“You’re too gay for the straight people and too straight for the gay people.”
I don’t recall now whether these are my words or his. I do, however, recall why they were said, in a conversation with my then boyfriend. It was after the second or third time I attended a meeting of the Gay-Straight Alliance. They’d thought I was a lesbian, until I mentioned said boyfriend. And why shouldn’t they have? I fit the stereotype of the butch dyke fairly well. I have a short, boyish haircut. I am self-confident. I like hockey and rugby. I wear comfortable shoes. But the real giveaway is that I am a fan of such musicians as Ani DiFranco and Melissa Etheridge.
“Not all Ani fans are lesbians,” a friend once told me.
“Some of them are men,” I replied. We’re all guilty of stereotyping, and I understand the reasoning behind assuming that I was a lesbian.
As soon as I mentioned having a boyfriend, assumptions had to be reevaluated. I was no longer a lesbian. Or if I was, then I was in the closet. But I was probably just straight. Because, of course, if one is not gay, one must be straight. This is a binary system. There is no in-between. Except that being bisexual is a third option, and to say otherwise is to oversimplify things. I am not a fence sitter, I am not unsure of myself, and I am not confused. I am not half gay and half straight. I am bisexual.
What does that mean, bisexual? According to the American Heritage Dictionary, it means, “Of, relating to, or having a sexual orientation to persons of either sex.” I have a sexual attraction to people of either sex, although sometimes I am more interested in one sex or the other.
I’m not totally accepted by my lesbian friends. Some of them think I am just covering what I really am. Some of them think I’m not comfortable with my “lesbianness” yet. Some think that calling myself bisexual is just a stepping-stone on the way to the Isle of Lesbos. As one friend put it, “Bi now, gay later.” But that’s not the case for me.
I am very comfortable with who I am. I was nine when I first realized that I liked girls as much as I liked boys, although it wasn’t until around the middle of my eighth grade year that I finally had a word for it: bisexual. I remember being so excited. It wasn’t that I didn’t know before, only that I didn’t have a word for it.
For the sake of her privacy, I will call her Bea. I think I was nine and she was, perhaps, eleven or twelve. We may have been younger than this. The unimportant details escape me. She was the daughter of one of my mother’s co-workers, the only African-American people I had ever met at the time. I remember where their trailer was. It’s still there, although they moved to Seattle a few years after I met Bea. It was heartbreaking. She had been my best friend. Together, we had discovered this thing called sex. She was the first person outside my family I ever kissed. She was the first person who touched my then-barely-existent breasts. She wasn’t the first person to touch that place she told me was called a vagina. She wasn’t even the first person to touch it in a sexual way. But she was the first person to do so lovingly. She taught me how to touch her and make her feel good. More importantly, she taught me how to touch myself. I wish we hadn’t lost track of one another over the years. I’d like to thank her.
The next girl who came into my life I’ll call Willa. She came into my life before Bea moved away, and she too was older. She was a year older and the summer daughter of a friend of my mother’s. She and I explored the words for sex, as well as the act itself. She taught me the word “hump.” I taught her “pubic hair.” I fell in love with her. That’s when I realized that I could love a girl or a boy, and gender didn’t matter. It was a rude awakening to find that she did not share my sentiments, and that this had all been an experiment for her. At the end of the summer before she started seventh grade, she ended the affair. I was spending the night at her house, and when my mother dropped me off, she said, “Be good, girls.” When we were alone in Willa’s room, I kissed her, and she said, “No. Your mom said we have to be good.” And that was that.
I don’t fit in well with my straight female friends either. Most women will admit that they can appreciate beauty in another woman. But they just don’t really understand the sexual attraction. As one friend reminds me every time I comment on Angelina Jolie’s lovely figure, “They’re just boobs. You have boobs. I have boobs. They’re just boobs.”
My straight male friends, on the other hand, understand at least a little better. One of them, hearing this oft-repeated commentary, tried to help me explain. “Yeah,” he said to her, “but they’re boobs!” I concluded after this conversation that no straight woman will ever understand the allure of breasts, and no person who understands it will ever be able to explain it to her.
As a consequence of not being accepted by my lesbian friends, I have to say that I don’t really fit well into the gay community as a whole, although I have some very good friends within it. I never really feel as if I belong, especially if I am in a relationship with a man. I would not describe any relationship I have had with a man as a heterosexual relationship, despite our opposite sexes, because I am not heterosexual. Not all people in the gay community would agree with me on this point. I do have a few bisexual friends, but it seems that bisexual people have never formed a community the way that gays and lesbians have. Perhaps it is because we blend in more easily with our mostly-straight society and feel less of a need to band together. In some ways, though, I think we need each other more because we are so often maligned.
Society provides frequent opportunities for people to stereotype bisexuals. For example, anyone who’s seen a porno knows that bisexual women are the most promiscuous. After all, who could be monogamous when there are twice as many people to tempt them? And did you know that we have to have one partner of each gender to be satisfied? Oh yes. We love threesomes. We’re all polyamorous. We act gay when it’s convenient, but when being gay might be dangerous, we blend in with the mundanes. It’s also our fault that AIDS (The “Gay Disease”) spread to lesbians and heterosexuals. We always leave our male partners for women. We always leave our female partners for men. We're really straight and sleeping with members of the same sex because it's trendy. We're really homosexual and only pretending to be attracted to members of the opposite sex in order to cling to heterosexual privilege. We’re very very evil. Oh yes.
I have known bisexual women who were promiscuous. I have also known straight women and lesbians who were promiscuous. I have known bisexual, gay, and straight men who were promiscuous. I have never known a bisexual person who felt the need to have partners of both genders, although I am aware that they exist. All of the polyamorous people I know are bisexual, but not all of the bisexual people I know are polyamorous. In fact, I know only three people who are polyamorous, including myself, and I know many many people who are bisexual.
The spread of AIDS is largely due to ignorance and misinformation. I have known straight women who dated lesbians because it was trendy to be bisexual. I have known several lesbians who went through a period of time when they called themselves bisexual before realizing that they were not attracted to men. But I have never known any homosexual who intentionally misled people into believing that they were bisexual while knowing otherwise.
I’m not saying that no bisexual fits any of these stereotypes. Everyone probably fits some of these stereotypes. And that doesn’t mean that everyone is bisexual. I can’t speak for all bisexuals; I can only speak for myself.
Some things I know for certain. I am nineteen years old. I love math, but I also love words. I am a sculptress. Life is a sexually transmitted disease, and it is always fatal; tomorrow never comes; but still I am an optimist. I am a hopeful romantic. I am bisexual, and I have known this for at least ten years, although I have only had a word to put to it for five of them. I am not always equally attracted to men and women. Sometimes I find men more attractive; sometimes I find women more attractive; and sometimes I am completely disinterested in sex, relationships, and all the complications that go along with them. Being bisexual is an essential part of who I am.
American Heritage Company. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. 4th ed. : The Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000.