For bisexual people, representations of our identity in the pop culture world seem to fall into one of two categories.
The first is absolute erasure: We encounter TV shows, movies, news reports, songs, trends, books, and essays that refuse to acknowledge the existence or validity of bisexuality in any way.
On the other hand, the recent advent of bi-awareness articles, campaigns, and very-special-episodes about bisexuality often dwell on the struggle, strife, and danger of living as a bisexual person.
The discussion of the way bi folks are marginalized — even within the greater queer community — is necessary and timely. But living as a bisexual person isn’t a tragedy waiting to happen.
If we want to seek justice for all people, we need to expand our lenses of perception. And we can’t see people with queer identities as only damaged goods.
While I’ve certainly run into prejudice, struggle, self-conflict, and pain due to my bisexual identity and experience, I also think that my personal queer identity has been a great boon; it’s helped me learn, navigate, and grow in the world. And it’s impossible to separate my queerness from the rest of myself – it’s integrated into my whole being.
I want to help bisexual people love ourselves wholly, and insist that the rest of the world register our existence as important and real.
I think we can celebrate ourselves into visibility with radical self-love and affection! So here are seven things that I simply love about being bi.
1. Living a Duality in a Singular World
In the US, a lot of our social shaping is about strict categorizations and black-and-white choices.
We’re taught that we get to be just one thing — and we’d better choose quick. But being bi is in direct defiance of that false idea.
When we embrace being bi, we are refusing to accept a straightforward, simple narrative of how people are supposed to be. We’re not straight, but we’re also not necessarily gay. We declare that it’s possible to be both – and more.
When we’re single, or in hetero pairings, we don’t suddenly flip back to straight again. We insist on pushing the idea that our identity isn’t necessarily only attraction based: we’re not half straight and half gay, or any kind of pie chart delineation.
And just because our attractions, self-conception, or nomenclature might be mutable, doesn’t mean we aren’t consistently bi.
When you go through the struggle of insisting that you can be multiple things at once in a world that says you can’t, it often becomes easier to find flexibility and fluidity in other parts of life.
If I go to law school, I could still be a poet. If I become a teacher, I can still be a writer. Dressing up in high-femme fashion for a night out doesn’t negate the masculinity I often express.
It can make a lot of people uncomfortable to see bi people straddling queer and straight worlds. Maybe it’s because it brings queerness closer in contact with heteronormative life. Or, maybe, witnessing somebody happily enjoying an identity made up of two supposedly contradictory ideas is unsettling because, in a heteronormative world, it shouldn’t be possible.
And if it is, what other false premises are our world built on? (Spoiler alert: lots!)
2. Getting to Play with Words
There’s a lot of confusion about what “bisexuality” even is, and not just among straight folks! But while I used to see the ambiguity in the word as a problem that I didn’t want to identify with, now it’s something that I love.
When I was younger, I lacked the language to describe my feelings toward other people. I had the sense that I was “different,” but since I knew that I was attracted to men, I couldn’t comprehend exactly how.
Because I didn’t have the ability to name who I was, I didn’t grasp that my feelings toward other women were not imaginary, nor were the secondary.
Later, when I became more aware of nonbinary folks and experienced some more intense questioning of my own gender, I found a new problem with the word “bi”: It seemed to imply that there are only two possible ways to be and two kinds of people to love – “men” and “women.”
That narrowness didn’t jive with the flexibility and fluidity that I had started to feel in terms of sexuality and gender. I settled on referring to myself as queer (and I still often do) as a term that insisted on ambiguity.
But the thing about using only that amorphous, nebulous term is that while it lumped me into a big, lovely group of misfits and outlaws, it didn’t give me the opportunity to distinguish what, specifically, made me queer.
I sometimes felt like I was on a spectrum where my queerness wasn’t as visible or as important as that of other people
It wasn’t until about a year ago that somebody told me that if I didn’t consider bisexual to mean that I only liked men or women, then, well, it just didn’t!
I could use the word to mean I was both queer and not queer, to mean that I liked any two a/genders that I chose, to mean that I was attracted to my own gender and other a/genders, or to mean that I felt a general ambidextrousness in sexuality.
It was my identity – and I could define it how I liked.
Now, I think the fact that there are so many definitions and ways to be bisexual demonstrates how bi folks are doing major work to destabilize linear, restrictive ideas that pervade all kinds of relationships.
3. I Get Read as a Cis, Straight Woman with a Gay as Heck Haircut, Holding Hands with a Boy
I remember the first time I was called a lesbian as an insult.
I was eleven, and I had already been living a life of gay girl stereotypes for years. I was in after
school band practice for the trumpet section (a gay-girl instrument if there ever was one). One of the boys shouted that he knew I was a lesbian, and they all joined in and laughed.
I didn’t really know what it meant or why it felt so bad, but it did. Since then, men have curled their lips and spat the word at me — usually followed by other dehumanizing expletives — countless times.
As I grew up, I learned that lesbian is meant as an insult to undermine my value as a woman, because it means I am of no use to men. Over time, I have learned that something about the way I appeared or carried myself seemed to threaten and cajole people into aggressive action when I wasn’t even paying attention.
