Monday, September 29, 2014

Defining Bisexuality (Again)

Bisexuality Visibility Day was last week, but us bis celebrated all week. Along the way I got into arguments about how this weird word should be defined. There are sort of two camps on this:

1) Attraction to men and women. This is a very binary definition, and I'm still unclear whether this is supposed to exclude anyone who isn't cisgendered.

2) Attraction to your own gender and other genders.

Both definitions are used by bisexuals, and although I favor the second (maybe because it's what describes me) I consider both to qualify one as bi. After all, many bisexuals experience our sexual orientation differently, and some are only attracted to two genders while others are attracted to any and all. In defining bisexuality we may as well acknowledge that either of these definitions can fit a bi person, and I tend to be happiest when one acknowledges this while explaining what we are.

My arguments in the last week were the result of finding that seemingly most of the people on a particular queer Facebook page I'd taken a liking to were saying that the first definition is the absolutely correct one, so I commented a couple times saying that the second one is perfectly acceptable as well and should not be forgotten. I saw a few others trying to clear this up as well on that page.

It seemed that no one who insisted on "bi = two = men and women" was willing to listen, and they disregarded the few of us pointing out that many bisexuals do in fact use the second definition. After being told by one fellow bisexual that I should rethink what I call myself, and someone else (maybe also bi?) suggested that I should call myself pansexual or polysexual, I admit to bursting into tears.

I was upset because being part of the bi community, even being a fairly inactive member of it, has brought me a lot of comfort. It can be comforting to know that there's a place I belong because I was born into it, and that no one can take that away from me. So, to be told that I don't belong...let's just say that it had me messaging my boyfriend something along the lines of "This hurts so much that I wish I were straight."

This arguing about the correct definition to the point of telling someone they aren't really bi needs to stop. I don't want to make this all about me, because it isn't, but I'm describing my own experiences because that's all I can do. I know I can't be the only bisexual who has cried over this, and who has wished (briefly in my case) to be monosexual so that I could just avoid the whole argument. I've also realized that I'm glad I never questioned my sexual orientation as a teen, instead always insisting to myself that I was straight, because that means I didn't have to handle this drama then.

When anyone is wishing or thinking these things, we've got a problem. (Yes, I'm aware that I was probably part of the problem in the past.) But it's a problem that can be fixed through people being willing to listen to each other, and being willing to educate themselves on things such as the history of this weird word.

Once my sobbing finally died down I turned to Google to double check how bisexual websites define the word so I could reassure myself that, yes, I do belong in this community. I'll share what I found soon, plus some more, but for now I'd like to share what Robyn Ochs says in her book Getting Bi: Voices of Bisexuals Around the World.
"Every new idea I grappled with changed my definition of bisexuality. I have a new working definition: I call myself bisexual because I acknowledge in myself the potential to be attracted, romantically and/or sexually, to people of more than one sex, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree. I expect that this definition will change yet again, as I continue to learn."
This is a word whose definition isn't simple, and as Ochs points out its definition can change. Heck, it may even mean something different in fifty years. In the meantime it's my hope that people will learn to be more accepting of the fact that there is more than one definition for bisexual, and can think more about our similarities rather than our differences. Maybe we can focus on the fact that we are all attracted to more than one gender, and then talk about more important things like bi visibility.


Debra She Who Seeks said...

Everyone has the right to define themselves. If you identify as bisexual, that's all that matters. No one else's definition is relevant and no one else has the right to include you or exclude you from your identity.

Sarita Rucker said...

That's what I remembered once I calmed down.