I LOL’d at her message and she replied, “Do you not identify bi?”
Her shock and surprise surprised me. My kneejerk response was to say no, I don’t. And so Bi Visibility Day kickstarted a long and convoluted conversation about identity, labels and bi-erasure – which perhaps is the point.
“I hate to break it to you, but you’re bi…”
This phrase, or similar, is one that I have heard many times, and in the context of my sexual experience, I can understand why. My first sexual curiosities and experiences were with other girls. As a kid, it was completely normal to be physically close with girl friends; hand holding, sharing a bed, undressing in front of each other, all of this was done without much thought or concern, and without sexual intent.
Regardless of intent, this created an environment of experimentation that, although not sanctioned by societal expectations, was easy to get away with. I had touched multiple breasts and vulvas before I ever handled a penis. As I got older, I found myself in a number of situations where there was touching or kissing, sometimes more. It just seemed to be a thing that happened with other girls. No one really initiated it, there was no conversation about what it meant, and it was unspoken that it was private and shouldn’t be shared.
I don’t recall ever having ‘crushes’ on girls like I did on boys. I didn’t secretly pine for the freedom to express my interest or desire, because that desire was always circumstantial. By the time I was 20, I’d had several experiences with other women, yet to call myself bisexual felt inaccurate. That was also almost twenty years ago and the vocabulary was different, but still, I didn’t think I was ‘bi enough’ to own that label then and I’m still not sure if I am.
The double standard
What does that mean, though – ‘bi enough’?
True, I have only been with cis men since my early twenties, and most of them have been straight (some of them have been bisexual, but not by design). Overall, I’m rarely attracted to other gender expressions besides cis men. I certainly can be, I have been, and I likely will be again, so I’d like to think that it’s about ‘hearts not parts’ – but it’s just not a common thing for me. I have always felt that I would be misappropriating the term bisexual (or pansexual) if I used it about myself. And don’t even get me started on the nuances of hetero-romantic bisexuality, because I really don’t know how that fits for me.
This, to me, is where the trouble lies: I don’t look at the degree of ‘bi-ness’ or ‘pan-ness’ that anyone else expresses, but when it comes to myself, I feel mostly inadequate to take on a label other than ‘straight’. I suppose I’m afraid that I will have to defend it or that it will seem I’ve chosen it because I’m indecisive, or any number of erroneous assumptions that are made about bisexual people. This is the insidious nature of bi-erasure: I understand the important of Bi Visibility Day, and I accept and support others’ bisexuality – so why don’t I accept my own?
The trouble with labels
Sometimes it feels like the world has gone over the top with labels, and that procuring a label for oneself, or applying one to others, is in danger of becoming more important than what the label means. Alternatively, perhaps we’re just living in a time when the vocabulary around sexuality is expanding very quickly and there are some growing pains and bumps in the road as we embrace it.
Personally, I don’t want to wear a label that doesn’t feel right, even if it technically fits, any more than I would want to see a friend or loved one be pigeonholed into an identity that was not theirs. The situation for me, as a cishet woman, is that I am starting to examine these thoughts from a place of privilege. I’m not being told how I should express myself and I don’t want to treat a term lightly that others have to fight to have. Likewise, I don’t want to turn my back on my experiences, but if I don’t know for sure if a term is right, then it feels wrong.
I’ve never grappled with the definition of my sexuality before now, and I admit, it’s more of a semantic debate than anything, but I do feel pressure to have a clear-cut term that others will understand. However, I am comfortable with the fluidity of my attraction to people and that it may still change, I just want to represent myself accurately and in a way that doesn’t step on the toes of other people to whom labels are more significant or more impactful.
So where does that leave me? Is bi the term for me? Pansexual? Heteroflexible? I still don’t know how I wish to label my sexuality. I still have a lot to think about. But I do know this: who and what you are is enough, who you love or make love to is your business, and we should all be able to identify in a way that makes us feel comfortable, safe and matches our sense of self.
Violet Fawkes is a freelance writer, erotic artist and sole author of Love, Violet, a sex, body, and kink positive blog focusing on BDSM and relationships. When not writing, Violet can be found consuming unholy amounts of coffee, flouncing about in lingerie, and testing and reviewing sex toys.