A few years ago when I first started to think about both my gender and sexuality in terms that I’d never broached before, and having never been in a relationship, I decided to confide in a close relative of mine over dinner. I mentioned that I thought I could be attracted to women as well, if not more so. This was met by the unexpectedly mocking retort, “Well, see how you do with men first!” I couldn’t do anything but stare in disbelief, although running away in tears came a close second, and would have meant I didn’t have to pay my share. I soon sadly realised that this notion was quite a common stance on sexuality.
Straight is the default human setting, which must be tested and disproved first, before you may consider being different. Because it would be so much easier if you weren’t. This is the obviously flawed ‘straight until proven queer’ hypothesis society operates under that makes it so much harder for people to actually test their own hypotheses out, and often means people take much longer to get to their truths.
In science, the best discoveries come from asking questions and seeing what happens. Sure, most experiments have a hypothesis to begin with, but one must be wary of working too hard to achieve an answer they think ‘makes sense’ or is ‘elegant’, so much so that they might ignore an entirely different set of possibilities or explanations for observations. Looking at your data with an open mind instead of trying to fit it with a pre-determined model might allow you to avoid the trap of a confirmation bias that does no one any favours. We’re all here because we’re searching for the truth.
And of course, the actual ‘testing’ part is often not what’s most important when it comes to recognising identity. It’s asking that initial question, knowing the answer and acknowledging it for yourself that is, and often you probably have always known that answer.
We don’t question someone who’s never had a heterosexual partner if they say they’re straight, and yet people who identify as queer seem to have to prove they haven’t tried the alternative first, and this is where my test-based science analogy ends. People should be allowed to self-identify in any way they wish, and not feel obliged to prove it to anyone. Unless you identify as a homeopath soothsayer, in which case, no.
But what really gets to me is when people who identify as bisexual are in long-term heterosexual relationships, and people don’t believe that they’re queer, refuse to acknowledge that fact, or think it’s irrelevant. The opposite may also be the case – a bi-individual in a homosexual relationship, or someone who identifies as pansexual and happens to be with a cis-presenting person, someone asexual in a romantic but non-sexual relationship, you get the idea. What does it matter how you define yourself, your sexuality, your gender? As long as the world can put you in a box now, it doesn’t have to acknowledge the ways in which you may be thinking of yourself outside it. In this box you are Schrödinger’s queer cat, where society may define your orientations for you by mere observation, ignorant of your other (quantum, queertum?) possibilities.
The idea that you are defined by your current (but more often long-term) partner is troubling for many reasons; the one I will care to mention here being the erasure of bi-, pan- and a-sexual identities. If we can’t see it, it ain’t happening. Society can stick its collective fingers in its ears, that we’re trying so desperately to open. Queer folk and relationships are still hugely misunderstood and either ignored or further stereotyped and streamlined into an acceptable idea of what it means to be queer, to be fed back to us for our information and viewing pleasure, without having to challenge or discomfort us.
Everyone in a relationship that can seemingly fit into this accepted model is pink-and-blue-washed, introducing a sampling bias when it comes to understanding and maybe even measuring queer identities in society. If we ignore the queer folk that happen to be with partners that don’t conform to what we expect, given their queer-ness, we do both them and the observing public a disservice.
It does matter if your partner is bisexual, it does matter if your lover is genderqueer, and it does matter if your friend is trying to come to terms with what they might be, because that is so much a part of who they are and how they might relate to you and the world.