"Why do you cling to the bisexual label?"
Recently, I've had numerous people question why I cling to the bi label. That's not explicitly how they'll ask the question. Rather, they'll ask, "Why don't you just say you're gay now, given that you haven't dated a woman seriously in years"? Or "Why stick with bisexuality, when it reinforces the gender binary"? Or "Why is it worth it to keep saying you're bi when the bi community pales in size to the gay community"?
Interestingly, these questions aren't coming from straight folks, but rather gay, trans, and gender nonbinary folks. Gender nonconforming folks, in particular, like to ask me why I say I'm bi as opposed to pansexual, even though I'm attracted to all genders. The way they see it, being pansexual doesn't reinforce the gender binary whereas claiming bisexuality does.
That's when I quote Robyn Och's definition of bisexuality, explaining that the "bi" in bisexual means that I'm attracted to my own gender and genders not my own. They then respond with, "That's a definition very few people are aware of when it comes to bisexuality. It's esoteric to a few niche members of the queer community. Hardly any straight folks are aware that's what the 'bi' means. Additionally, you can't expect others, even members of the queer community to know this definition of bisexuality given that it's been an established label for years. You can't just change the meaning of it, and expect everyone to immediately know what it is".
Then I counter with, "Well, what about women who are attracted to everyone but men"? I have a few friends whose attractions fall into this category. They are ciswomen or nonbinary and are only attracted to cis women, trans women, and gender nonbinary folks. These women are prime examples of individuals who are bi, not reinforcing the binary with their attraction. They also aren't attracted to all genders.
They argue that these women shouldn't call themselves bi, but another word, perhaps polysexual.
This is when I start getting riled up. I get frustrated when members of the LGBTI community, who I've been so mindful of and respectful of, don't give me the same respect in return. I embrace you when you ask to be called gender nonbinary, even when you're an individual born a man who presents and acts masculine. I don't say "you can't claim that label" because you don't express your gender in a way that's discordant with your biological sex. I trust that you have your reasons for identifying as gender nonconforming. That you feel this word and this identity best suits you. I don't say you shouldn't call yourself gender nonbinary or gender nonconforming, but rather genderqueer, because I heard the term genderqueer before gender nonbinary, and we have to stick to one label. I simply respect your label. I respect you.
All I would like is to be respected in return.
And yes, the bi label is somewhat confusing. But it's not that confusing. I get why you believe that it reinforces the gender binary. But I am here, telling you it doesn't, and instead of arguing with me, why not inform others of what bisexual means when they say it reinforces the gender binary? Why not tell them how it doesn't.
Oh, and why do I cling to this label as opposed to another label?
For one, it honors the rich history of bi individuals, who are often forgotten. When I call myself bi, I honor the legacy of bisexual activists like Brenda Howard who is known as the Mother of Pride. Howard co-organized the Christopher Street Liberation Day March, which gave birth to modern Pride parades.
Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson were trans women of color at Stonewall. They too, were bi, though that's often not mentioned. There are countless other bi individuals who were at the forefront of the marriage equality movement, HIV activism, and have marched for LGBTI equality. They claimed the bi label so I can proudly claim it today. So I do. Not only for myself but to honor them as well.
Second, I cling to the label because it does allow for sexual fluidity. I don't believe that sexuality is stagnant. I think people can change, as do their attractions. This is especially true for sexually fluid individuals. I acknowledge that while I am currently attracted to all genders, this might not be true down the line. I like that bisexuality allows for growth and fluidity.
Lastly, it's necessary for the bi individuals to have a word to rally behind. The majority of individuals who are attracted to more than one gender identify as bi. The thing is, regardless if you identify as bi, queer, polysexual, pansexual, or no label at all, we all face the same negative mental and physical health disparities. I've discussed this time and time again in my column, but bi+ individuals (and when I say bi+ I'm including all the labels of individuals who are attracted to more than one gender, everyone who fits under the bi umbrella) face worse mental health outcomes, including higher rates of depression and anxiety, than gay and straight folks. We also face worse physical health outcomes, including pain. Bisexual women are much more likely to experience sexual violence and have worse mental health outcomes following sexual violence than their straight and lesbian peers.
We need to have a label to rally behind. The bi+ community is facing a national health crisis. In order for our disparities to be addressed, we must be counted in data collection. We must exist as a community.
Despite all these reasons, I still don't feel as if I should have to justify why I claim the bi label. Just the fact that I want to, should be enough. The fact that it makes me feel part of a community. The fact that claiming bisexuality helps me better understand who I am as a person.
At the end of the day, I claim bisexuality proudly. I feel it suits me best. So please, stop telling me I should change my label. I never tell you that you should change yours.