Bisexuality and Sexual Fluidity

Bisexuality and Sexual Fluidity

Recently, Cynthia Nixon (or Miranda, as we all know her), told the New York Times’ Alex Witchel that being gay is a choice for her. Then, in another interview, she told Kevin Sessums of The Daily Beast that she is bi, but doesn’t identify as bi, saying,

CN: …I don’t pull out the “bisexual” word because nobody likes the bisexuals. Everybody likes to dump on the bisexuals.

KS: But it is the “B” in LGBT.  

CN:  I know. But we get no respect.

KS: You just said “we,” so you must self-identify as one.

CN: I just don’t like to pull out that word. But I do completely feel that when I was in relationships with men, I was in love and in lust with those men. And then I met Christine and I fell in love and lust with her. I am completely the same person and I was not walking around in some kind of fog. I just responded to the people in front of me the way I truly felt.

Essentially, what Cynthia Nixon is saying is that she is bisexual, but that she identifies as a lesbian. It is telling that she feels she’d face more stigma from being bi than just being gay, but that’s at least part of the reason that she identifies as gay, rather than bisexual.

For most of high school and into college, I identified as a lesbian, for a number of reasons. It was easier to date women as a lesbian, because I met a lot of women who didn’t want to date bisexual women. They saw people like me as fake lesbians. And then there were the straight guys. I got really sick of dudes who wanted to date me because they thought there might be a possibility of a threesome.

So we face stigma from both heterosexuals and other queer folk. People think that we’re just confused or need to pick a side, or perhaps that we’re all just super sluts who want to sleep with everyone. We aren’t treated like we have a  legitimate orientation, and if anything about our sexual identity ever changes, it’s just more evidence that we’re confused.

But there is research out there suggesting that sexuality isn’t a black and white dichotomy, but rather more of a continuum, and something that is a lot more changeable than we think. A few years ago, Lisa Diamond wrote a book called Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women’s Love and Desire, based on her research. She followed women over the course of a decade, and periodically asked them about their orientation. It turns out that many women change orientations (or at lease how they identify themselves) over the course of their lives, and many refused to even choose a label or identity.

So where does that leave people like Cynthia Nixon, who were once straight and are now gay? Or women who identify as lesbians, but find themselves attracted to a man? Dr. Diamond put it this way:

I don’t think it [a lesbian having a relationship with a man] invalidates at all her lesbian fornication and identity. Those anomalies and sometimes exceptional experiences are simply complicated parts of life. And so I think we do a disservice to those women when we call them a derogatory term like hasbian because often they maintain very strong social ties to the community. But the truth is sexuality is complicated and there are more women with bisexual tendencies and attractions, even if they’re bisexual but mainly lesbian. That’s just a reality.

We didn’t really used to know that before but now we have really, really good data from multiple countries and cultures around the world and it’s just the truth of the matter. Instead of stigmatizing these women, we have to say “This is the diversity of our community” and accept that’s going to lead some women into patterns of attraction and behavior they might never have expected.

So, sexuality is complicated. I changed my own identity to “straight” when I got a boyfriend in college, then to “bi” after we broke up. My orientation didn’t really change much, though. I was still attracted to certain men and certain women, in pretty much the same ways I always had been. And the same is true of Cynthia Nixon. The fact is, she can identify herself anyway she wants, and her experience and identity are valid. No one else gets to tell her what she is.

Bellis is a bisexual single mom. She spends her days toddler-wrangling, blogging, and preparing for a career as a Pharma Shill.

10 Comments

  1. I identify as gay, and all of my sexual relationships have been with men, but I feel like there is an element of bisexuality in me as well, so I’m sympathetic to the idea of the sexual continuum, or even a “field” with many axes, where everybody sort of occupies their own space (and, heck, why not, may move around in this field throughout their lives). Sexuality itself is so complicated and multi-faceted that I have a hard time thinking of it as a strict either-or situation. While I fully believe that there are “100% gay” or “100% straight” people out there, I think that just happens to be where they landed, and that there’s likely a lot of people who are, say, “98% gay” or whatever.

    I identify myself as a gay man, though, mainly because that is where I feel most comfortable in the standard categories, and there are very, very few situations where I could see myself having a sexual relationship with a woman.

    I do think that this is an area where our culture could really be more flexible and nuanced in its thinking.

  2. It’s interesting to me, a person who is just becoming a member of this community, to see this topic under discussion. Since I came out as bi I experienced fluctuation. It seriously changed on a daily basis whether I was more attracted to one or the other, or if it was approximately equal. It was just normal for me that it fluctuated. I was discovering myself and rolling with the punches, as they say.

