This past week, I had the pleasure of giving a talk at Vassar College for Bisexuality Awareness Week. My talk focused on the internalized biphobia that I felt during college, and why embracing the bi label isn't always an easy task.
After my talk, we held a Q&A session, which allowed me to get a pulse of what queer college students are struggling with. While I vividly remember starting college, and often think it was just a couple of years ago that I walked into my freshman dorm room, the truth is almost a decade has passed since I first stepped foot on campus.
In this time, things have indeed changed. Students are identifying differently. How they engage in discourse surrounding identity politics has also changed. Without going into too much detail, as that isn't the focal point of this piece, there seemed to be more of a focus on individual identity, without a broader knowledge of queer history and the LGBTI movement.
That said, there was one question that stood out to me during the Q&A. Something I haven't really touched on before.
In essence, the student's question boiled down to the fear he has of claiming the bi label, when his attractions tend to consistently lean towards one gender significantly more.
A female student built on his question, adding "It frustrates me when cis women, in particular, claim the bi label, only to then make out with other women while drunk. They have no desire to date other women seriously. It doesn't seem right for them to say they're bi. It's misleading."
Now I hate using percentages when it comes to attraction for a few reasons. One, I don't think attraction is quantifiable in this way. What does a "50/50" split mean in terms of attraction? You date men and women equally? You watch same-sex and different-sex porn equally? I have no idea. Two, I think it reinforces a gender binary. What if you're bisexual and attracted to gender-nonconforming people? You're not including them in your attractions when you say you have a 30/70 or 60/40 split with regards to attraction. And third, I think quantifying attraction with percentages leaves out individuals who are in committed, monogamous relationships. What's your split when you're going to be with one person for the rest of your life?
So I don't think it's helpful to quantify attraction like this. I think it perpetuates false information surrounding bisexuality. That said, I'm going to go ahead and quantify attraction! (Sorry, but it's in order to answer the student's question theoretically, and to make a point.)
No one would doubt whether they have a right to claim the bisexual label if they found themselves equally attracted to folks of all genders. A "50/50" split, so to speak. I don't think anyone would question their right to claim bisexuality if their split was closer to 60/40. At 70/30, I could begin to see the fear, and at 95/5 (again, I have no idea how this split would actually manifest itself in real life), I could see one thinking it wouldn't be appropriate to claim bisexuality.
After all, you're really just attracted to a few women, maybe down to have sex with them, but probably not looking to date. You really do see your life playing out by being monogamous with another man. So is it right to join a queer community and claim that you have a marginalized identity?
Yes. I think it is, for a couple of reasons.
First off, you are not responsible for upholding the purity of the bi brand. Your job, as an individual, is not to make bisexuality "simple" and digestible so other people can understand it. Your job, first and foremost, is to yourself. If you feel the bi label suits you, and you feel a part of a community when you claim the label, then I think it's your right to do so.
Second, I believe that in claiming the label, you will allow yourself to explore and to potentially be more attracted to individuals of various genders. It's tough to explore your attractions to people of the same gender when you identify as straight. I know I struggled with this. I was wracked with cognitive dissonance. I would ask myself, "How can I be straight but sometimes find men attractive?"
It was only once I came out as bi, claiming the label, that I was able to fully realize and admit to myself that I was more than just sexually attracted to a few men. I was emotionally and sexually attracted to many, many men. So personally, I needed to claim the bi label in order to justify and explore my attractions to men fully. I wasn't able to explore my bisexuality until I called myself bi.
While that may sound somewhat backwards, as most folks find themselves attracted to multiple genders and then claim the label, I don't think I'm alone in my sexual journey. I think sometimes claiming the label first allows you to explore without shame or guilt.
Third, sexuality is fluid and can change over time. If you feel a part of the queer community and are noticing attractions to various genders, even if some attractions are much stronger than others, I think it's completely fine to claim the bi label. As we all know, attraction ebbs and flows. I still think you are bi when your attractions to various genders change over time.
Nevertheless, I told the student that asked the question that I'm grateful for his reservation. It shows how seriously he takes identity. It shows how badly he doesn't want to accidentally co-opt another person's (or group's) identity (and struggle).
But go ahead. Claim the bi label. Hopefully, when discussing your identity, you can then delve into the nuances and complexities of your specific sexuality. I think that's also part of the next step, because saying you're bi can mean so many things with regards to attraction. If you feel some reservation, I'd say feel free to claim the label, and then move into what that label means to you in how you approach sex, love, and your own identity.