Today is Bi Visibility Day, which means it’s that time of year again to talk about my sexual orientation.
Contrary to what some of you might think from reading this blog or seeing my posts on social media, I actually don’t like to talk about it very much. I’ve always been a pretty private person. To me and many others, being bi is about accepting myself for who I really am — especially in a world that constantly tries to erase that identity — it’s not some kind of kinky fetish. But I’m aware that many people outside the bi community see it that way.
That’s why I do talk about it. To dispel people of that notion.
Consider how rampant heterosexuality is in our culture, and consider the ways that it’s not treated as an inherently sexual thing. A little boy pulling a girl’s pigtails on the playground. A little girl singing about how someday her prince will come — we’re totally capable of allowing the hetero part of that equation without making it about sexuality, and that’s as it should be. It would be super gross to sexualize those things.
So even if others make me feel sometimes that I’m oversharing, my goal is to normalize this conversation. Queer identities should not be a taboo conversation. That stigma is what keeps people ashamed and afraid — I should know, it kept me in the closet for ten years.
So, okay, let’s normalize the conversation. Fine. What is there to talk about?
There are a lot of misconceptions about bi orientations. One of the most common is that bisexuality is not really “a thing.” Or, when we are acknowledged, it’s to say that bi folks are promiscuous or unfaithful in relationships.
Today I want to talk about one of the misconceptions that often comes from other queer people — the idea that bisexual or biromantic identities exclude attraction to trans people.
There are a lot of flaws in this logic.
Let’s start with definitions. Many people think that bi means “attracted to men and to women.” That definition does assume that there are only two genders, and, uh, as a non-binary person myself, yeah, that would exclude me. But that’s not the definition that the bi community uses.
Consider this oft-cited definition from bi activist Robyn Ochs:
I call myself bisexual because I acknowledge that I have in myself the potential to be attracted – romantically and/or sexually – to people of more than one sex and/or gender, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree.
This is a nice and inclusive definition — you don’t need to be “50/50” between binary men and women to count as bi, and it acknowledges the existence of other gender identities like my own.
“But bi means two!” some Latin roots enthusiast is shouting in the back.
Whoo, boy. I’m going to shelve the language is a constantly shifting fabrication of our culture and what people actually use is way more important than what’s “correct” conversation — goodness knows that any advocate of the singular they is already too familiar with it.
Instead, how about this: if somebody tells you “Hey, I’m bisexual” and then “this is what bisexual means,” just… believe them?
“I don’t get it!”
Yeah, okay. Confession time? I don’t “get” people who are only attracted to one gender. What I mean by that is that it’s not the way my brain works, and so I don’t relate to it. But I can understand what they mean when they say that — it’s not a difficult concept — and I can respect them enough to take their word for it. Their experience, while different from my own, is valid.
I want to go back to that “binary definition of bisexual excludes trans people” thing again, though, because there’s something that really bugs me about it.
“Men and women” does not exclude all trans people. It only excludes the ones like me who don’t have a binary gender identity.
There’s a difference between “binary men and women” and “cis men and women.” All women who identify solely as women, in a binary sense, are women. Trans women and cis women can both be binary women. The same goes for men. The idea that a binary definition of bisexuality excludes trans men and women is rooted in the idea that they’re not “real” men or women. So that idea is hurtful to bi and trans people.
So, okay, that’s an important point I wanted to make, but it doesn’t really apply to me — I’m non-binary. My gender identity is not male or female.
You might be wondering why someone like me chooses to identify as bi, as opposed to pansexual or queer.
Well, if I wanted to be glib, I could just refer you to the inclusive definition of bisexuality above. Genders like mine could be people who are non-binary, people who were assigned female at birth, or people who are trans; genders not like mine could be people who have a binary gender identity, people who were assigned male at birth, or people who are cis.
There’s a lot of mixing and matching and overlapping that can happen between those categories. Maybe that’s overwhelming for someone who’s new to this kind of dialogue. Bi? Pan? Queer? What’s the difference, even?
I’ll break it down.
I like pie. … No. Sorry. I love pie. I live for it.
A bi person might say, I like fruit pies and also pies that are not made with fruit in them. Maybe for one specific person that means fruit pies and cream pies. Or fruit pies, cream pies, and fruit and cream pies. Does pumpkin count as a cream pie? It’s more of a custard! Oh, no! Where does that fit into our pie categorization? Wait, it’s okay. It’s “not fruit pie.” I wasn’t even specifically thinking about pumpkin pie, and maybe some poor soul out there didn’t even know pumpkin pie was a thing, but that’s okay, because this pie-lover’s definition is inclusive of any pies that are not like fruit pies.
A pansexual or panromantic person might say — this is your moment, Latin roots guy — yes! I like all kinds of pie. Fruit, cream, custard, meat, even pies that defy categorization. If it’s pie, I’m there.
A queer person might say any of those things. Or maybe they would say, jeez, I just like pie, okay, why are you asking me all of these questions?
Queer — not as in the queer community which comprises all LGBTQIA people, but as in “just queer” — is kind of the catch-all “I’m not straight but I don’t feel the need to use a more specific label” label. And that’s cool.
Damn. Now I want pie. Metaphors are bad for my diet.
In any case, I hope this post has been educational. Gender and sexual orientation are separate kinds of identity, but there are ways that they relate to each other. I hope that, this Bi Visibility Day, you understand bi identities a little better — and how non-binary bisexual is, contrary to how it might at first appear, not a contradiction at all.
Happy Bi Visibility Day! Now go celebrate.