Since I've been involved with my boyfriend, I've noticed something odd. I've stopped referring to myself as bisexual.
It isn't that I've outgrown a phase or turned straight. I'm the same as I ever was, really. I still feel my sexuality isn't focused on one gender or the other; my sexual attractions are based on individuals. But Erik and I have been together for long enough to make us a Legitimate Established Couple, and I've given serious thought to staying with him (and only him) for the rest of my life. We joke that I'm now an "eriksexual," but we both know that being with him doesn't change my natural preference; a good-looking girl will catch my eye on the street just as a good-looking guy would. It's not really relevant within the relationship; it's part of me he accepted and neither of us have thought much about since. But I don't talk about it to others anymore, either. I feel like I'd have to explain too much, or prepare myself for an argument of sorts. I haven't the energy to defend or prove my sexuality; it's not enough that I don't think I should have to do so.
People who knew me as bisexual and see me committed to a man think I've made a choice. And they're right, I have.
However, they don't always realize that I've chosen a person, not a gender.
From the moment I came out, I faced people telling me that it was a phase, and worse, a trend among teenage girls. I was lucky in college to have supportive gay friends who always included me in the GLBT community; one told me jovially that I could not only go with them in the gay pride parade, but they'd get me a float, with a big fence to sit on. ("It would be more appropriate if I straddled it," I told them.) But I was always single then, there was always that potential for me to pick the alternative side of bisexual; now that I'm with a man, I may as well have renounced my switch-hitter status. When I'm with a man, it's as though it makes me straight-in-practice.
In the past, when I had more casual relationships, I could always say, "Well, yeah, Michael is a guy. But the next one may be a girl, who knows?" I wasn't ever particularly vehement about my sexuality; I'd explain if it came up, but I never trumpeted it from the rooftops. It was part of who I was, but not horribly significant in my day-to-day dealings. It may have been because I didn't have public long-term relationships with a woman, so I didn't encounter curiosity or bigotry on a major scale. Being bisexual was like being female, part of myself that was serious and deserved thought, but wasn't something that always occupied my mind; it just was. Now that I'm facing a potential lifetime with Erik, I don't have that "next one" option to justify my sexual preference to others. They think I've chosen to be straight, as if bisexuality is just a way to get to a final destination of one pole or the other, straight or gay.
When a heterosexual person isn't actively involved in sexual relationships, his or her sexuality isn't called into question; it's just taken for granted that their sexuality is valid and doesn't depend on who happens to be in their bed. The same goes for homosexuals, though they may need to defend their sexuality as valid if they aren't involved with a member of their own gender at a given time. But bisexuals have to argue that they aren't straight when they're with a member of the opposite sex, and assure people they aren't gay when they're involved with a member of the same sex. And if they aren't involved with anybody, well . . . take your pick of what they need to validate. Greta Christina wrote that for bisexuals, "your sexuality comes in compartments, like Tupperware; your heart has two chambers and you cannot feel with both; your soul is like Berlin before the wall came down."
A vague acquaintance of mine is an avowed homosexual, happily and publically out. But he's currently in love with a woman, and is divorced from another woman that he loved (who he married after he'd come out as gay). I don't think he's bisexual, I believe he's gay, and furthermore I don't see any contradiction in a gay man loving and fucking women. He may be the one person I know who can understand the bisexual predicament. For the most part he laughs off the people who malign him; he's secure in his sexual preference and fine with the choices he's made in his life. I admire that. But people who accept all other aspects sometimes can't understand that.
Consider the "Chasing Amy" syndrome: audiences saw the lesbian fall for the cute guy, and figured that if she ever was really gay, she went straight (or bisexual) when she looked into Ben Affleck's eyes. It's no secret that straight men slaver over lesbians, and it's a major victory to win a gay girl over; consider it a measure of the man's prowess, that he was man enough to "convert" her. This doesn't imply that sexuality is fluid, but that it can be changed. I would understand it if the idea was to show that sexuality runs on a spectrum, and not everyone has a rigid preference within straight, gay, or bi. But the portrayal is always of someone who thought they were straight (or gay) and then discover that they were wrong and really were gay (or straight) all along.