Eventually, the fact that my existence, appearance, and comportment were so unsettling to strangers started to make me feel powerful and proud instead of ashamed.
When I’m by myself, I still look really freaking gay – stereotypically so. Half my hair is buzzed; I drive a mid-90s manual transmission truck with a scrappy farm dog as a passenger; I wear Carhartts, leather jackets, and steel-toed boots. I once recommended a friend build up her credit by getting a payment plan at a tire store.
If I happen to be with a male partner, however, I appear to be straight, even when I’m dressed as if lifted directly from an Alison Bechdel panel.
But I still don’t look quite right. That tension, of appearing too gay for a straight relationship or too hetero to be gay, is something that I have learned to love.
While it can be frustrating for people to constantly erase your identity, it can also be empowering to defy stereotypes, categories, and assumptions.
It gives me the chance to educate people who — like me when I was young — don’t even realize that bisexuality is a possibility. It gives me the chance to experiment with demonstrating different ways to be a woman.
And it’s always nice to disrupt expectations.
4. I Get to Be a Member of an Incredible Club – And I Also Get to Pay Dues
While LGBTQIA+ folks get a raw deal in a lot of the straight world, the queens, queers, butches, and beyond who’ve come before us have built wide networks of soul-embracing community, and I’m so honored to be a part of it.
However, I also know that a community doesn’t sustain itself, and part of enjoying it is giving back.
I get to be on the line to offer a place to stay when a bi-sister comes out to her family and gets kicked out of the house. I get to donate time and support to local folks organizing shelter, education, and support for queer youth and teens in my community
I get to speak up when I hear people joking about oppressive and hurtful ideas.
And sometimes, I get to leverage the privilege that comes with being in a relationship assumed to be straight in order to support somebody else.
5. I Got to Know Myself Real Dang Well
I’m not saying, of course, that hetero folks don’t love, know, or have complicated exploratory relationships with themselves! However, I know that I only got to the point where I’ve asked certain questions and gotten certain answers about myself because of my queer identity.
I had to come to terms with my identity and sexuality in a world where I didn’t even know being bi was an option until I was an adult.
As a teenager, I didn’t have characters like Callie Torres, Alice Pieszecki or Darryl Whitefeather openly proclaiming, explaining, and defending bisexuality on television.
I didn’t have access to literature or role models that showed me ways to be bi in the same way culture trains us to be straight. So I did it by myself.
I spent nights, hours, years in conversation in my own head trying to understand, validate, hear, and honor my own desires.
This process involved a lot of loneliness and a lot of conflicts, but I appreciate the time I spent with myself. I made myself at home in my own body and my own head with years of questioning, doubt, and confusion.
6. Leaving the House in a Non-Normative Identity Is a Revolutionary Act
Every time you go about your daily business in the body of a person who doesn’t conform to oppressive hierarchies, you are living in the revolution.
Sexuality might feel like a personal thing, but the compulsory heterosexuality of our society doesn’t exist in a bubble.
Heterosexual marriage, the nuclear family as an economic unit, and reproduction as the end all goal of humanity are features of a capitalist, white-supremacist patriarchy that subordinates women, non-binary people, and people of color.
Am I saying that if you’re straight, you’re an oppressive capitalist? Of course not! But I am saying that queerness is in direct defiance of this worldview.
While it may be scary and exhausting to move through the world every day resisting and dissenting and refusing, it’s also really rad – and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
7. Having Marginalized Lenses Can Be Useful Tools
While it’s quite possible, and quite common, for folks with some marginalized identity and some privilege to throw their vulnerable comrades under the bus as soon as they gain a bit of power, it doesn’t have to be that way.
Having personal experience with the pain of micro aggressions, silencing, and assumptions have helped me learn how to be less of a jerk to other people whose experiences I don’t share.
I can’t ever assume to sympathize with or understand the experiences of queer women of color living in my community. But I do know what it feels like when someone tells you your feelings weren’t actually hurt, that your fear isn’t valid, that your body isn’t at risk, that your struggle isn’t important, that you’re distracting us from the “real issue” with your complaint.
I know that it hurts to be ignored, silenced, and scoffed at. And I know how I angry I feel if, while talking about my bisexual experience, a straight person explains why it’s actually harder for them.
I can use these sharp, bitter memories as reflective guides to help me check myself when listening to other people’s narratives of struggle, oppression, and experience – they are excellent reminders of when it’s time to shut the heck up.
It’s hard to have an identity that’s so consistently maligned, misunderstood, and laughed at. But I love being a difficult, resistant bisexual gal.
Complexity, flexibility, fluidity, and duality aren’t just parts of my sexuality, they’re values that I have learned from my orientation that now shape and enrich the rest of my life.
Bi folks, come out if you can and don’t stop there. Unabashedly shout the nuanced particularities of your bi-ness from the parapets, and tell the world how you love yourself.
Kimberly Fanshier is a Contributing Writer at Everyday Feminism. She’s a writer, activist, scholar, and queer feminist outlaw from the Willamette Valley. She is currently working on a book about the hidden histories of country music. Follow Kimberly Fanshier’s explorations of wolves, witches, and the west at her website or on Instagram @kimberlyfanshier. Read her articles here.
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