Thoughts on Bisexuality and the Art of Labeling

Sometimes I feel weird about labeling my sexuality.

I feel that “bisexual” fits me best, but sometimes I prefer to describe myself as “queer.”  I have been attracted to women, men, and non-binary folks. But sometimes, at pride parades or LGBTQ+ events, I suddenly feel weird, like I’m “not queer enough.”

Bi erasure is still very common.  There are a lot of stereotypes and assumptions about being bi, for example, that we’re just curious, or transitioning to being fully gay, or that we’re promiscuous (on the contrary, I’m quite shy), or that we’re unfaithful because we could cheat on our partner with someone of a different gender.

The key flaw with this is equating a person’s sexuality to their personality.  It doesn’t work that way. No one’s personality is dictated by the gender(s) to which they feel attracted.  Members of the LGBTQ+ community are gaining increasing amounts of visibility, breaking down a lot of these stereotypes across the board.  So why do I still feel shy about being bi?

I often find myself caught up in labels.  There are “gay” things I can relate to, but I am not gay, I am bi.  When I think about dating or entering a relationship, I get nervous because I don’t know if the other person will understand what being bi means.  I worry that they’ll think I’m really only attracted to the opposite gender if I tell them I’m bi, or that entering a hetero relationship will erase me from the queer community.  Being in a straight-passing relationship doesn’t make you straight, and only dating one gender doesn’t make you any less bi, but that’s not always acknowledged. I know that I’m not alone in this; it’s a common struggle in the bi community.  

Some people find labels helpful, and some do not.  I generally like having one, at the very least so that I can assign it to myself rather than have someone else inaccurately assign one to me.  But some people prefer not to be confined to a term, and that’s perfectly fine. Even Queer Eye’s Antoni Porowski doesn’t identify as gay; he has been in relationships with women and men, and describes his sexuality as “fluid.”  

At times, I feel like these labels are used to connote more than just sexuality, and while it’s never intended as such, they can be harmful.  Many people struggle with feeling that being bi isn’t “queer” enough; I never thought that realizing I am attracted to multiple genders would make me feel like less of a feminist.  It doesn’t make sense, really, but an internet trend I’ve been seeing more often with the emergence of more powerful female action heroes is referring to them all as “lesbians.” Sometimes this is canon, sometimes it’s not.  I love the image of the strong, powerful lesbian woman. I know and know of many strong and powerful lesbians, and I’m proud of them for being who they are and doing what they do. But when I see the term “lesbian” essentially equated with “any powerful woman,” a little part of me thinks: But what about me?

Don’t get me wrong, I love crushing the patriarchy as much as anyone.  I want to be my own kind of powerful. But because I am not gay, and I am in fact very feminine, I do not fit the mold that I sometimes feel pressured into fitting.  Sexuality is not a choice or an indication of one’s values, but I often feel like I’m being left out of some exclusive club, or I can’t be considered a powerful enough woman if I choose to wear dresses and date a man.

I know that this isn’t true, and I know that a lot of people don’t think that way.  But still, I often feel like the bi community is left out of the conversation, or is simply an afterthought.  Again, in fandoms, people love to decide for themselves that characters whose sexualities have not been confirmed are gay, even if they’re in relationships with the opposite gender.  When people debate as to whether Captain America is straight and in love with Peggy Carter or gay and in love with Bucky Barnes, I just want to retort, “It’s called being bi, and he’s in love with them both!”

People should be able to be who they are and be proud of that.  Our society has made a lot of progress in this realm, but there’s still a lot of work to do.  Gender and sexuality exist on a spectrum, and not everyone knows where they fall. Not knowing is okay.

Maybe the way I label myself will change with time, and maybe it won’t.  I could find myself identifying more closely with “queer” or “pan,” or I might just stick with “bi.”  Though I find some comfort in a label, I wouldn’t mind living in a world where we don’t need labels at all.  Bottom line, I am a person, not a category, and that’s what matters most.


Image Credit: Feature, 1, 2