Why So Curious?
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.
Thanks for posting! I’m asexual and I’ve certainly seen other asexuals have this aspect of their identities denied by others for precisely the sorts of reasons which you’ve described here.
This is an awesome article, thank you. I’m bisexual and am in a fairly serious relationship with a guy. Since this makes us look like a socially normal couple I constantly get shocked looks when people find out I’m bi. I’ve even had to remind my boyfriend of it a time or two because he is used to defining people’s sexuality by their current relationship status. It makes me want to take people by their shoulders and glare at them until they get it.
I love the line about it effecting the way individuals view the world, because it definitely effects mine. Of course, part of that could be because being bisexual has helped me to get beyond the gender stereotypes that the south tries so desperately to install in children -_-;.
Exactly! It makes you so much more aware of the casual stereotyping and sexuality/gender-policing we all subconsciously engage in sometimes.
Thanks for sharing, guys!
I never kissed anyone or had a sexual experience until I was 19, but I’ve known I was a lesbian since I was 13 or so. How many times did people ask me “How do you know you’re a lesbian if you’ve never even kissed a girl?”
My response became “How do you know you’re straight if you’ve never kissed the same sex?”
usually shut them up
Thanks for the awesome article!
I have so often had the experience, after dating a male for so many years, that people thought my bisexuality was just an old phase that I was clinging to or that I was straight. Once I started dating a female people assumed I was a lesbian.
The most annoying thing was when my family was like “OMG your gay when did that happen?!”
Because I came out as bi when I was 13 I guess that it didn’t count.
For me (straight, white, cis-gendered, married XX woman), the question that puzzles me the most is why are people so interested in other people’s sexual orientation with whom they’re not in a relationship or interested in one?
It’s none of my damned business.
Just like I never needed to find out or challenge that I’m straight, or a woman, I don’t suppose that anybody else needs my input on what they are.
And I’m trying not to impose any heteronormative expectations onto my kids. I don’t assume that they are one or the other or anything yet. Probability says they’re most likely to be hetero, but I really don’t want them to ever think they’d disappoint me for not being hetero, or cis, or remain their birth-gender.
Uhm, I realize that this looks like I was cookie-fishing. I’m not, it simply puzzles me.
I imagine it can be tough avoiding hetero/cis-normative to your kids (really, that shit is everywhere and so easily internalized), but it is excellent that you’re making sure they know they’re safe at home no matter what.
Cookies are delicious! 🙂
Of course, it’s no one’s business how you identify, but if you’re trying to share it with someone, I think it would be nice for everyone involved if it was met with an open accepting mind rather than disbelief or refusal.
I think it’s awesome that you’re trying to raise your kids that way, and even if they turn out to be hetero/cis, at least they’ll grow up without those biases and stereotypes ingrained in them, affecting how they then interact with the world, which is a wonderful thing.
Well, I hope that most of it is taken care of “naturally” by the fact that we are living a more diverse life than, say, I did as a child*.
Fun fact: Kids are not curious about those things. At least mine.
Questions like “why is uncle kissing a man?”, “how come that [names of a lesbian couple] are getting married, where’s the groom?” and even (puzzeling to me, since we covered the basics of human reproduction) “How come that [names of lesbian couple] are having a baby together?” have not come up yet.
They see it, and it just is.
But I still try to avoid sentences like “when you have a boyfriend/husband of your own”, and I credit blogs like yours in raising my awareness of the fact that such language could indeed undermine unconsciously all my good intentions.
Privilege really is hard to see when you have it.
*Cookies for my parents: They tried to raise me without the usual biases, but still the first time I knowingly met an openly homosexual person as a teen, I was kind of shocked. It was more like “LGBT people exist, there’s nothing bad about them, but they don’t exist here”.
I was married to a bi-guy, and I’m bi myself, but together we looked like a typical heterocouple. About a year after we split up, I told a friend of mine he had a boyfriend now, and she said “Ok so he’s chosen sides now.” and I said “No, he’s still bi” and she answered “Well he has to chose eventually.”
I was so chocked at this blatant attempt to deny my sexuality (she knows I’m bi) but the worst was that she also said: “I can’t believe you married him whilst knowing he likes guys.”
Just thinking about it gets me all riled up. Gawd.
Oh, argh, yes. D:
I know someone who strongly believes that bi people don’t exist, because in the end everyone ‘chooses sides’, and apparently that… is the only important thing? Everything before that was a lie?
That sort of thinking pisses me off bigtime, not just because I’m more complicated than that, but also because it assumes poly relationships don’t exist.
I like the color “violet.”
How do you know you won’t like “red.”
I am a femme lesbian, leaning pansexual, Trans woman. People believe my default should be to be attracted to a masculine presenting person. And then even when I say that I am only attracted to feminine and andrgynous presenting people regardless of their genitalia, people just don’t get it.