As a self-identified right-brainer, numbers have never been my forte. While there are of course numbers in life that one should always pay close attention to — like the minimum amount due or the balance on your rarely used but never forgotten Taco Bell gift card — I’ve often found that focusing on numbers distracts me from enjoying what’s right in front of me, as they can easily lead to comparisons which inspire shame, discontentment or even anger.
Thanks to their quantitative characteristics, it’s natural to feel something — whether it be positive or negative — when the numbers you’ve compiled don’t align with that of your peers, especially when it comes to something as personal as your number of sexual partners.
As a bi man, numbers played a unique role as I began to understand myself and my sexuality on a deeper level. Growing up in a small town, there was a stark dichotomy between men and women regarding what was acceptable in terms of sexual behavior, which only compounded my confusion. Men could proudly boast of current or previous escapades as self-dubbed ladies’ men to much fanfare, while women were expected to take on a more virtuous approach as dictated by the conservative values of the area. The unfair and subjective way in which people were judged and/or praised in response to their sexual activity was truly baffling to me, and to this day I struggle to comprehend the imbalance that was perpetuated as the golden mean in my community.
Despite my confusion, I am grateful that I was exposed to this framework because it showed me there was no winning this numbers game, at least not according to the parameters I had been exposed to in my youth. It helped me realize that I should never stifle my enjoyment, growth or life experiences for the sake of some randomly assigned threshold of decency determined by a doctrine I don’t even believe in. However, as I left my roots behind and ventured out into the world as an openly bi man, I was shocked by how so many people I met remained fixated on their and others’ sexual tallies, especially in the LGBTI community.
Time and time again I would be drilled on my sexual data by straight and queer individuals alike because for some reason my sexual orientation requires consistent numeric support in order to remain valid. In the past, I would spew these numbers defensively, because I bought into the narrative that the number, frequency, gender and/or biological sex of my sexual partners were all essential components of defending and sustaining my bi identity. I didn’t realize it at the time, but rather than simply believing in myself and walking away, I was passionately sharing the hard data due to my own insecurities and desire to find acceptance — especially from my LGBTI peers.
However, I’ve come to learn that attraction and connection go far beyond simple physical interactions, and time and quantity do not diminish the importance of these moments in my or any other bi person’s life. To me, dissolving these experiences into simple numbers takes away their true value; now, I can enjoy them for what they are without worrying about how they might impact my data sets for my next battle with a bigot. I don’t owe someone numeric proof in order to validate my existence; I am confidently here living life as I see fit, regardless of whether or not they care to tune in.
Even taking a step back from a more emotional perspective, there are a lot of logical holes in the approach that quantity determines and validates one’s sexual orientation. By that measure, would anyone be able to proclaim they are straight, gay, bi, pan or any other identity before they copulate? What number does one need to hit for each specific orientation to be considered valid? How frequently does one need to get busy in order to retain their sexual orientation?
Of course, these questions are ridiculous. But what I find to be even more preposterous is that some of us — like members of the bi community — are regularly poked and prodded to spout off this information in order to find acceptance simply because we fall outside the realm of the interrogator’s experience. If we don’t participate in these invasive pop quizzes, we’re told we’re hiding something or “not really” who we say we are. It’s little wonder why I spent so long angrily defending myself with numbers; for many, it seems to be the only way they will even consider that someone else could be happy and secure living life by their own set of standards.
Nowadays, I rarely — if ever — offer up this information. Not because I am afraid, insecure or ashamed of my experiences; they are what made me the proud, open-minded person I am today. I simply no longer want or need the validation of others to have confidence in myself and what I hold to be true. While that confidence may be lacking when it comes to my actual math abilities, I take comfort in knowing a miscalculation or outlying number will not change the equation of who I am.