I have a confession to make. I need to come out of yet another closet. Presently, I identify as bisexual. Yet… I feel that my identity as such is a technicality. This is because while my attraction to men is present, most of the time I am much more attracted to women. In reality, I lean way toward the lesbian end of the Kinsey scale. I wonder if a different label would be a better fit for me. There. I said it. Shall I turn in my bisexual membership card now, along with the bi pride flag and other memorabilia? Am I bisexual enough?
Allow me to tell my story. One fine autumn, when I recognized the beginnings of yet another “intense friendship” with a girl, I decided that it was time to settle the question of my sexual orientation once and for all. (I assumed, in my arrogance, that such a thing was possible!) Late one night after a party, I summoned all the courage I possessed, and confessed to my best friend, “I think that I might be lesbian, bisexual, or something like it.” Her response: “Okay!” Whew!
The sky did not fall. The earth kept spinning. And I was out of the closet at last
Well, sort of. I still didn’t know what to call myself. So, I called the GLBT National Hotline. The friendly, young gay man who answered informed me that one’s attraction to both genders does not have to be equal in order to “count” as bisexual. It is surprisingly common to have a strong preference for one gender, while still having feelings for the other. That revelation was a major turning point. The next thing I knew, I was attending every GLBT social event I could find, and managed to find my way toward the local bisexual support group. I found a wonderfully understanding, supportive group of people who identified as bisexual. I was out and proud as …something, but what?
I was out of the dark, lonely closet at last, but still I felt lost. Could this wonderful, supportive group of bisexuals possibly relate to my dateless adolescence? In high school, I had not been able to find a single boy in my school of 900 attractive, or at least attractive enough to date. Sure, there were a few candidates, such as Alan , who seemed nice, and Andy, who was sort of cute. But that nowhere near compared to the way I felt about my friend Beth. I thought she was breathtakingly beautiful, even if she didn’t feel that way about herself. I thought about her constantly, and longed to be with her all the time. If we were supposed to hang out, and she had to cancel, you would think that the world was about to come to an end. She was far from the only one about whom I felt that way. There was also Jillian, a quiet, bookish, extremely bright girl who knew more physics than most college professors. I looked forward enormously to our daily walks home from school, where together we would solve all the world’s problems. (I later found out that she was bisexual, too. If only I had known!) Later, there was Elizabeth. And Kerry. And countless others, including an embarrassing crush on a popular girl who was well out of the league of a science geek like me.
Also, could bisexuals relate to the vast difference between my attractions to women and to men? One telling example of this is how I prepared for my first date with a woman. I, a feminist who refused to wear makeup, stunned my family and friends by going on a shopping spree for the perfect outfit, shoes, and pocketbook to match. A pocketbook! Wasn’t that an unnecessary burden created by the fashion industry to keep women down? I certainly didn’t need to carry one, let alone get one to match my outfit! Yet somehow I found myself in Ann Taylor Loft, agonizing over which thimble-sized, overpriced pocketbook matched one of the several new outfits I had just bought. On the big day, I spent the entire morning getting ready. I changed clothes many times before finally settling on the perfect outfit. By contrast, here was my routine to get ready for a date with a guy: pick out a nice T-shirt and jeans, comb my hair. Done. Did this great difference in motivation somehow make me a lesbian?
But even as I didn’t feel “bisexual enough,” I found to my surprise that I didn’t fit into the lesbian identity, either. My feelings for boys may have been extremely rare, but they did occur. For example, in my mid-twenties, I developed a huge crush on Adam, a close male friend of mine. Ironically, I recognized the feelings as such, because it was the same way I had felt about girls! Just as with Beth, I thought about Adam constantly. I wanted to be around him all the time. I fantasized repeatedly about us kissing, among other things. At work, I made many lame excuses to stop by his office. He loved to eat, so I would always bring him snacks. I suppose he could blame me for any weight gain… if there was any on his tall, slender frame. We decided that we were better off as friends (long story), and continue to be close to this day. However, there was no way that I could fit into the lesbian category after that experience. Using that label would discount the reality of my prior feelings for Adam, in addition to a handful of other men in my past.
Finally, in the interest of coming out as “something” in this label-happy world, I settled on the term “bisexual”. Personally, it is because it acknowledges my attraction to men as well as women. Politically, it is because I feel that bisexual visibility is extremely important.
However, I continue to long for a label that describes more accurately the reality of my feelings. But, what am I “really?” I change my mind almost daily. So far, I have gone through the following: mostly lesbian, lesbian-identified bisexual (too wordy), queer, Kinsey 5, fluid, pansexual, and even “unlabeled.” I rejected “queer” because even though I feel there is a serious need for an all-inclusive term, I dislike the word’s negative history. I considered “Kinsey 5,” but even though the mathematician in me loves numbers, how can you put a number on human feelings? Just imagine if you had to quantify how much you love your mother! I also discarded the term “fluid,” because it just doesn’t feel right. I don’t know why not. Maybe it’s because my feelings are not “fluid,” but fixed towards women most of the time. I suppose I like “mostly lesbian” the best… except in those rare moments when I fall in love with a guy, and then somehow it doesn’t fit.
It seems to me that the labels have not kept up with the reality of sexual orientation. It is as if someone decided that the only shoe sizes that exist are 3 and 12. Anyone whose feet do not fit is a size “medium.” However, lumping together people whose feet are as small as size 4 with those who are as big as size 10 is absurd. Similarly, the following people, while one could technically label them as “bisexual,” have vastly diverse experiences that need to be acknowledged: “lesbians” who have sex with men, “straight women” who are turned on by girl-on-girl porn, people who are mostly attracted to the same sex, people who are mostly attracted to the opposite sex, those who are attracted to people “regardless of gender,” and so many more. Clearly, there is a demand for many more labels, but what do we do until then?
Perhaps it would be best if we all followed the advice of my father: “Stop worrying about what to label yourself. Just do what makes you happy!”
Now, if only I could believe that!
Tracy works as an engineer near Boston. Her hobbies include reading, performing in a local concert band, surfing the Internet, and cooking.