When I was young, I thought everyone was bi, and that anyone who said otherwise was lying, either to themselves or to the rest of us -- that all those straight/gay people were ambivalent/confused/on the fence…It surprised me then how often bisexuals met with anger, a sense of betrayal, annoyed amusement, judgment. We were told that we were too cowardly to admit our real identity or were trying to somehow make ourselves more interesting. Or, worse, that we didn’t “exist.”
After a Pride march one June, Carmen Miranda interpreters ahead of us, bonneted Quakers all around, I went looking for a button. Even if my sexual orientation (yes, and gender identity) tends to slide around (I’m not ambivalent – just not always in the same place on the dance floor), I like to have a button. The truth is, or one truth is, that I want an identity, and one that fits in a tidy space, as much as anyone. The only bi button I found (apart from one I have with numerous interlinking symbols that suggest an ongoing orgy) was “Kinky Bisexual.” I said, “Do you have one that says ‘Boring Bisexual’?” They just looked at me. It was, perhaps, visibly too true to be funny.
Amber Ault, writing about “the politics of invisibility” in “Ambiguous Identity in an Unambiguous Sex/Gender Structure: The Case of Bisexual Women” quotes one of her subjects as saying, “When I first came out, about 6 years ago, I identified as bi. Unfortunately, this gave many people the wrong impression of my life…So I took to calling myself a dyke…” And another, “I used to identify as ‘confused,’ then I figured out I was bi – internally, it was joyous. I was fairly uncomfortable with ‘confused’ as an identity. Externally, well, someone tried to kill me because I am attracted to women, and all my lesbian friends dumped me when I came out as bi. Seems like, to me, they thought ‘confused’ was better.”
Even now, the kind of study that makes its way into major newspapers, and into people’s minds, sets out to prove our lack of existence by the dubious means of people’s response to pornography, rather than by listening to what they say about their lives. And I always wondered, why are the bisexuals, if and when we show up in the movies or on TV, always vixens (whether male or female), recklessly and deceptively promiscuous, charismatic Tricksters? Not the kind of bisexual I am, or the kind I’m married to. A bi woman and a bi man – that combo can strongly resemble heterosexuality, at first glance. All those privileges are yours, so why wouldn’t someone be angry that you need to insist that you’re this other thing instead? (And not all of my characters are bi, or – actually – based on me or my life, which can be confusing to those who think that fiction is disguised autobiography.)
People like things to be one way or the other, more pinned down than bisexuality allows. And it’s hard to answer, because as soon as you start correcting people’s assumptions, you’re in the tricky territory of over-revelation – whereas if you say you’re lesbian, you don’t then have to explain that you prefer short women with a sense of humor and a taste for leather, or reveal whether or not you’re monogamous. Bisexuality, though, tends to be equated with universal availability, and any attempt to clarify gets right into who you sleep with and when and why and what percentage belong to which gender.
All of this moves away from its essential quality: a certain fluidity, a rejection of dualism. Gloria Anzaldua writes, in Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza: “A massive uprooting of dualistic thinking in the individual and collective consciousness is the beginning of a long struggle, but one that could, in our best hopes, bring us to the end of rape, of violence, of war.” And, “The mestizo and the queer exist at this time and point on the evolutionary continuum for a purpose. We are a blending that proves all blood is intricately woven together, and that we are spawned out of similar souls.” She also wrote, specifically, “I am a lesbian,” and I accept this, as I now accept what anyone reports – from their own subjective, first-person consciousness – about their own sexual orientation or gender identity/identities.
Because, older, I’ve now seen how much people go through to name their real identities, as well as how weirdly and majestically varied are the particularities of sexual needs and natures. If you tell me that you’re straight, you’re gay, you’re only attracted to your own or the opposite sex (or you live anywhere along the sexual orientation and gender continuum), I believe you. I believe you exist.