The Perpetual Awkwardness of Going Both Ways

sophiejoskephotoIt’s been a big week for bisexuality. Both Jessie J and Tom Daley have shaken off the term and now identify as solely male-attracted, while many have been keen to claim Debbie Harry for Team Bi since she spoke out about her sexual relationships with women.

As an out and proud member of the Takes All Sorts Club (by which I mean I am romantically and sexually attracted to people of more than one gender), the rekindling of the ongoing public debate around bisexuality has got me thinking and feeling about what it means to be the B in LGBT.

As anyone who dwells more towards the centre of the Kinsey Scale will know, being attracted to more than one gender can often feel like an uncomfortable grey area. Any queer person will be familiar with the accusation that their orientation or gender expression is simply a ‘phase’.

This is especially so for bisexuality, as it’s often thought of as a bridge between hetero and homosexual worlds, a transitory period for someone not yet entirely comfortable with their attraction to the same sex. While this is the case for some, who later choose to identify as gay, it’s important to remember that not everyone feels that way. If somebody says they identify as bisexual, it’s unfair for them to be expected to ‘choose a side’. Bisexuality is not a waiting room for the sexually confused.

Bisexuality is also often thought of as a means of dipping one’s toe in waters of same sex attraction without going in too deep, a way of experimenting before safely returning to the world of heterosexuality. Such stereotypes invalidate the identity of those who genuinely feel attracted to both genders.

I often fall prey to these assumptions due to my own internalized biphobia and end up mentally taking tally of my romantic encounters, confronting a perverse internal pressure to chalk up equal numbers of men and women to legitimize my own claim to my identity. Long term relationships can be awkward for maintaining a bisexual identity. If I ended up with a woman for twelve years would I still be able to lay claim to my bisexuality? If I marry a dude do I have to hand in my imaginary queer membership card?

When bisexual celebrities make commitments to their long term partners, they’re often spoken of as having ‘chosen a side’ or ‘become straight’, as if the moniker of ‘bisexual’ only applies to those actively dating people of both genders. If a straight man doesn’t date anyone for ten years, he isn’t presumed asexual, so why do I feel as if I have to forfeit the bisexual label if I happen to go without a particular gender for a few years? It doesn’t change how I identify.

In my heart and soul, I know that my sexuality isn’t determined by the person I’m dating. When monosexual people marry their partner they don’t suddenly stop being attracted to all other people of their preferred gender. Similarly, if I wind up married to a man or a woman or a genderqueer individual I would still know in my heart of hearts that B is the initial for me. Sadly, the outside world won’t always see it that way.

When people see two women holding hands in public most people would assume they were looking at a pair of lesbians, whereas if I was seen kissing a dude I’d be presumed straight. This is what gives bisexuality its enduring awkwardness. Unless you write ‘bisexual’ on your face with a permanent marker or have a multi-gender three way in public, your orientation remains largely invisible.

Because of this, bisexuality can feel pretty lonely. You can’t find your fellow tribesmen by taking cues from their taste in pop culture or use of pronouns when discussing their partner, like you can with monosexual folks. A lot people assume that because bisexual people don’t ‘commit’ to a gender they are unable to commit to a person, or that they are unable to be monogamous because they need to keep up sexual activity with people of more than one gender.

It is these assumptions that make it difficult for bisexual people to come out, gain visibility and feel that their orientation is legitimate. Feeling caught between the queer and mainstream communities can have serious consequences: various studies have suggested that bisexual people, in particular women, suffer poorer levels of mental health than any other demographic. Why does being attracted to more than one gender become such a minefield when it comes to identity and community?

Bisexuality poses a threat to a number of long-held cultural ideals about love and relationships, because it shows that for many, it’s not quite as simple as finding the right man or woman. The existence of bisexuality also proves that humans are capable of having relationships with people of different genders over time: that sexuality isn’t a point on a map that you reach having found what is definitively ‘right’ for you, but something that can evolve and change as much as any other part of your identity: whether it’s your taste in music or the values you choose to live by. That doesn’t make you weak, that makes you human.

I used to hate capsicum with every fibre of my being. Today I ate it with my lunch. Does my eating it today make yesterday’s hatred any less intense? Of course not. Obviously people generally have more complex feelings towards other human beings than they do vegetables, but the point remains the same: if I feel differently tomorrow, that doesn’t invalidate the way I feel today. When navigating the grey area it is important to remember this. Even if bisexuality is a temporary state for some, that doesn’t make it any less legitimate. It also doesn’t mean that it’s temporary for everybody. In the great terrible food metaphor of life, everybody writes their own menu. You’ll just have to trust me when I tell you I know what’s on mine.

Sophie Joske

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