some days I want a taco, others a chimichanga, and on alternate Thursdays only a chile relleno would do, I would simply say that I like Mexican food, right?
OK, that said. The concept of sexual fluidity has been looked at by a lot of people in a lot of ways. Dr. Lisa Diamond looks at fluidity in women, and found that among women who changed their identification, as many went from lesbian to bisexual as vice-versa. This means that any orientation label can change (and I’m not so sure that the orientation itself changed, just how people choose, for political or self-identification purposes, to label), and it’s not the simplistic “bisexuality means you can’t make up your mind” that is a significant and harmful part of monosexual discourse.
Dan Savage has taken a lot of heat from the bi community over the years. He’s relatively recently modified his stance, and I’ll give him some credit for that, but frankly I am never going to forget that not that long ago he said “I meet someone who’s 19-years-old who tells me he’s bisexual and I’m like, ‘Yeah, right, I doubt it. I tell them come back when you’re like 29 and we’ll see.’” Neither will a lot of other people. People who won’t forget the It Gets Better video where legislators said “gay, lesbian, transgender, or just not sure.” Hells yes I’m sure, thank you very much. (And, to briefly Label War, I think the slicing and dicing of bisexual into bi/pan/omni/pomo/nolabelian is partly to blame for the amazingly affirming “whatever” comments. Back to the show.) His lashback, of course, is that it’s our fault as bisexuals that we are misrepresented because so many of us are in the closet – of course, when your local queer community (or the internet for so many people who have no local community) doesn’t welcome you on your terms, when gay and lesbian therapists frequently interpret the presence of any same-gender attractions as evidence that your other-gender attractions are invalid and that what you need to do is get all the way out of the closet and quit playing with nasty fish or sleeping with the enemy (depending on your gender – I assume that genderqueer people have similar experiences), then it really doesn’t feel like it’s getting better at all.
I framed that last sentence in the nastiest, most catty way I could on purpose, by the way. Because the people who are telling bisexuals that they are just stuck in stage 1 of the Cass Model or are too immature to understand themselves are being just as offensive.
There is a very specific competency and skillset for working with gay and lesbian clients, and there is a very specific competency and skillset for working with bisexual clients – and they are not identical! If you are working with monosexuals, then go ahead and whip out the Cass Model and the old outmoded Kinsey scale. But when working with people with attraction spectrums that are not unipolar, these models simply do not work. You need to look at Fritz Klein as a minimum, and preferably Michael Storms if you want to get away from the false “half-gay/half-straight” non-integrated model. As far as the Cass Model goes, take a look at this for some ideas as to why it’s not a good fit – one of the keys is that bisexual identity does not include a need to separate from the heterosexual (or homosexual) community, but rather find a bisexual community that does not exclude attractions to people outside the narrow lines of “same gender”. It makes no sense for us to separate from all monosexual communities, and a huge amount of sense for us to join the Queer community – but it makes no sense at all to join if we are going to be told by that community that we don’t belong.
I’ve written about the damaging myth that everyone is bisexual in this space before – how saying “we all can have same-gender attractions as well as other-gender attractions” is the orientational politics equivalent of saying “we’re all part of the human race” and both of them invalidate the experience of people who are made keenly aware of their differences on a daily, hourly, hell, minute-to-minute basis.
This is the flip side of that myth. This is the One-Drop rule, the idea that everyone is really monosexual, and if you have any same-gender attractions then you must obviously be gay and therefore faking your other-gender attractions; either deliberate falsification or unconscious repression of your True Desires. (I’m discounting the kind of experimentation that most people do to see if they fit in a particular category – I find it hard to imagine that most straight people haven’t considered, even in fantasy, what it would be like to have sex with someone of the same gender, and people who proudly describe themselves as Gold Star must have at least thought about it, at least long enough to decide they wanted no part of it. No one has ever identified themselves as part of a community that explicitly rejects X if X has never occurred to them as an option.)
Are there people who are gay, who are monosexual with only same-gender attractions who live as straight people – or as bisexuals – while they are figuring out who they are? Captain Obvious says “Duh, yeah.”
Does that mean that it’s the general rule? I defer to Captain Obvious again. Captain? “Uh, nope.”
I promised myself that this wouldn’t turn into a simple Dan Savage savaging (look, he’s done a lot of good, and his brand of amusing snark can make me chuckle, I’m not saying he’s a bad bad man, just that he could make it get so much better if he tried), but the more I read his article blaming bisexuals for not coming out in droves, the more irritated I get. I just want to touch on one more of his statements. He says “…people get to make their own choices, and lots of bisexuals choose not to be out. While I’m willing to recognize that the reluctance of many bisexuals to be out may be a reaction to the hostility they face from non-bisexuals, gay and straight, bisexuals need to recognize that their being closeted is a huge contributing factor to the hostility they face.”
Wow. Let’s break that one down. 1) Bisexuals choose to stay in the closet because they face hostility from monosexuals. 2) Bisexuals cause that hostility by staying in the closet.
As a wise young essayist once remarked, “Grasshoppers are nervous and jumpy. They are nervous and jumpy because they cannot sleep. They cannot sleep because they have no eyelids. They have no eyelids because they are so nervous and jumpy.”
There is more in that article that I will take on another time – I can’t hit every issue every time or I may as well just call this the TL;DR blog, right?
The queer community is one that prides itself (or Prides itself) on accepting people for who they are. And yet, if you have attractions to multiple genders, you’re told that you don’t know who you are, that you are in transition, that you are immature and unstable. Bisexuality cannot exist as a discrete and stable identity because to admit that it does, oh dear, break down the comfortable binary of both straight and gay monosexualities.
Putting bisexuals down, denying their identity, serves an important purpose for people who make a career out of Gay identity. It solidifies the assimilation with mainstream heterosexual culture in the same way that focusing on marriage to the exclusion of the myriad other issues faced by queer people does – it says to those in power “Please let us participate because we’re just like you!” Denying bisexual identity as a stable and real orientation says that we’re just too queer to be for real – which is funny in a very unfunny way when the same people tell us that we’re not queer enough to belong.
On the straight side, the myth that we are just not all the way out of the closet yet serves to reassure homophobes that they can always tell not only who the faggots are but that they themselves clearly are not because they like only socially acceptable genitals to rub against their own. (Again, I use offensive language here to make a point about the thought processes of those who malevolently erase bisexuals.) It’s also entirely possible for straight people to be biphobic without being homophobic – there was a recent case where a politician with a reputation as an Ally to the GL community attacked his bisexual opponent on the grounds that she was unelectable because she was bi, something he would have gotten in serious trouble for if she’d been gay, but since it was just one of those immature instable (and slutty) fence-sitters, a lot of GL people came to his defense.
So when someone tells you they are bi, the proper response is not “Are you sure” or “So was I before I grew out of it” or even “For now.”
It’s “You have my support”, and meaning it.