I have never been comfortable with the word “bisexual.” As a young queer woman in Durham, North Carolina, in the 80s and 90s, our community was very clear that we would use the acronym LGBT, but we would struggle with the T (a subject for another day), and we would not believe the B. I grew to understood the B as meaning “not really gay” or “can’t make up their minds” or “horndog.” So in fact, “bisexual” was a wishy-washy term, attractive to couples looking for threesomes, useful as a category to put questioning folks in.
After my partner Tricia died in 1998, I found comfort not from my gay and lesbian friends, but from my straight male friends. They seemed to hear the pain in my heart – especially one friend, Mark. Mark’s comfort was inviting, and my relationship with him did turn romantic for a while. And that was fine. My mistake was telling my lesbian friends, who branded me a traitor to the sisterhood, who called me a “hasbian,” and then proceeded to ostracize me from the community I had loved and served in for years.
Over the next 15 years, I stopped dating women altogether and focused on men. I decided that my “lesbian days were over” but I didn’t quite step into the term “straight” (despite two boyfriends’ attempts). I also didn’t see myself as bisexual, because at that point, I was not sexually attracted to women, and I knew all the problems the B word brought with it.
That was fine for me personally – I didn’t really need labels. However, I knew that many would not understand my personal history, and I worried that they would think my years as an out, proud, activist lesbian were “just a phase” or that I was embarrassed by those relationships and activities – something that couldn’t be further from the truth. But I also carried the old, tired definitions of bisexual with me – and I honestly did not feel attracted to women at that point. How could I be bisexual if I don’t feel attracted to more than one gender? I wasn’t trying to play the field. I knew the truths of my romantic history and sexual orientations. But I couldn’t explain it well. Throughout seminary, I used the word “queer” and said simply “I exist in the queer cloud” as a way to show my general solidarity but not identify as anything I didn’t think I was.
So fast forward to this week.
Bisexual Visibility Week.
I started reading articles, blog posts, and Facebook statuses from and about bisexuals. Someone shared the video of actress Anna Paquin trying to explain to Larry King that her sexual orientation is not defined by the person she is in a relationship with. Someone else talked about the misconceptions about being confused and still sorting their identity out. And then I read this quote from Robin Ochs in an article called Bisexuality 101:
“Bisexuals are people who acknowledge in themselves the potential to be attracted – romantically and/or sexually – to people of more than one sex and/or gender, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree.”
Not necessarily at the same time.
Oh. I AM bisexual… and it is my definitions that are too narrow.
As open and knowledgeable as I am about gender identity and sexual orientation, I was remarkably closed-minded about bisexuality. Mine, particularly. While I was open and affirming about others’ bisexuality, I used the old, outdated, incredibly short-sighted definitions for myself, thus cutting me off from embracing the fullness of who I am.
And I was doing a serious disservice to the people I want to minister to. A recent study shows that bisexual youth face particularly specific challenges. Others may not know what to do or say to be a good bisexual ally, whether they themselves are gay or straight. And others may just need to see the richer, more colorful texture of sexual orientation, even as we speak more fully about the richer, more colorful texture of gender identity. I need to be out, not just as queer, but out as who I am, in order to best serve others.
So…big breath…. here goes:
I wish to be visible… to my friends, to my congregation, to my community, to my denomination…. and most of all, to my self.
I am bisexual.
I am a sexually healthy, emotionally healthy, spiritually healthy human being that has loved and been attracted to people across the gender spectrum, to different degrees, at different times, in different ways.
I am bisexual.
I am called to ministry, to be everything I am and want to be, including who and how I choose to love.
I am bisexual.
Kimberley, from one queerbi to another (bi whatever name you call yourself), thank you for this post.
BRAVA! So well written!! As a bi woman married to a guy, I’ve struggled with this over and over, particularly two things you’ve summed up so well: Feeling like a traitor to the “cause” or that I’m not “queer enough” (especially since my relationship with Kirk gives me the privilege of passing in a hetero-normative world), and explaining the “sexual orientation is not defined by the person you are in a relationship with” concept to others. It’s definitely an evolving process…I think it actually took me way longer to become comfortable with the bi identity than it took me to become comfortable with the fact that I was attracted to girls. I can remember wishing that I was just a lesbian – it would be less confusing 🙂
From another one: thank you.
Thank you! Well-written and courageous.
I’m bi, and didn’t know how bi-phobic the lesbian community could be until I was in my first same-sex relationship, with the woman who’s now my wife. She’s bi too and had seen it all. I’d never gotten that kind of crap from the men I’d been in long-term relationships with: a boyfriend, then a husband, both of whom seemed to understand perfectly well that my being bi didn’t mean I was going to up and leave them, or initiate a titillating threesome, or be unfulfilled for life, or any of the other stereotypes. From what I’ve heard, I think I got lucky.
I am uncomfortable with “passing,” which ironically, was a reason I stayed closeted to most people the whole time I was in hetero relationships. I was afraid of the “easy for you to say” response. Now I’m uncomfortable with the possibility that my claiming a bi identity might be read as an attempt to distance myself from my lesbian sisters. But I yam who I yam. I am happy to tell you that I have never encountered any of those misunderstandings in UU collegial circles. May you always receive as warm a welcome. And if you don’t, you’re clearly equipped to give them the education they need.