    I consider myself pansexual now, and all it means to me is that gender isn’t a deciding factor in my attractions, and I have been attracted to varied trans people at varied parts of their transition.

    Although, I’m sort of in a flux all the time in multiple ways. I’m in a relationship with a cis male, but I’m more attracted to other people sometimes. (Almost never another man and I never act on it.) I also consider myself androgynous and I sort of fluctuate in my gender identity, though I present as female (my biological gender) almost 100% of the time.

    I’m basically a big ball of wibbly-wobbly identities, and it’s totally cool with me.

  3. I like to consider myself a bisexual intellectualsexual, because while gender matters very little to me I need to find a person’s brain sexy to be truly attracted to them, physically or mentally. I’m extremely comfortable with this identification, though sometimes I get weird looks in conversation. I do wonder if intellectualsexual is actually considered a thing or if its just a cool word I picked up somewhere?

    • I feel that way too!

      At school, people always ask “Would you still date a girl if she didn’t shave?” or “Would you dump a guy who used makeup?”. They look pretty shocked when I say I couldn’t care less. Physical attraction should *always* come second to personality in relationships, in my opinion. Why should I have a say in what my partner wants to do with their body? And why on Earth would I want to make them feel uncomfortable about it? (Exception: if I feel they are harming their body, I may be more resistant.)

  4. Bisexual erasure, or the assumption that you’re gay or lesbian when in a long-term relationship with a same-sex partner, or straight when with a opposite-sex partner happens all the time, and from both directions: I can remember hearing biphobic shit from gay guys about how you can’t ever trust bisexuals, which got to be a self-fulfilling prophecy with one same-sex partner who became paranoid over the issue of trust and subjected me to all sorts of emotional abuse. (Guess what happens if you don’t trust your partner? It fucks up your relationship.)

    And the term is problematic from the bi- aspect as well: I’m open to being attracted to people qua people, whatever size, shape, colour, or gender they come in (obviously I do have some preferences, such as a minimum age of being an adult), and being transgender myself I don’t like a term which assumes I’m sexually interested only in the categories of men and women, tacitly erasing people who don’t strictly fit into the gender binary straitjacket. If the term were more ubiquitous, I’d prefer to call myself omnisexual rather than bisexual since that’s how I feel about people, whatever their gender identity.

  5. Great post! It’s important to address the dilemma that bisexuals face – being seen as invalid by both gay and straight communities.

    I know what it feels like to be seen as someone who is just, “going through a phase,” or “experimenting.” While there is definitely nothing wrong with either of those things, it is hard to be taken seriously when there is no portrayal of strong bisexual role models or characters in pop culture or television.

    That is why I make it clear to people that I am bisexual. I’m a real person and I have real relationships that are all meaningful, and they have involved many sexes and genders, and I am not just experimenting.

    For some reason that is harder for people to accept than just being “one or the other,” but I feel that visibility always helps dispel the false assumptions that lead people to being uncomfortable with openly identifying as bi.

  6. When I came out to my mom as bisexual, after she had gone through all the usual stereotypes of bisexuality she told me she would have preferred if I told her I was gay, since at least that was “a decision she could understand”

  7. I haven’t decided whether I’m really bi or not, as I haven’t had the opportunity present itself! It doesn’t seem to me I would have any problem identifying as such, though. It’s a shame that ‘purity’ seems to be so important — or that bisexuality seems so threatening — to some people.

    I remember encountering this idea of a sexuality continuum when I was quite young, reading Arthur C Clarke’s Imperial Earth, in which people are able to place themselves on the continuum using a percentage (e.g, 25% female/75% male), and the folks who are purely heterosexual are pitied!

    A bit simplistic, but it opened my eyes to the concept, and it always made sense to me that people were rarely all one thing or another.

  8. Im bi but dont really tell anyone. A lot of girls my age seem to be bi when super drunk, or to get boys attention and for some reason now I feel embarrassed to say Im bi…I feel a bit stupid for being all wimpy. Hopefully it’s just the age group…

  9. I find the idea that people are not prepared to call themselves bisexual a bit depressing. I can understand it, but don’t think that we should be afraid to say it.

    As a former gay man, I changed what I called myself to bisexual immediately after sleeping with a woman. I really do understand the fluidity of sexuality all too well.

    However, I’ve never quite got along with identity politics, so I don’t ever say that I identify as a bisexual. If this seems contradictory, it really isn’t, there#s a big difference between describing what I do than identifying as it.

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