Not Bi Half
As a bi person, I’m tired of people pretending half* of my sexuality is… something else. Surely I can’t be alone?
It happens again and again. When it’s in casual conversation, or with someone who is trying to get their head around ideas about human sexuality and learning, it’s not such a big deal. We all need to cut each other a little slack in our conversations or we trip over our words, too caught up in the small print to be able to share the big idea.
But sometimes you really should expect better.
Like when I was at an LGBT conference recently and someone presented some findings on research that explored LGBT people’s lives and labels. They zoomed in on the bi folk. I always feel a warm glow when that happens, because I have been listening to lectures like this for a long time now and if you haven’t then trust me, it never used to.
But then: “A significant proportion of the under 25s,” the speaker explains, “identified with labels like bi or pan – despite not having had any experience, or only having had one same-sex sexual or romantic partner or encounter, maybe some years before.”
I’m paraphrasing. To be honest, I’m blending what several people have said in settings like that because I can’t scribble quotes down that fast when I hear them. So if you’re an academic thinking I’m picking out something you yourself said: maybe I am. But I’m also thinking of at least a couple of your colleagues too.
But: “despite not having had any experience”?
Because then you ask and you find out what those survey respondents or interviewees may have had many partners of another gender. A more expected gender. But what we are talking about here, it’s explained, is their bi experience.
And this makes me wave my puny fist of bisexual rage in the air.
We don’t, in anything like the same way nowadays, doubt straight people who are virgins are heterosexual when they tell us so.
Increasingly as a society we’ve got over that nasty old habit of telling gay and lesbian people that they can’t know they are gay if they’ve “never tried it”, and the twin idea that goes along with it that they could be straight if they tried and they have just “never met the right one”. And about time too.
Yet for bis we still come back to this idea. Your bi-ness is your queerness score. It’s the things you get up to “in bed” with people of a similar gender, with members of the same sex. The other stuff doesn’t count, because that’s just normal.
But my sexuality is not straightness with a bolt-on extra. When I’m making kissy faces with someone of a similar gender to myself, it’s me “having a bisexual experience”. And quite probably them having one as well. When I’m similarly smooching someone of a different gender, well then I’m having a bisexual experience too. I’m not a straight side and a gay side held together with pink, purple and blue ribbon, because I’m not a straight side and a bisexual side. I’m just… bi.
It’s one of the great failings in our discussions around sexuality that we wind up making this mistake. All around us in nature, heterosexuality isn’t the default. We mammals are, taken as a whole, bisexual. When Derek Jarman declaimed that “heterosexuality isn’t normal, it’s just common” he might have better said that heterosexuality isn’t the default. Though I’m glad he didn’t; it’s a splendidly quotable line and nuance would have taken away its bite.
In many years of talking with what must be hundreds of bi people at local bi meets, biggish events and the likes of BiCon, one of the interesting themes that comes up again and again is how being bisexual, especially once you have reached a stage of happy self-acceptance, permeates the rest of your life. You might end up in a mixed gender relationship but how it works is likely to be informed by your other experiences; that “off-the-shelf” pair of gender roles for couples becomes something you’ve taken time to question and even if you wind up living those, you do so consciously. How you love is informed by who you are and also by who you have been.
And no matter who it might be with, it’s all very bisexual.
* “half” in a very loose sense of the term here, you understand.
This first appeared in BCN magazine issue 156, July/August 2019.