Bisexual, a conflictive word

No one, bisexuals included, loves the word. It sounds divisive when it means inclusive. It has a laboratory ring to it. What it means to me and to the many bisexual people I know is simply the ability to find emotional and sexual satisfaction in people of both genders. This broadly based sexuality, one enjoying but not bound by gender, explains much.

I am concerned with the sudden visibility of the conversion movement because I think homophobia should interest everyone. But I’m especially concerned that the response of the gay community not be one of increasing rigidity inside itself. Misunderstanding isn’t the special province of the conservatives and the converters.

Many gay activists see any talk of bisexuality as diluting the coherence of the community, particularly damaging in a time of attack. James Collard, editor of OUT, recently tried to start a discussion of what he calls “post-gay” sensibility — a community identity not based entirely in sexual orientation — and was met with anger. We have met the enemy, and it could be us if we’re not careful.

Others simply don’t believe in bisexuality, seeing through the lens of their own difficult coming-out experience. To those who’ve claimed their own sexuality the hard way, bisexuality sometimes looks like internalized homophobia, confusion, shame — or sexual opportunism. Bisexuals hear the same things from straights and gays, friends, lovers and perfect strangers: You can’t be both. You can’t be neither. You just haven’t faced the truth. You’re secretly wishing for A or B. Insert gay, insert straight, and it comes out the same — something essential is denied.

It is normal to me to have a flowing and unpredictable sexual orientation, although in my case it hasn’t been entirely unpredictable — there are patterns of who and when and how I am attracted to people, of who populates my dreams, and there are patterns in what I’ve chosen to do and not to do about those patterns. But my experience of attraction is nothing like a fence between opposing camps. My sexual self feels more like a winding river, going only vaguely in one direction, with gentle curves here and there, fast water and slow, occasional storms.

I have often wished to be another way, to “convert” fully and completely into a person whose community would be obvious — and welcoming. But there is something wonderful in this, too. The only limit is how tiny the word “bi” sounds, as though I lived in a world of two and not billions. What I live in is a world where sexual attraction can surprise me in the middle of doing the laundry, where I have discovered myself drawn to a person who didn’t meet a single one of the multiple criteria by which I had previously judged partners, where sexual attraction can disappear without notice and reappear where it is least expected, where in the course of the many decades of my life I have come to expect a library of possibility. I don’t know where the converters would even begin.

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