Slightly over a week ago, Rita Ora came out with a new song titled, "Girls", which was quickly hailed for being a "bisexual anthem" by mainstream outlets while simultaneously considered tone-deaf by a number of bi+ women and queer celebrities including Hayley Kiyoko and Kehlani.
"I ain't one-sided, I'm open-minded, I'm 50-50 and I'm never gonna hide it," Ora sings in the undeniably catchy song. "Red wine, I just wanna kiss girls, girls, girls."
When asked by People Magazine about the single and upcoming album, Ora said, "I always looked at this song as a real genderfluid freedom record. It really represents freedom and the chance to be what you want to be — and there being no judgment and just living your life as you want to live it."
And then when asked if she hopes "Girls" becomes a bi anthem, she said, "Definitely. I definitely want it to feel like it's an anthem to somebody. I want there to be a sense of freedom for anyone who listens to it."
However, when the 27-year-old singer was asked if she considers herself bi or sexually fluid, she replied, "If people look at it like that, it's very narrow-minded, and I don't think that's what this record is. I don't think that that even matters."
To be honest I'm torn about this song, which features other artists including Cardi B, Charli XCX, and Bebe Rexha.
My gut response, like many others, was to think of this song as queer-baiting, especially given Ora's responses to People. While she wants the song to be a bi anthem, she then believes that being asked if she is bi or fluid is "very narrow-minded" and "doesn't think that even matters".
I'm not going to explain why that's 100% false, how it unequivocally does matter; and having a famous member of the community claim the bi label proudly is incredibly important for visibility and the overall well being of bi+ individuals. I'm not going to go into depth because that is just so painfully clear to anyone who is bi (but also because there's a lot in the media right now about the importance of visibility).
Then, in addition to the queer-baiting, I didn't like the messages throughout the song. I didn't like that she sings about being 50/50, perpetuating the stereotype that bi people are equally attracted to "both genders". As someone who's attracted to all genders with varying and fluctuating degrees, I vehemently disagree. (Also, I don't think attraction can be qualified in terms of percentage.)
But even more infuriating than that is the overall notion that one only wants to kiss girls when drunk. To me, the lyrics of the song seem to perpetuate this idea of "performative bisexuality", — the idea that women just want to get drunk and kiss other girls for the male gaze.
This is obviously very harmful, and not true for bi women.
I know it seems as if I haven't had a single positive thing to say about the song. And initially, I did not. But scrolling through my Twitter newsfeed, where I saw some debates about the song, I came across one of my favorite bi women in the world, Gaby Dunn.
Regarding "Girls", she tweeted:
It's important not to add more shame to women who feel they need alcohol or other excuses to explore their attraction to women. Not everyone is in the same place in their journey that you are.— BAD WITH MONEY BOOK 🏳️🌈 (@gabydunn) May 11, 2018
Dunn also tweeted,
Idk I super relate to being early in my coming out and thinking these thoughts. Seems like bc it doesn't fit the narrative we need to be accepted by the straights we shouldn't include it in our experiences. But that's just my bi self!— BAD WITH MONEY BOOK 🏳️🌈 (@gabydunn) May 11, 2018
If we lived in a world where bi+ people were 100% accepted by straight folks, there would be nothing wrong with this song. Because the truth of it is, many folks embrace being "50/50" with equal attraction to men and women. Additionally, plenty of women (and men) need to be inebriated to hook up with members of the same-gender, especially in the beginning of their sexual exploration journey. (It took me five years of hooking up with guys drunk, in order to be able to hook up with guys sober. All the while, I was rejecting the bi label.)
So there are plenty of women out there who do want to get drunk and "just wanna kiss girls, girls girls".
I think, sometimes, we become so obsessed with what straight people think about bisexuality, that we accidentally exclude members of the bi+ community for not fitting into this perfect bi narrative we want straight people to believe.
Don't get me wrong. It does matter what straight people think. Straight people are the ones who are excluding us, don't believe we exist, and are in large part responsible for the physical and mental health disparities that bi+ folks experience. So it is important for straight people to accept us and not believe stereotypes about us.
At the same time, everything about bisexuality can't be for straight (or gay) people. It has to be for us, bi individuals, too.
Does this song depict a diverse experience that's inclusive of all bi individuals? No. Does it perpetuate some potentially harmful stereotypes about bi people? Arguably, yes. But does it also illustrate a subset of women in the bi+ community? Absolutely, and we should be sure to not reject their bi narratives from the larger bi story, just for the sake of straight people.