Tuesday, October 31, 2006
Am I bisexual?
So many people have asked me this during my long period of being out, that I thought I'd have a bash at answering it. I don't think people who have never really questioned their sexual identity, worried about the impact of change on their relationships, friendships, whole lives, can really understand how troubling it can be to not know something so fundamental about yourself.
Now, first up, the "I" here is not me - it is whoever is asking the question. I know that "I" am bisexual, whether or not I have had any male/female lovers recently. I know this through my past, my interests, my perspective on the world, my friendships, who I fancy, everything. It's an important part of my identity.
But people who are asking "am I bisexual?" don't have that. Quite possibly they either:
* Are mainly straight or gay, and wonder if having sexual fantasies about the "wrong" sex, or having kissed one at a party, makes them bisexual.
* Have been in a monogamous relationship for a long while, and are now wondering - sometimes obsessively - what a lover of another gender would be like.
* They are young, or going through a period of great flux in their life, and really don't know who they are attracted to.
* They are very much less young, and haven't "done anything" about their bisexuality in a while.
* They don't feel entirely gay, or straight, but feel that the amount of experience they have had with the "wrong" sex doesn't qualify them to identify as bisexual.
* While they were in a gay/straight relationship previously, they are now in a straight/gay one, and intend to stay in it until their dying day.
* Their sexual desires don't fit into other kinds of boxes, including but by no means limited to the following: they are a woman who is only sexually attracted to gay men, or a man who wants to dress as a woman and have what he (or they) see as lesbian sex, or a person, any gender, who is only attracted to transsexuals.
* Or, quite common this, they are a man who enjoys having some kind of sexual contact with other men but needs to keep this within very strictly confined boundaries and never, ever, would be emotionally involved with one.
* Or, also very common, they think they are "sort-of" bisexual, but consider that to be properly bisexual they need to have a 50-50 interest in men and women.
What do you call yourself?
Now, people who ask this question, I don't know if you are bisexual or not. For me, the bottom line (so to speak) has always been: you are bisexual if you think you are, it's self-identity that counts. Not what other people think - for instance, saying that you have to have had sex with both a man and a woman within a certain time-frame or you will have to hand back your bi credentials.
Many people who - looking at their behaviour, or history, or all the things that count for me - don't identify as bisexual. Leaving aside for the moment those people who want to identify themselves as "queer", or who think that there are many different genders, not just two, and therefore consider "bisexual" to be reductive, or know that their "wrong" sex behaviour is something too trivial to be bothered with, many actually don't want to think they are bisexual.
What about all those "Men who have sex with men" or "Behavioural bisexuals" much beloved of HIV-preventors? They are more likely to say "I am just sexual" - and indeed some of them have said precisely that to me. Perhaps the much-hyped African-Americans on the "down-low" (probably only differing from the MSM or BBs by the fact that they are African-American) would say something similar. Thinking of themselves as "bisexual" would be giving it too much importance, or taking on a label that all these men would consider inappropriate.
But people who actually ask "am I bisexual?" aren't - in general - playing word games about whether bi-curious or bi-dyke is a better option for them. They are asking about the deeper aspects of bisexuality. They feel uncomfortable in their own skin, about how they present themselves to the world, about their futures. They are looking for answers to some pretty fundamental questions about themselves and the possibility of being happy in the future. Those answers can only come from within the individual - hopefully through talking things through with friends, lovers, partners, possibly therapists, but also through reading and perhaps finding support groups. The internet is hugely helpful here.
So what's the answer?
There isn't, unfortunately, one simple answer as to whether "you" are bisexual, certainly not one that I can give. But I can say: you can much prefer one gender over the other, and still be bisexual; you can only want emotional relationships with one gender, and still be bisexual; you can call yourself bisexual at the moment - it doesn't matter whether you will always feel this way; you can be happily monogamous and still be bisexual; you can only want to have sex with blonds (scarcely even seeing their gender) and still be bisexual.
It can be really hard to live with uncertainty, particularly if it feels like things are falling apart, but ultimately please don't worry. Bisexuality can actually be pretty great.