Bisexual but not Binary
Hi y’all.* I’m a new contributor to Queereka! This post is about how I came to terms with my bisexuality and the term “bisexual” as a gray-A, non-binary person.
I grew up in a small town in PA. No one was gay. “Gay” was just an insult boys hurled at each other. When a family friend got divorced, the rumors that he was gay were just ugly insults, until years later when we met his partner. I never considered my sexual orientation, let alone gender identity. I was just like everyone else who was assigned female, and the reason I liked looking at women was because I had been conditioned through advertizing.
I thought I might be bisexual after attending LGBT outreach event in college. The idea sounded appealing, but I didn’t come out right away, partially because I wasn’t sure. At that point, I hadn’t dated anyone. Getting to know someone through dating didn’t make sense. How could I know I would be attracted to them before I knew them? I thought the instant attraction I saw portrayed in movies was as artificial as the CGI and included for the same reasons: making for flashier stories and easier plots.
I was thirty when I met my first open members of the transgender community. I had already learned a bit about trans women through internet articles and vlogs, but this was the first time I had been exposed to the idea of nonbinary genders. Before then, I had assumed most women were like me, performing female gender because society said that’s how women were supposed to be. My trans friends taught me about gendered body language and behavioral norms, and I realized why a friend had once described me as the most androgynous person he ever met.
Immediately upon learning about nonbinary genders, I made the connection between “bisexual” and “binary.” “Bi” means two: two genders. I considered calling myself “pansexual,” but that labeled seemed to imply an attraction across the entire gender field, and there were certain gender expressions I was not into. Eventually I settled on “queer.” I use “queer” as an umbrella term for anyone who is not heterosexual. Using that term often required further explanation. Sometimes I’m ok with that, because my sexuality is complicated, just like Ted Haggard’s, and it doesn’t fit in a “neat little box.” However, there is often a tradeoff between accuracy and ease of communication.
Last year I moved to San Francisco. I spent many hours in queer spaces, and I met many queers, some of whom identified as “bisexual”, despite having lived for years as nonbinary. They explained to me that “bisexual” does not necessarily imply a gender binary any more than hetersexual or homosexual. Take a look at the etymology.
- “Homosexual” comes from the Greek homos, meaning “same.”
- “Heterosexual” comes from the Greek heteros, meaning “different,” or “other.”
- “Bisexual” comes from the Latin bi, meaning “two.”
Two of what? If “homo” is same, and “hetero” is different, we can read “bisexual” as referring to attraction to both same and different. It’s true that during part of its past, “bisexual” was meant as attraction to both sexes. During part of its past, “computer” was used to refer to a mathematician. Language changes.
You might ask why fight for “bisexual” when we already have “pansexual” and “queer.” If everyone knew the meaning of “pansexual,” if the acronym were “LGPT,” then yes, I would use “pansexual.” But I don’t need the extra challenge of educating the public about yet another misunderstood aspect of my identity. “Queer” is a lovely word, but it is an umbrella identity. Bisexuals need a label that we can mobilize around. We need a community to support us when we experience a number of health problems, including depression, anxiety and suicidal ideology, at higher rates than queer monosexuals. We need to be able to fight back about misconceptions already outlined on Queereka! We need an identity to rally around when the New York Times publishes articles questioning our very existence.
As I said, where I grew up, “gay” was bad. The first person to tell me it was ok to be gay then added, “But don’t be bi.” Bisexuals need a label because of biphobia and bi invisibility. I need “bisexual” because sometimes I don’t want to take five minutes to explain the nuanced expression of my sexual and romantic attraction. I’m turning 33 at the end of the month. I’ve only felt welcomed in the queer community since leaving a long term opposite sex partner three years ago. I’ve just purchased my first piece of bisexual paraphernalia. I’m bisexual but not binary, and this is how I learned to stop worrying and love the term.
*The term “y’all” is not common vernacular where I grew up, but I like it as a gender-free, second person plural pronoun. When you are in the frequent company of trans women, you learn that “guys” is always a gendered term.