This article originally appeared in Foglifter April 2016 and is reprinted by permission.
There’s a box where my anxiety lives. This box is on OK Cupid. To check, or not to check: “I do not want to see or be seen by straight people.”
A friend of mine quipped that it is the most satisfying box to check on the internet. Maybe for them. For me it is fraught with tension and complexity.
While I am firm that I’m interested in “men and women,” I have checked and unchecked this other box many times — this box that determines whether or not I am categorically queer. Sometimes checking the box feels safer, or just smarter. When I don’t have the box checked, the majority of my inbox is filled with cis straight men I would never even meet for coffee composing vaguely harassing opening salvos like “Hey pretty.” At best.
There were times in my life when I was certain there were subtle yet critical lines in the sand between queers and everyone else. I wanted to reject the more mainstream “bisexual” label and own the subversive potential of “queer.”
I thought perhaps if I did, there would be some kind of initiation ceremony where I’d get to ride a unicorn through a rainbow and emerge with iridescent skin that only other queers could recognize. I’d never be without love, friendship, and community again. And I’d have cooler clothes.
But in reality, I have had sexual and romantic relationships with men and women, cis and trans folks, straights and queers. And this is the thing about occupying the space “bisexual” that I think is politically significant. We are not just switch hitters; we are ambassadors between cultures. It’s part of why we’re stigmatized for being double agents. But it’s a special, important, albeit difficult position. This is why I’m coming back around to bi.
In queer culture, we want to abandon the binary altogether, or at least play with it, but most of the world is still split in two. How do we accommodate this? “Bisexual” is a term straight people know.
For me, using the word “queer” within the LGBTQ community was partially a way to protect myself from biphobia. But I think that needs to be addressed head-on. It’s not that we shouldn’t use the word “queer”; this identity marker may be truer for many people. I just don’t think “bisexual” should be abandoned, either.
Dan Savage tries to be the gay guy straights can relate to. He’s doing his part, along with bisexuals, to bridge the gap, although he’s pretty biphobic himself. For this and other reasons, he pisses me off fairly routinely, but on one point I’ve got to hand it to him. One time when I heard him speak, he offered: “What would it be like if cis men asked their female partners, ‘What are you into?’ And what if the answer was — ‘Well I’m not always that into penetration.’”
I think most cis straight men’s heads would explode. Or at least, this would be a dealbreaker with regards to sexual intimacy.
Queer people, in general, are part of a culture where folks negotiate their desires. For most straight people, phallocentric vaginal sex is just assumed to be the main course. The event that all other sexual activity leads up to. And it can be a spectacular meal. With detachable dildos or their fleshy counterparts. But it shouldn’t have to be the only option for satiation.
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The obvious thing to note here is that I took some women’s studies classes in college, what with the use of “phallocentric” and all. But it’s not just feminism. Desire isn’t that political. Right?
Or…is desire a decision you can make, a lifestyle you commit to based on principles, like being a vegetarian? Is love a choice? If desire were strictly political, then this would be the moment I pass through the rainbow. I would embrace the label “queer” wholeheartedly and vow to never date or sleep with a cis straight dude again. But this strikes me as similar to that old saying in the seventies: “feminism is the theory, lesbianism is the practice.” I think that got retired for a reason. But what about that other 70s classic: “the personal is political.”
I couldn’t agree more.
If I feel tangible desire for men, both cis and trans alike, doesn’t it help ‘the cause’ of all people for me to bring my queer sensibilities and feminism into the sacred space of the bedroom? Don’t we need ambassadors?
Sex isn’t always what we want it to be. This can range from the dissatisfying to the violent. Ambassadors can help with this. One of my favorite spoken word poets, Andrea Gibson, has a line about stopping rape. Gibson says: “She’s not asking what you’re going to tell your daughter/She’s asking what you’re going to teach your son.”
We don’t all have sons to teach. But for those of us who want to take male lovers, there are lessons here to give and receive. Of course, not all heterosexual sex is like rape. But it all too often is. Sometimes in subtle, pernicious, and corrosive ways. Sometimes in overt, traumatic ones. I don’t have to give you statistics here. We all know that rape happens most often with people who already know each other. And while it’s true that sometimes women and queers are the perpetrators of intimate partner violence, I also don’t need statistics to affirm that the vast majority of the time, rape is done by cisgender straight men. Rape culture is systemic. We need to build a culture of consent, and queer culture, with its norms of negotiating desires, offers this.
The shape and quality of the love feels different between queers and across the lavender bridge into the straight world. But one is not more or less worthy than the other.
When I claimed earlier: “I’m not bi, I’m queer, and I only date queers” I drew a perimeter that excluded cis straight guys. When really, they are the ones who need a handful of glitter and consent the most. More than that, claiming queer-only as my identity denies the real love I’ve shared with cis straight men. It makes me feel like a fraud, inadequate. My hetero relationships are not just something in my past to gloss over, ask forgiveness for. It erases my history to do so, which still lives within me. My past informs my present and future. I don’t want to disrespect it. I need it to feel whole.
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If anyone does need to draw a line to exclude the cis and the straight and the dude, like I once did, that’s fine. Or if they need to exclude any sex or gender to love. That’s cool. I can respect that. I just ask that they respect the label bisexual. For me, it is a label that affirms my appetite as an omnivore. This feels integral to who I am. This multiplicity of desire is perhaps not a choice in the same way that being gay or being straight is not a choice. It’s anybody’s guess.
So this is where my two labels meet. For the sake of doing my part to queer the world with a culture of consent, I am coming back around to bi.
With a caveat: a queer to some, a bisexual to others. Depending on who I am talking to, and what language they speak. I am an ambassador, after all.
I’m coming back around to: Hi there. There’s plenty of room on the back of this unicorn. Let’s ride through this rainbow together.
(Feature Image: Two people on bicycles with their backs to the camera. The person on the left is waring a grey dress. The person on the right is waring a white, pink, purple and blue sundress. They both have short brown hair and are looking at each other. Each bike has a piece of paper that says ‘JUST MARRIED’ Source )