I recently had a conversation with someone who told me about a man marrying a “ladyboy” (their words) and how that man, surely, had to be “a little gay”. Finding that I had a few issues with this statement I questioned it, saying that if the person they were marrying identified as female (did they mean transgender?) then no they didn’t necessarily have to be “a little gay” (did this mean bisexual?), and I asked why their sexuality or indeed their genitals was any of our business anyway.
The person I was talking to did not have any bad intentions, I know that very well, but my resistance towards labelling either of these people, as well as my refusal to view the world in any kind of gender or sexual binary, seemed to take them by surprise. “Maybe that’s because you’re bi,” they said and it got me thinking.
Today is Bi Visibility Day and there has been a lot* of talk about bisexuality recently (*when I say a lot I mean more than the usual radio silence). This summer celebs like Miley Cyrus and Cara Delevigne, people who gossip mags tell us have dated both men and women, came out as labelless and last month a YouGov poll revealed almost 50% of young people don’t identify as homo- or heterosexual but instead somewhere along the bisexual scale. (Google Kinsey for reference.) Last week Evan Rachel Wood went on a Twitter rant about the importance of the label bisexual, saying “Bisexual people are the largest single group within the LGBT community, yet we are hardly recognized.” She went on to quote Human Rights Campaign research about the many health problems bisexual people face and said “I think in some cases people don’t want to be labelled because they are ashamed to be bisexual. And this needs to stop.” I agree whole-heartedly.
Remember, bisexuality doesn’t mean halfway between gay or straight. It is its own identity.
— #EvanRachelWould (@evanrachelwood) September 17, 2015
I’ve often found myself a bit apprehensive about labels, probably because I have come out as different things at different times. (I once wrote an article for The Guardian Comment is Free called “How I discovered I was gay” – on reflection it should probably have been called “How I discovered I was bi, or something like that.”) First I was straight (because: closet), then lesbian (because: biphobia), then bi (because my partner’s gender genuinely doesn’t interest me). Then people started saying that identifying as bi meant you can only fall in love with men and women, not those who identify as genderqueer, agender, genderfluid or any other kind of non-binary gender expression; that if I felt an attraction towards men and women who are not cis gendered then I should label myself pansexual or queer.
This was an argument that confused me. First of all I didn’t fancy walking around with some kind of gender barometer, asking myself who I fancied and who I didn’t and second of all I always understood bisexual to mean genderblind; as in, gender doesn’t define my infatuation. “I fall in love with a person, not their gender.“ – I thought that was bisexuality in a nutshell, an open-minded view of the world that defies the importance of genitalia in any situation. I still do.
I have since learned that some people interpret bisexuality as meaning as two genders; that you fall in love with men and women, and that some interpret the bi to mean your own gender and another; any other. You can spend hours on YouTube listening to different people’s interpretations and maybe I am wrong in my use of bisexual, maybe I should say pan, but I personally go by bi, using the second definition.
See, I’m a feminist – I believe in gender equality. I recognise that the suppression of women is catastrophic worldwide (and this needs to change damnit!) and I recognise that men face their own unique issues (and we need to help damnit!). I’m outraged at the widespread issue of transphobia and appalled by the oppression of intersex people and the idea that any person should be limited because of their gender is, quite frankly, bullshit.
The way I see it, a sprinkling of bisexuality worldwide, or at the very least a recognition of its existence, could do a whole heap of good. In fact I wish that more people would embrace a more bisexual approach and realise that gender doesn’t define a person. Introduce that campaign strapline to a bunch of world leaders and boy (or girl, or gender-non conforming person!), would we see a lot of change on this planet.
I have at times struggled with labels but I have, for now, settled on bisexual as my definition for my sexuality; one that falls in love with people and which defies sexism. (This is not to say I won’t change my mind and call it something else further down the line; it’s my sexuality and I’ll do what I want with it thank you very much.) But it is clear, not only from that conversation that I mentioned earlier but also from society at large that others struggle to understand the notion that gender shouldn’t define a person, shouldn’t matter.
Which is why today on Bi Visibility Day, and every other day for that matter, we need to celebrate, highlight, and make visible the fact that many of us don’t just fall in love with one gender. There are lots of us non-monosexuals out there and our sexuality is valid regardless of what we choose to call it. We’re not “a little gay;” we are what we say we are.