A reflection on identities outside the binary
By Marley Richmond
In a society obsessed with simplifying labels into a binary, from gender (male or female) to sexuality (gay or straight) to simple right and wrong (pineapples on pizza or not), those who don’t fit either box are often left out. In light of recent governmental discussions and decisions enforcing the gender binary, it is important now more than ever to support individuals falling in between or outside of “accepted” identities. The LGBTQ+ community has historically been accepting of ALL identities, and queer history month (October) was an important reminder of the diverse people who built this community and those who fought for the rights we have today, as well as a reminder of places where we have room to grow.
As accepting and progressive as the LGBTQ+ community is, cultural expectations of the binary still sometimes permeate our community. The complex spectrum of identities, and the true diversity of experience in which there are no real categories or boxes to check, can be a lot to wrap our brains around. This can leave our non-binary, pansexual, queer, asexual, or bisexual community members out because they don’t fall on either clear side of a dichotomy. For us bi people, this can lead to erasure from the LGBTQ+ community, misunderstandings from friends and family, and a perspective of illegitimacy to our sexuality. As we move forward from queer history month, let’s debunk some of the myths about bisexuality.
“You’re Just Looking for Attention and More Sex”
If that was the goal, I sure haven’t been successful at it. Being bisexual is often seen as being greedy, and bisexual people are labeled as promiscuous or attention seeking. In reality, being bisexual doesn’t mean I’m attracted to everyone, the same way that a straight man is not attracted to every single woman he sees; it is simply the ability to feel attraction to someone regardless of their gender. Saying someone just wants attention after they come out as bisexual can make their sexuality illegitimate and fetishize bisexual people as sex hungry.
This also means we don’t want to be part of your threesome (a common request of bisexuals because they “swing both ways”). I mean, maybe someone does, that’s okay too. But it’s not just because they’re bi.
“It’s Just a Phase, Eventually You’ll Pick a Side”
A lot of people see bisexuality as a way-point, the first step in coming out as gay, or as a phase of experimentation for teenagers, which they will eventually grow out of. Even in inclusive, safe spaces, these unfortunate misconceptions can be spread. Take the 2018 University of Minnesota Drag Show for example, where the emcee made a joke generalizing bisexuality as a transition phase, which people only identify as before coming out as gay. I did not expect to get dragged at the drag show! Hearing this, I immediately felt invalidated and upset that even in this space supposedly celebrating all identities, misinformation was being spread. While sexuality truly is fluid, and some people may identify as bisexual, then gay, or any number of other labels along their personal journey, bisexuality is still a legitimate sexuality that many people identify as throughout their lives.
“You Hooked Up With/Dated/Married a Different-Gender Partner: Congrats, You’re Straight Now!”
This really isn’t the way sexuality works. Bisexual people don’t swing back and forth between being gay or straight depending on who they are attracted to. We’re still bisexual no matter who we are with. Yet, bisexuals are often seen as neither a member of the LGBTQ+ community nor the straight community if they are dating a different-gendered partner. Unfortunately, this may also bleed into a bisexual person’s self-identity, and one may feel “fake,” or like they don’t belong in the queer community because of who they’re dating. This is the essence of bi erasure, and it is an unfortunate byproduct of society’s heteronormative, binary ideals. In reality, you can identify however you want, no matter who you are (or are not) dating. This is important to keep in mind when viewing one’s own sexuality, or the identities of others.
Keeping this in mind, know that gender and sexual identity aren’t always outwardly visible! People who are straight or cis-presenting (aka people who look straight or cisgender even if they are not) are sometimes unfairly excluded from pride events and LGBTQ+ spaces. Let’s work to change that because queer communities should be welcoming to everyone, including people outside the binary like trans people, those who are questioning their sexuality/gender, and bisexual or pansexual people who may be in a different-gender relationship. As a community, we can work together to accept all, whether one’s identity is apparent or not.
The overarching assumption behind each of these myths is that bisexuality, and really any identity which doesn’t align with traditional binary systems in general, is not a “real” identity. Society has ingrained dichotomies into our mind for hundreds of years, but as we move forward from queer history month, I challenge everyone to combat these kinds of assumptions wherever they may appear and accept everyone, no matter where they fall on the spectrum of gender or sexuality.