bi*sex*u*al (adj.): Of, relating to, or characterized by a tendency to direct sexual desire toward both sexes.
Or so Merriam-Webster’s dictionary tells me. Both sexes. Simple enough, right? Except to those who think it’s a switch-off in which someone vacillates between being homosexual and heterosexual, like a certain family member with whom I had the following priceless discussion yesterday:
Family Member: “So, are you seeing anyone?”
Me: “Um, no, but there is one girl I like.”
FM: “Huh, so you’re gay again?”
Me: “I’ve always identified as bi.”
FM: “Oh, I just thought…since your ex was a guy…”
While she’s correct about the fact that my longest and most recent relationship was with a man, I’m correct in saying that I’ve identified my sexual orientation as being bisexual, at least since my first girlfriend at age 16. I have had more girlfriends than boyfriends (in fact, I’ve only had one boyfriend), and I’m pretty sure my whole family knows that. But a lot of them seem to believe that it’s still a phase, like my mom, who wonders how I can have a crush on James Franco or Ewan McGregor when I date girls. Well, my real relationships are usually with women, so maybe that should answer that question. Exactly why my celluloid crushes are all men and my real life crushes are 99% women is a riddle I have yet to decipher, if it even matters. But after almost twelve years as identifying as bi, with the dating history to prove it to whomever deems it necessary evidence, I can safely declare that this is really not a phase — it’s a lifestyle.
This misunderstanding is not, of course, only limited to family. I’ve heard people opine that bisexuality is merely code for experimentation, or for a woman only dating other women until she finds the right man to settle down with, or for selfishly trying to have it both ways and get as much sex as possible. It’s none of those things. Experimentation is simply experimentation — which is all well and good, but does not apply to bisexuals like myself who have long since stopped giving their sexuality a test run. As for the “selfish” aspect, that calls to mind the famous Woody Allen quote, “The good thing about being bisexual is that it doubles your chance of a date on a Saturday night,” which seems to play into the idea that bisexuals are just out for a good time and will date anyone who applies.
Really, what it’s about (at least for me), is being attracted to a person first and their sex second. The problem is that we live in a society where everyone has to rigidly categorize every aspect of their identities, particularly when it comes to sexuality. Crossing over that line between gay and straight, wherein someone lives in a “gray area” of sexuality, is something that some people can’t wrap their heads around. It’s worth noting here that such confusion — or willful obtuseness — is not limited to heterosexual individuals. I have a number of gay and lesbian friends, several of whom believe that identifying as bisexual is just a reluctance to make that final leap into the gay community. While I can recognize where that sentiment comes from, it still hurts.
There are also, of course, a ton of people who accept bisexuality as a perfectly legitimate orientation. And while I don’t need that outside acceptance to feel personally secure in my bisexuality, it still makes it easier to be comfortable when it becomes known to others. So if you are one of those who can’t quite accept the concept that someone can be genuinely bisexual and is not choosing that label out of a desire to “have it both ways” or because it’s a way of trying things out before choosing to be gay or straight, I do recognize your reasoning. Nevertheless, I feel that reasoning is misguided at best. When I date a woman I’m not “gay again,” and when I date a man I’m not “straight again.” I’m just me, as always.