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.