A good friend of mine is a lesbian who is married to a straight man; they love each other and provide well for their daughter. Both have occasional outside relationships. And when I explain it to people, they often ask, "Why don't they get divorced?" Well, because they love each other and have a happy family. It makes sense to me that they can be in love and intimate, but many other people don't understand. My friend is not straight when she's with her husband; she's a lesbian who loves someone who happens to be a man. They're both very open about the nature of their relationship, and though they recognize it as unusual, they don't have any shame about it. He is very supportive of her, and they're both active in the GLBT community.
Maybe I wasn't bisexual enough; I never had a public long-term relationship with a woman, though not by my choice. Lesbians I encountered weren't interested in being with a bisexual, because they always assumed I'd leave them for a man, as if that were my default preference. It's never been a secret that some gays resent bisexuals, for receiving "heterosexual privilege." And now I'm a full recipient of that alleged privilege, because I'm with an Erik and not an Erika; is there no longer a place for me in the GLBT community? I'm already excluded from the "straight" world, does this mean I'm stuck in some vague no-man's land? Bisexuality brings the problems of being gay, and then some. It's harder to play a double-role, after all; I have all the problems of both and none of the benefits of either.
If I choose a man, I lose the "alternative" status, I'm just another straight who wanted to play around a bit. Back when I had a sense of humor about it, I'd joke that telling men I'm bisexual is the best way to pick them up. But I see it in darker terms now, imagining how others could view my decision to be with a man. Perhaps I used gay women when I dabbled, then ultimately deserted them to go back to the golden land of heterosexuality; in its worst interpretation, it was all a game to me, I consciously manipulated and deceived women while I always knew I'd ditch them in the end. If I choose a woman, I must be gay and the bisexuality ruse was just because I couldn't admit to being gay. I couldn't accept my sexuality, because I was too unenlightened to do so; I had to ease into it by claiming bisexuality, a lie I told myself. It's a special kind of prejudice, the bias against bisexuals. It's as if bisexuality isn't legitimate to many people, straight and gay.
I've been to several lesbian events since I got involved with Erik, and I always felt as though I were lying to the women I met. I usually just said I was involved in a long-distance relationship and left it at that. It seemed too dangerous to even admit to being bisexual, let alone confess that I'm involved with a man. As long as I held my tongue, I could be accepted. But I didn't feel I could see any of these women again, because I had deceived them; granted, they hadn't asked for details, but I was committing the sin of omission. If I became friends with any of them, I'd have that Big Something to explain, and I feared they wouldn't forgive me for misleading them. While I recognized it as deceptive, I still held my tongue; it was a sort of self-preservation effort. Ironically, perhaps, I closeted myself. With them, I could pretend that my sexuality was as simple as theirs, the way that some gays pretend to be straight to find acceptance.
Don't think that I'm carrying around a lot of angst over this, I'm really not. I'm comfortable with myself and with my relationships. I love Erik and I want to be with him, the rest of the world be damned. But I always have been bisexual and no person will ever change that. I guess I'm asking for a little understanding, from straights and gays. Take my sexual orientation at face value, as a part of me, and realize that being with a man doesn't make me straight. But then, does it matter? What does it matter that I'm bisexual, or if I were straight or gay, considering that I'm with someone now and intend to be with him for good? I don't like the bicameral approach to sexuality; it's not as though I'm a different creature dependent on the gender of the person I'm involved with. My sexual interests overlap. It's the same body, the same mind. My sexuality is a blended watercolor painting, with all the beauty in the colors coming together.
Bisexuality isn't a phase, and I'm not a traitor when I'm with someone of either gender. It's all just part of who I am. Maybe it's not tidy and there's a confusing aspect to it, but that doesn't make it wrong for me to be a bisexual committed to a man. Bisexuals sometimes say that they love people, not genders; well, I'm loving a person. I accept this; why can't everyone else?
Second Sex is an ongoing series of essays about the intermingling of sexuality, politics, gender, psychology, feminism, and philosophy.
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