When I was younger, identity politics seemed like an out to me. I could find a specialty label to encompass nearly everything about me. It was tidy where before I felt like a mess.
I had a cute little thought that I thankfully kept to myself where I could describe my beliefs at that time with a set of flowers. The rose of social democracy encapsulated my still nascent political beliefs and the freethinking pansy represented my spiritual dimension, not nonexistent but definitely lacking.
More elusive was a bow to put on top of my orientation as I (barely) understood it. The first word I attempted, on National Coming Out Day, no less, was bisexual. It seemed like a good fit at the time. I was in several classes at Indiana University where we had made use of the Kinsey Institute collection and it opened my mind to modern conceptions of sexuality.
I had not heard of gender and sexual fluidity and certainly didn’t know that identity could change. The idea of fluidity was probably anathema to me because my hometown had a completely idiotic interpretation of it, wherein people who were gay just woke up and chose to be that way (though it probably accurately reflected how many LGBT people woke up there and “chose to be straight” each day, ugh).
At the time, I think I was a one or two on the Kinsey Scale; a scale where zero was total heterosexuality, three was total bisexuality, and six was total homosexuality, but even that took some explaining. There are a lot of stereotypes about people who identify as bisexual that people attempted to pin on me the second I used the term. A few people told me that I couldn’t be bisexual because I didn’t find men and women equally attractive (what?). An old girlfriend yelled at me for using the term because she thought it implied a strict gender binary (fair, but it was still my identity). Plenty of people told me that I was really just gay (and who would know better than a total stranger). More than a few folks I attempted to court told me that they worried I would leave them for the opposite sex. Telling them I was just as likely to leave them for another person regardless of sex seemed to bounce right off of them.
Stereotypes come from a lack of experience, and they affect everyone. The people who said these things to me weren’t cartoon villain homophobes, holding “God Hates Fags” signs at a funeral. These were well-intentioned, well-read, liberal-minded people who supported full LGBT equality. And they didn’t think they were saying or doing anything wrong. I’m a firm believer that a question isn’t exactly stupid if it’s asked in the earnest pursuit of knowledge, but these things were often stated to me as if they were facts (as if they weren’t something I had ever considered).
And these observations are not coming from a place of implied moral high ground because I can assure you that I have a million stupid assumptions that I don’t realize aren’t facts. It all wraps back around to lack of experience. When we don’t have that experience and also lack the open-mindedness or ability to ask questions in earnest, we end up with a lot of dumb things pounded into our heads. To those who think freely, their entire lives will likely be spent unpacking those assumptions or unlearning our bad behaviors.
Due to the fear of those assumptions and how they might color me from the start, it took me a long time to even speak the word “bisexual” out loud to myself. I would drive an hour to school, alone in my car, with only the NSA and Vladimir Putin listening, and could barely get the word out above a whisper, and even that took me months of practice. When I decided it was time to share it with friends, who were 100% loving and supportive, I would whisper it or write it down on a piece of paper. Most reactions turned out to be a joking eye roll or a “no shit” followed by a hug. And after feeling empowered by those responses, I made a pact with myself that if anyone asked, no matter if it were the server at Applebee’s or the Pope or the President, I wouldn’t lie to them. I would tell them the truth, the whole truth, and nothing less than that. And I have stuck to it. All in all, the reactions have been largely positive, save a few weird comments here and there that don’t really irk me.
My easygoing approach to owning that identity is in large part due to my privilege of being able to pass as a totally hetero Kinsey zero. Very few people would view me or my mannerisms and come to the conclusion that I was not straight (for a gamut of reasons that range from evolutionary psychology to stereotypical portrayals in the media that we consume). That is something I have by and large escaped, so it has made my inner journey almost entirely interior, save the generic homophobia that idiots in small towns seem to fuel themselves on (and from which no one is exempt anyway). For that reason, it has been an easier ride. But the word and concept of “bisexuality” was not the end of the journey. Times have changed, and just as I realized a flower wasn’t enough to encompass all of my thinking and nuances on a given subject, the notion of being simply bisexual and nothing else wasn’t a perfect fit. And so I wandered again into the mental wilderness to try and find something better.
Categories: Personal Blogs